Akron is paper thin at tight end. A couple of tweaks, and the Zips best hope at running back is a freshman. Akron added two passing gurus to the coaching staff.
Those three facts suggest that the Zips will use a lot of wide receivers this season. Seeing four- and five-receiver sets should not surprise anyone.
The Zips have a load of players capable of being productive receivers. The issue is sorting through the eight players who might earn playing time.
Deryn Bowser His role: High-volume pass catcher. 2009 outlook: Pardon the pun, but receivers catch a lot of crap when their hands don't function properly. By my unofficial estimate, Bowser dropped at least a dozen passes in 2008. The good news is that J.D. Brookhart went far out of his way to praise Bowser's spring performance. Even last year, Bowser was a great route runner who sought the ball at its highest point. And when Akron really needed a play, he made it. See the Kent State game.
Andre Jones His role: Deep threat. Game breaker. 2009 outlook: Jones was suspended one game last year because he violated the class-attendance policy. When he played, it was hard to complain about how Jones' quick transition from defensive back. It helps when you have Jones' speed. He's the guy you use in NCAA College Football 2009 on the cliche "Hail Mary" call. Another year of learning the new position can only help.
Jeremy Bruce His role: Possession receiver. Threat out of the backfield. 2009 outlook: Bruce's performance improved as the season went on. With his diverse skill set, it took time for Bruce and the coaches to find his niche in the offense. Hopefully, Shane Montgomery and Walt Harris will quickly find a way to exploit the senior transfer from West Virginia.
Dashan Miller His role: Physical possession receiver. 2009 outlook: Miller never lived up to my expectations after a strong fall. He must improve his hands to gain the quarterback's trust, too. His route running has impressed me.
Gary Pride His role: Speedster. Open-field threat. 2009 outlook: A source told me that Pride was generally unhappy with his experience at Akron and was considering a transfer. He stayed, and he will catch a good amount of balls in 2009, particularly on screen passes.
Curtis Brown His role: Speedster. 2009 outlook: Brown reminds me a lot of Bowser, but maybe a step faster. He has talent, for sure. It's only a question of when he gets his turn.
Nadir Brown His role: Deep threat. 2009 outlook: Brown and his 6-foot-5 frame stood out during spring camp. It takes more than height to be a solid Division I receiver. As a freshman in his first spring camp, Brown showed he has the speed and some intangibles to earn playing time. At the very least, Brown will get a chance to show the spring was not a fluke.
Jeremy LaFrance His role: Physical possession receiver. 2009 outlook: This receiving corps has enough depth to keep an incoming player on the bench. But LaFrance is a juco transfer, and a three-star one, at that. Coaches don't recruit juco guys unless they expect the transfer to play in both of his years of eligibility.
To recap, here are my post-spring grades for receiver, linebacker and defensive back. I previewed the latter two last week.
Wide receiver Experience: A Talent: A- Depth: A Overall: A-
Linebacker Experience: B- Talent: A- Depth: B Overall: B+
Defensive back Experience: C- Talent: B Depth: C Overall: C
What do you think? (And yes, let me preempt one question. Players are permitted to vote.)
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