April 5, 2006

Tigers searching for wideout depth this spring

The top two wideouts on Missouri's spring roster combined for 72 catches last season. But the rest of the receivers combined for just 13 receptions a season ago. After losing their top wideout following each of the last two seasons, the Tigers are spending this spring in search of some depth at a key position in their spread attack.

Missouri coach Gary Pinkel talks constantly about the need to have a lot of receivers to run the spread offense. The Tigers led the nation in offensive snaps per game last year and, the coach says, it's not physically possible to play the entire game in this system. On Tuesday, Missouri had just five scholarship wide receivers at spring practice. A problem?

"Not at all," said William Franklin, Missouri's leading returning wide receiver. "Even the walk-ons are talented. They work just as hard as the scholarship players, so it's really not a problem when you got people that's out there that can make plays."

But there is another reason the Tigers aren't worried about the lack of numbers.

"Who are you saying wideouts?" asks Brad Ekwerekwu. "Other than tight ends? I say tight ends are receivers because of the way they're used in this offense. If you watch, 75% of the time, there's two tight ends in there.

"Tight ends are pretty stacked. They've got three, four that can play and, yeah, we're kind of skinny at wide receiver, but I guess it just builds stamina if you stay out here on your feet taking all the reps."

"We're allowed in our system, as you well know, to play a lot of players in a lot of different places," Pinkel said. "Sometimes systems aren't like that, they're kind of definite. We're much more multiple."

That flexibility should help the Tigers. But outside of Franklin and Ekwerekwu, there are a total of 13 catches from last season on the practice field this day. Twelve of those were made by former walk-on Tommy Saunders. While the return of Jason Ray from a broken collarbone that caused him to miss almost the entire season should help, Missouri is spending the spring searching for another playmaker at wide receiver. The leading candidate at this point looks to be junior Greg Bracey, also a star on the Tiger track team.

"I hope so. I'm ready to play now," Bracey said. "Seriously, it's been kind of rough sitting around the last two years."

The speedster from Milwaukee has been timed at under 4.3 seconds in the 40-yard dash. Missouri hopes he can bring a deep threat that this offense has been sorely lacking for years.

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