The first thing Missouri redshirt freshman Raymond Wingo did when he was asked to switch from defense to offense was pull out his old highlight tape.
He relived and savored every juke of the seven touchdowns he scored as a senior running back/wide receiver at St. Louis University High in 2013, the last time he played offense.
“That kind of got me back in the offensive mindset,” said Wingo, who is the younger brother of Atlanta Falcons running back Ronnie Wingo Jr.
Before his redshirt season, Wingo chose to focus on cornerback, figuring that was the best path to the NFL for a 5-foot-11, 180-pound athlete.
But Missouri’s coaches think he might make a bigger — and quicker — impact as a wide receiver, so the subject was broached late last season.
“When we were back in the bowl game, they asked me what I thought about it and I was like, ‘It’s still my first love,’” Wingo said.
Two weeks ago, Wingo made the change, working at slot receiver during spring practices and trying to digest the Tigers’ offense.
“He’s learning, but he’s got great quickness,” MU receivers coach Pat Washington said. “He’s got top-end speed better than anyone we have. Hopefully, he’ll be an asset as we continue to work with him.”
Missouri lost its top three receivers from last season — Bud Sasser, Jimmie Hunt and Darius White — on the heels of losing its top three receivers from 2013.
That left the Tigers inexperienced and a bit thin at the receiver spot.
Wingo, who ran the fastest 40-yard dash — 4.28 seconds — among MU players during winter conditioning, doesn’t solve the experience issue, but Missouri’s coaches hope he can emerge as a productive playmaker for quarterback Maty Mauk and the offense.
“We’re young and we just felt like we needed more dynamics at the receiver position,” Washington said. “He presents it.”
It’s certainly a position where the Tigers can use Wingo’s athleticism.
Sophomore Nate Brown, who took part in position drills but hadn’t yet been cleared for contact Tuesday, missed most of the spring with a knee injury.
The passing offense has looked spotty throughout the spring, completing only 48.2 percent of all passes amid protection struggles and drops by the receivers and tight ends.
“Anytime you have young receivers, you have a batch of young guys, there’s growing pains,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. “You’d like everything to come out perfect, but we anticipated it’s not going to be easy. It’s going to be difficult, but we can do it.”
Senior Wesley Leftwich, sophomore J’Mon Moore, who caught a 50-yard touchdown at the end of Tuesday’s scrimmage, and junior walk-on Eric Laurent have been working as the starters during the spring.
“When you go through a scrimmage and you’re not successful, there’s always concern,” Washington said. “You go watch the film and you get better. That’s what spring scrimmage is about. … We’ve got a lot of work to do, a lot of work ahead of ourselves. The kids need to stay encouraged, observe themselves on film objectively and make sure each player gets better.”
Washington is confident the talent is there for the Tigers’ receivers to flourish.
“There’s no question this group will be productive, because they have ability and they have desire,” Washington said. “They want to be good and have talent, so it’s up to me to get it going for them.”
Pinkel made one thing clear: The clock is ticking and, when fall camp starts, there will be no more excuses for Missouri’s pass-catchers.
“Once we kick off, you’ll never hear ‘young receiver,’” Pinkel said. “We don’t care. It doesn’t matter, OK? We’ve got to kick off in September. … We’ve got until that time to get ourselves ready to go.”