It’s no secret that Missouri lacks experience at wide receiver.
Seniors Bud Sasser, Jimmie Hunt and Darius White accounted for 147 receptions, 2,073 yards and 23 touchdowns last season.
That equates to every touchdown plus 93.6 percent of receptions and 94.8 percent of yards from wide receivers last season — or all but 10 catches and 114 yards.
The only returning MU receivers with game experience are sophomore slot receiver Nate Brown, who had five catches for 45 yards as a freshman, along with outside receivers Wesley Leftwich and J’Mon Moore.
Leftwich, a senior, had three catches for 36 yards last season, and Moore, a sophomore, had two catches for 33 yards.
Of course, the Tigers were in a similar boat entering 2014 after the newest Chiefs receiver, L’Damian Washington, and Panthers practice squad receiver Marcus Lucas graduated and Dorial Green-Beckham was dismissed during the spring.
Guys had to step up and guys are going to have to step up again.
“It’s our job to get them where they can play at their ability level …,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. “We anticipated this a little bit. This just didn’t happen overnight, but we’ve got some good athletes out there. There are a lot of little things we need to do to get better.”
The Tigers expected to have Levi Copelin, who was dismissed from the team last September, on the roster and possibly even Green-Beckham, though chances are good he’d have declared for the NFL Draft even if he hadn’t been dismissed.
No matter, the Tigers insist talent won’t be an issue during in 2015.
“We’ve got talent all over the field, especially at receiver,” junior cornerback John Gibson said. “Young guys like DeSean (Blair) and them are coming up making plays, a lot of plays lately. They just need to get into the offense, get a little more comfortable with it and we’ll be fine.”
Blair is among a trio of redshirt freshmen with a chance to make an impact along with Keyon Dilosa and Thomas Richard
Another redshirt freshman, Raymond Wingo, moved from defensive back to receiver during camp and could make an impact with his speed and after-the-catch skills.
“I don’t know how he does it or how that could even be done, because we do so many things,” Moore said. “But he’s been doing good. He’s catching on, and he’s definitely going to make an impact at slot receiver for us. … He’s growing every day. He pays attention, he listens and (wide receivers) coach (Pat) Washington helps him out.”
There is a chance one or more of the incoming freshmen — Emanuel Hall, Justin Smith, Johnathon Johnson or Richaud Floyd — could make an impact either at receiver or on special teams.
“It’s kind of exciting, because it is new guys and the potential and the athletic ability that these younger guys have is something that Mizzou might not have ever had before,” Mauk said. “There’s just so much depth there. There’s so many people who can do different things.”
Being tested daily by a veteran secondary should help.
“It’s the best thing and I couldn’t be happier to have corners playing the way some of our guys are playing, because there are some great lessons to learn every time you watch the film,” Washington said.
Still, it’s a work in progress.
“It’s going to take time for everybody,” Gibson said. “They’re young, but they’ve got all the talent in the world and I see they’re making strides already this spring compared to where they were last fall. I think they’ll be fine.”
MISSOURI ROSTER: WIDE RECEIVERS
Returning players: Nate Brown (6-3, 205, so.), J’Mon Moore (6-3, 190, so.), Keyon Dilosa (6-3, 200, fr.), Thomas Richard (6-1, 190, fr.), DeSean Blair (6-3, 190, fr.), Wesley Leftwich (6-1, 205, sr.), Jake Brents (6-3, 205, jr.), Aaron Bailey (5-9, 165, so.), Eric Laurent (6-3, 215, jr.), Raymond Wingo (5-11, 175, fr.)
Incoming players: Justin Smith (6-7, 200, fr.), Johnathon Johnson (5-10, 175, fr.), Emanuel Hall (6-3, 200, fr.), Richaud Floyd (5-11, 165, fr.)
Projected starters: Brown, Moore, Leftwich
Analysis: It’s entirely possible that Keyon Dilosa, who suffered a ruptured Achilles’ tendon last summer, will pass Leftwich on the depth before the close of camp. But for now, given Leftwich’s experience and status as a leader for the group, we’ll keep him penciled in as a starter.
Leftwich is the only senior in the bunch, putting the onus of leadership on his shoulders along with junior quarterback Maty Mauk. Former high school quarterback Eric Laurent, who worked with the No. 1 offense with Nate Brown (knee) sidelined in the spring is a dark-horse candidate to emerge as a chain-mover for MU’s offense.
Brown and Moore are pretty safe bets to begin the season as starters, barring injury, and are the leading candidates to emerge as Missouri’s top wide receiver. Neither has a great deal of experience, but big things are expected from Brown in the slot and from Moore outside as a deep threat.
There is a bounty of candidates with a chance to make an impact in four-receiver sets or with the second string, whether it’s Dilosa or another of the touted redshirt freshmen — Thomas Richard, DeSean Blair or Raymond Wingo, who moved from cornerback during spring practice.
Hall is considered the most advanced among the incoming freshmen with a college-ready body and skills to match, but Smith is an intriguing red-zone option with his size. Meanwhile, Johnson has potentially elite return skills and Floyd, a converted quarterback, is an exceptional playmaker with the ball in his hands.