Matt Weir / The Collegian
Trio of receivers hope to lead Bulldogs passing attack.
With the departure of last year’s top receiver Seyi Ajirotutu, now catching passes from former Fresno State quarterback Billy Volek, and teammates Marlon Moore and Chastin West to the NFL, three veterans will be asked to fill the voids for the departed players.
Senior Devon Wylie is expected to start at one wideout position alongside emerging junior Jamel Hamler. Sophomore Rashad Evans is slated to fill the role as the slot receiver after sitting out the entire 2009 season as a redshirt.
Hamler and Wylie are the ‘Dogs most experienced receivers, but both only started two games each last year.
Hamler is the top returning pass-catcher for the ‘Dogs. He finished second on the team in receiving last season after hauling in 37 passes for 503 yards and five touchdowns. Hamler will try to take over the No. 1 receiver spot that was vacated by Ajirotutu.
As the team’s fastest player, Wylie possesses the ability to be the team’s big-play receiver, but he has missed games in each of the past three seasons because of nagging injuries.
Wylie will attempt to fight the injury bug in his final season. Last year, he grabbed 17 passes for 259 yards and four touchdowns. Wylie was recently named as a candidate for the Paul Hornung award, which is given annually to the most versatile player in college football. Wylie will also contribute on special teams as well.
As for Evans, he spent the 2009 season practicing with the scout team after earning playing time in 2008. He totaled 21 receptions for 232 yards as a true freshman. Evans made his biggest impact as a punt returner, finishing first on the team after fielding 13 punts for 171 yards and a touchdown. He averaged over 13 yards a return. Evans figures to fill in that role again this season.
Even though the three players have very little experience as starting receivers, head coach Pat Hill expects them to transition nicely into their new roles. “Devon Wylie, Rashad Evans and Jamel Hamler, I feel real comfortable with [starting],” Hill said.
But after those three, the game-day experience drops off drastically at receiver. Outside of Evans, Hamler and Wylie, there are no other receivers on the roster who has made an impact on the field or a player who has taken any meaningful snaps.
“Other than that, there’s very little experience at the skilled positions,” Hill said.
With many inexperienced receivers, Hill said he will rely mostly on those three players. Hill also hopes that they will be able to get through the season unscathed. But he stressed that they’ll have to develop some underclassmen if the passing game is going take off like he envisions.
“We need the young guys to come in and push,” Hill said. “If we can keep those three healthy and bring along some of our young players, I think the passing game can be very effective.”
Victor Dean, the six-foot-five, freshman receiver from San Diego is one of the young players who has impressed during fall camp along with fellow freshmen Josh Harper and Jalen Saunders. In the first scrimmage earlier this month, Dean hauled in a touchdown reception at the corner of the end zone while out jumping the secondary. With his size and jumping ability, expect Dean to push the starters for playing time.
Saunders also made a few standout plays in fall camp, most notably a 65-yard touchdown grab in the scrimmage that was the longest play in the game.
Isaiah Burse, Davon Dunn, Alex Jeffries, A.J. Johnson and Matt Lindsay will also be the young players competing for playing time.
Hill said that if the young receiving corps can progress with the veterans then it will become a very explosive group for years to come.
“If that position grows and matures, it could be a lot of fun,” Hill said. “When you have a lot of weapons, it’s a lot of fun.”