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Georgia Tech Football: 2016 Position Previews - Wide Receiver

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A look at the 2016 receiver corps

Countdown to Kickoff: 58 Days

As our 100 Days to Kickoff series continues to tick down, we begin our position previews to provide an in-depth look at who will be on the field for the Yellow Jackets this year. Each position has seen some old faces leave and new ones take their place. This week is all about becoming more familiar with the depth chart and getting an idea of what to expect out of each position group this fall.

2016 Position Previews: Wide Receiver

Despite the negative recruiting tactics harped on wideouts interested in playing at Tech by some very specific coaches in and out of conference, the position is one of the most important in the offense. Now that Johnson’s flexbone has put a slew of wide receivers in the NFL under his tenure, it’s very apparent what a crucial position this is in the offense, and how quickly players can be come stars.

They just have to learn how to block first.

If you’re still having doubts, you can read this article from the NY Times that was written even before Waller and Smelter were drafted after the 2014 season.

One of the things we’ve said over and over on this blog is how the Yellow Jacket wide receivers need time to "get/be on the same page" as the quarterback. It’s very obvious the difference it makes – you can see the misread throws/routes of the 2014 ACC Championship game between Justin Thomas and Darren Waller as an example. Thomas had lost his go-to receiver to injury, and it took time for him and Waller to get in sync. When they eventually did, Waller caught 5 passes for 114 yards and a touchdown in the Orange Bowl.

The reason I bring this up is because Paul Johnson’s passing attack is largely based off the run-n-shoot offense. We haven’t talked about it in-depth here at FTRS, but it’s what we’re referring to when we say that the quarterback and receiver need to be on the same page. The run-n-shoot passing attack is almost entirely based on option routes for the receivers – this means they often adjust their routes on the fly depending on how the defensive players are covering them. Because of this, the quarterback and receiver have to have a certain level of intuition in order for the passes to be thrown to the route that the receiver is running.

This philosophy of route running meshes with Johnson’s entire offensive philosophy – the option. The flexbone run game is the quintessential if-then offense: if the defense lines up like this, then we run this play… or if this player makes a tackle when he shouldn’t have, then we run this play to attack him.

Option routes for receivers work the same way – the receiver runs a route based on what the defense gives him. If a safety is rolling over the top because the play-side corner has the pitch-man, then the receiver will often cut into a post route to get open in front of him. If the safety is flying to the line in run support, then the receiver can run a go route and make the corner try and keep up.

These types of things are what the quarterback and receiver need to be on the same page about in order for the passing game to be successful in Johnson’s offense. Otherwise it becomes less the run-n-shoot of 2014 and more the chuck-n-duck of 2015.

Who’s Gone?

I brought all of that up because Tech is returning the whole depth chart at WR, which is also the only skill position that wasn’t plagued by injury in 2015. The continuity and another year of practices will help immensely and should result in a more efficient passing game.

Who’s Back?

The 2016 Jackets return both starters in Ricky Jeune and Brad Stewart, as well as Christian Philpott, Harland Howell, Antonio Messick, and Mikell Lands-Davis. Stewart impressively won his starting role later in the season as a true freshman.

Who’s New?

The only newcomer to the group is Mikell Lands-Davis, who moved to the position from A-Back last season. He showed strong pass-catching skills as an A-back and will be one of the more interesting players to watch this fall.

What Should We Expect?

We should expect improvement – something better than the 2015 passing game, but probably not as efficient as the 2014 passing game. If the O-Line can provide Thomas any sort of time to throw this season, we should see significant improvement, but that’s a big "if." The talent is there on the perimeter, but these receivers will also not see the field unless they learn how and who to block, which was a big reason why Brad Stewart won his starting job last season.

The best seasons under Paul Johnson’s tenure have been when a homerun threat emerged from the WR group. Whether that person in 2016 is Jeune, Stewart, Lands-Davis, or someone else, the 2016 Jackets will need someone to step up on the perimeter in order for this to turn into a 10+ win team.

Projected Depth Chart

1st String Ricky Jeune Brad Stewart
2nd String Mikell Lands-Davis Harland Howell
3rd String Christian Phillpott Antonio Messick