Spring Scouting Report: Wide Receivers
Mean Green Counting On Year Two Leap At WR Position
DENTON - As spring practice winds down for the Mean Green, another position group expected to make a leap in 2017 is the wide receivers.
MeanGreenSports.com will take a look at the wide receiver position as a whole, and the outlook for each of the positions within that unit. MeanGreenSports.com also took an in-depth look at the quarterbacks and the offensive line earlier this spring.
First, here is what we know. Absent from the receiving corps this spring are three of the top four leaders in the receiving category; graduating seniors Thaddeous Thompson (43 catches for 545 yards and two touchdowns), Kenny Buyers (32 catches for 324 yards and one touchdown) and junior Terian Goree, who left the program in 2016 (36 catches for 328 yards and two touchdowns). Returning, however, are several playmakers who shined late in the year and in the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl. Senior Turner Smiley, and sophomores Tyler Wilson and Rico Bussey, Jr. are back in the fold, looking to build on solid 2016 campaigns.
Though the group did not put up flashy numbers across the season, the passing game grew as the 2016 season transpired. There is an expectation that this position group is prepared to make a major jump, this fall. Head coach Seth Littrell, offensive coordinator Graham Harrell, associate head coach/inside receivers coach and passing game coordinator Tommy Mainord and outside receivers coach Joel Filani are looking for a lot from this group in 2017, and a lot of the team’s success offensively will depend on this group’s maturation in the system.
As far as the unknown goes, there are some newcomers that will be expected to step in and contribute right away, that are already in camp this spring. A few that have made early impacts in the spring are redshirt sophomore Jalen Guyton (Trinity Valley Community College) and redshirt junior Quinetin Jackson (College of DuPage). In addition to that, as the outlook for 2017 comes into focus, two more talented freshman will join the fray in the fall; Jaelon Darden (Eisenhower HS, Houston) and Greg White (Riverdale HS, Riverdale, Georgia). In addition to that three-star pair, Duncanville’s Tre Siggers and Evan Johnson (Loranger, Louisiana) could potentially see some action in the slot, though they are also expected to play running back.
Turner Smiley – SR – 6’0” – 183
Smiley (Frisco, Texas) returns for his senior season following a junior campaign that saw him haul in 33 receptions for 389 yards and a pair of touchdowns in 11 appearances. He excelled towards the back end of the season, posting a career-game against Southern Miss in the final home game of the season, where he caught seven passes for 162 yards with two touchdowns, and snagged eight balls for 79 yards in the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl.
Smiley has been seeing a lot of action this spring with the first team at his outside receiver position, and his blend of speed and ability to make defenders miss will be a factor once again this fall.
Tyler Wilson – SO – 5’11” – 171
Wilson (Arlington) worked his way into the rotation during his freshman year, and was a factor offensively, as well as in the return game. He caught 13 passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns, including a career-best game in the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl, where he hauled in five passes for 81 yards and a score. He was the lead return man for the Mean Green on kickoffs, averaging 21.9 yards per return on 32 attempts.
Wilson has also seen a lot of reps with the ones at outside receiver during the spring, and has been making big plays frequently, especially during the 7-on-7’s and team sessions. Wilson showed several glimpses of his playmaking ability down the stretch, and coaches are excited about his continued growth throughout the spring.
Rico Bussey, Jr. – SO – 6’2” – 183
Bussey, Jr. (Lawton, Oklahoma) fought through an injury that cost him a large portion of his freshman season, but had a very productive game in his return, in the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl. Throughout the season he caught eight passes for 97 yards and a score, and made a huge impact in the bowl game with two grabs for 57 yards, including a big touchdown catch right before halftime.
The sophomore’s size and speed allows him to go up and make competitive plays for the ball, which is something he has done on several occasions throughout the spring. He will likely be in the rotation again this fall, and is expected to play a big role.
O’Keeron Rutherford – Redshirt JR – 6’5” – 194
Another outside receiver, Rutherford (Carthage, Texas) brings some experience to the position group, and a lot of size. He made seven catches for 71 yards in 2016, and had played well in the early-going of spring ball, getting a lot of reps with the twos.
Kelvin Smith – Redshirt SO – 6’2” – 241
Smith (Spring, Texas) is expected to fill the vacated role of last season’s leading receiver, Thompson, in the slot. A bigger target and more of a traditional tight end, Smith made the most of his time last season, catching seven passes for 79 yards, and tied for the team lead in touchdowns, with two. He endeared himself to fans right out of the gates in 2016, with his somersaulting effort into the end zone in week one against SMU.
A physical, big-bodied player, Smith figures to see his fair share of opportunities in the fall. He has been consistent thus far in the spring as an effective target across the middle for his quarterbacks.
Jalen Guyton – Redshirt SO – 6’1” – 202
Guyton (Allen) joined the Mean Green during the mid-year signing period and enrolled in time for spring ball after transferring from Trinity Valley Community College in Athens, Texas. Guyton’s collegiate career started at Notre Dame before transferring to Trinity Valley, where he caught 45 passes for 968 yards and 12 touchdowns as a redshirt freshman last year.
His advanced skillset was evident in the early-going this spring, and will be expected to be a big-time contributor this fall. Guyton’s physicality and ability to go up and get the ball is a welcomed addition to this position group on the outside.
Quinetin Jackson – Redshirt JR – 6’3” – 204
Jackson (Granite City, Illinois) is in the newcomer category because he missed his first season in Denton due to injury. Another big-bodied target on the outside, Jackson has been a big factor thus far in the spring. He was a key player offensively for the College of DuPage as a sophomore in 2015, catching 29 passes for 591 yards and seven scores. He has gotten a lot of reps so far with both the first and second offensive units. He should also push for some time in the rotation this fall.
Deion Hair-Griffin – Redshirt FR – 5’10” – 165
Hair-Griffin (Fort Worth) redshirted during his first year on campus, but is someone who benefitted mightily from the extra bowl practices and the extra reps. He is a quick slot receiver with a good ability to catch the ball, especially in high-traffic areas. He has been a bright spot this spring for the Mean Green and is expected to compete for time on the field in the fall. Hair-Griffin has also spent some time during special teams sessions at both kick and punt returner, so could also potentially be a factor there as well.
KEEP AN EYE ON
Michael Lawrence – SO – 5’10” – 170
Lawrence (Sweetwater, Texas) saw action in seven games as a true freshman in 2016, primarily on special teams, but also spent some time in the slot. He caught one pass for 16 yards, and has been seeing a lot of reps this spring in the same capacity. He appears willing to go across the middle and has done a very good job this spring of making tough catches in busy spaces. Expect to see Lawrence in the mix for a slot position in the rotation.
Caleb Chumley – Redshirt SO – 6’5” – 249
Chumley (Longview, Texas) missed the 2016 season due to injury. A converted quarterback, Chumley has the size and athleticism to exploit some matchups in the slot. He has seen a lot of improvement this spring, and has spent a lot of time with the second team offense. Chumley continues to work on his route-running and has found himself in space on several occasions this spring, where he has been able to make plays for the offense. An intriguing player in that tight end/bigger slot receiver role, Chumley could make some noise offensively for the Mean Green this fall.
Jason Pirtle – Redshirt FR – 6’2” – 206
Pirtle (Locust Grove, Oklahoma) redshirted the 2016 season, his first on campus. He was high school teammates with sophomore quarterback Mason Fine, as his favorite target, and their rapport both on and off the field is something to watch for. Pirtle has gotten plenty of reps this spring, and like a lot of the younger players on the North Texas roster, gained quite a bit from the additional bowl practices in December. Pirtle is consistently able to create space for himself from the slot and has strong hands. He has made several positive plays this spring, running primarily with the second and third teams, but could fight his way into the rotation.
Kam Duhon – Redshirt FR – 5’11” – 168
Duhon (Southlake) also redshirted during his first season in Denton, and has shown well during the first three weeks of spring practice on the outside. He has been able to create some good separation at times from his defender, and has made quite a few plays on deep balls throughout the spring.
Littrell’s offenses have taken leaps in year two throughout his career, and the wide receiver group he has in Denton will be a big part of trying to make that a reality for the Mean Green in his second year at the helm.