Each day, the Massachusetts Daily Collegian sports blog will break down each position on the UMass football roster from now until the regular season. Today we look at the wide receivers. Check in tomorrow for the running backs. The UMass quarterbacks were highlighted yesterday.
Key Returners: Tajae Sharpe (SO), Elgin Long (RS SO), Bernard Davis (SO), Iric Harris (RS SO)
Notable Losses: Deion Walker (GR), Alan Williams (SR) Marken Michel (SO)
Key Newcomers: Shakur Nesmith (FR), Kevin Lovaincy (RS FR), E.J. Burston (FR), Shaquille Harris (FR), D.J. Woods (FR)
Notes: This season could give a glimpse into the future at the wide receiver position for the Massachusetts football team.
The 2013 wide receiving corps consists of all underclassmen with limited playing time at the collegiate level. So, this year could either show a lot of promise, or cause many headaches for the offense, depending if the young group can grasp the offense that UMass coach Charley Molnar puts in place for them.
Last year, the wide receivers weren’t anything special, but there are still two glaring holes left behind by graduate student Deion Walker and senior Alan Williams. Between the two, they collected over 1,000 yards receiving for a combined seven touchdowns and gave first-year quarterback Mike Wegzyn two strong options to throw the ball to.
This year, he won’t have that experience. Heading into the season, Tajae Sharpe is the only member of this year’s group that made any significant impact on offense last season.
Sharpe had 206 receiving yards last year and became a valuable No. 2 option behind Walker once Marken Michel went down with an ankle injury six weeks into the season. That experience and production was enough to make him the No. 1 guy heading into camp and into this weekend’s matchup against No. 23 Wisconsin.
Now it will be up to the sophomore to not only lead on the field, but off the field as well, helping the younger players along in the offense. It’s not every season that a sophomore is viewed as a leader, but for Sharpe, he will be looked upon by the coaching staff to pick up where Walker left off.
After Sharpe, Bernard Davis and Shakur Nesmith will be Wegzyn’s next best options. However, both lack valuable game experience, Davis as a sophomore and Nesmith as a true freshman.
They will need to learn fast because without the team’s top tight end and arguably the team’s top pass-catching option in Rob Blanchflower for at least the first week, Wegzyn will need more options than just Sharpe.
The lack of experience also means that Molnar will need to rely on some of his other incoming freshman as well.
Unlike last season, he doesn’t have the ability to redshirt some of his first-year guys, meaning that there could be some growing pains early in the season for guys like D.J. Woods, Shaquille Harris and E.J. Burston.
Like many of the other positions for the Minutemen, the wide receivers will need time to develop, but have the potential to show promise and improvement down the road.
Patrick Strohecker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter at @MDC_Strohecker.