No man is an island unto himself — unless he plays wide receiver at the college level and higher.
Receiver is the most solitary position in the sports world’s most team-oriented game, where if all pistons fire on offense, scoring is simple.
When you have individuals making mental errors, then problems reveal themselves and, if not corrected, spin out of control.
University of Akron coach Terry Bowden would prefer to get things under control for a Zips receiving corps that has suffered from a case of the dropsies in the first two games. In their opener, at least seven catchable balls fell to the turf, and Bowden said that the same thing happened during last week’s overtime loss.
He gave the receivers a bit of cover after that first game, but expectations have changed.
As he said during his weekly news conference, the Zips are a passin’-and-catchin’ offense. But receivers coach Jeff Bowden knows it’s not that simple because of the nature of the position being the most individualistic on the field.
“They’re out on an island like a defensive back,” he said. “Everybody sees their mistakes.”
For the coaching staff, dealing with that situation offers challenges. Terry Bowden believes firmly that you play the way you practice. To that end, the Zips should have more than two receivers — senior Marquelo Suel and redshirt sophomore L.T. Smith — in the top 10 in the conference in catches.
“They’re catching a high percentage of passes in practice,” Jeff Bowden said. “It could be we’re doing so much work against air that when you put a defense out there and you’re starting to get collisions that might hurt us a little bit.”
Ask Terry Bowden, and he’s quick to point out a few other relevant factors — youth and inexperience being chief among them.
“We have four guys catching the ball pretty well. Those behind them who keep from dropping will get more playing time, or if they drop it, they will get less playing time,” Terry Bowden said.
Those four are Suel, Smith, junior Keith Sconiers and resdshirt freshman Zach D’Orazio, who moved from quarterback to receiver in the spring. D’Orazio was inserted into one of the slot receiver roles recently after returning from injury.
Many of the backup roles are being filled by freshmen who converted from other positions. As he builds the program, Terry Bowden isn’t too concerned with that, saying that time will take care of the issue.
But Suel and Smith know that it goes beyond that.
“Sometimes it’s just a lack of focus. You have to make sure you’re concentrating,” Suel said. “We’re still human. Sometimes you have to shake it off and move on to the next play. If anything, wash it out.”
There might be a more fundamental issue at play with the receivers’ issues, as well. They have had to learn a new offense predicated on being up-tempo and utilizing four receivers instead of two.
“That doesn’t come quickly. The transition to what we were doing offensively to what we are doing now offensively has not been easy and we’re not there yet,” Terry Bowden said.
The answer to correcting the problem is easy for Suel, a senior, who said there’s an obligation to help their teammates improve.
“[It’s] just being that mature guy; letting them know some things are going to go bad or wrong, but it’s a 60-minute game,” he said. “Just keep your head up and keep playing hard.”
Suel is ranked fourth in the conference with 14 receptions in just two games, a fact he attributes to quarterback Dalton Williams.
“It’s a real big difference. It starts with the [offensive] line then the quarterback. If the quarterback can’t get you the ball, you can’t do nothing,” Suel said.
Speaking of O-line
Backup senior center Vinnie Rizzo will start at guard in place of redshirt freshman Dylan Brumbaugh of Green High School against Morgan State on Saturday.
Coach Terry Bowden said the staff made the move because the two are playing at the same level, but Rizzo has more experience. Additionally, he wasn’t able to unseat starting center Travis Switzer.
George M. Thomas can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Zips blog at http://www.ohio.com/zips. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/GeorgeThomasABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.