Young receivers look to make impact in 2018

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For the first time during Jay Hopson’s tenure as the head coach of the Southern Miss football team, multiple questions surround the wide receiver corps.

During Hopson’s first two seasons with the Golden Eagles, Korey Robertson, Allenzae Staggers, Ito Smith, D.J. Thompson, Isaiah Jones and Julian Allen are departed players who contributed significantly in the passing game. Now, in 2018, the team will rely on a group of younger players with limited experience to try and kick start the passing game, potentially with a new quarterback in the mix.

Of the players listed on the roster at wide receiver for 2018, Quez Watkins, Jaylond Adams and Tim Jones are the three players who will receive the majority of snaps at the position, especially in three-wide sets. Youth is a notable factor in this receiving corps this season, as Watkins is a redshirt sophomore and Adams and Jones are true sophomores.

Offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson stated that one of the biggest assets of the current receiving corps is the speed each player brings to the offense.

“I think we’ve got a lot of speed — maybe more speed than we’ve had at the position since I got here,” Dawson said. “When you think of guys like Quez Watkins, Tim Jones and Jaylond Adams, they are young, but they did see playing time last season and they can all flat out fly.”

Out of the returning wide receivers, Watkins was fourth on the team in receiving yards in 2017, totaling 23 catches for 337 yards and two touchdowns. As the returning statistical leader in the unit, Watkins will be called on to be a leader for the unit on and off the field. Playing behind Korey Robertson and Allenzae Staggers in the wide receiver corps last season, Watkins talked about how playing behind those two players helped his leadership skills.

“I learned a lot from them,” Watkins said. “They taught me how to lead and then how to also stay humble.”

Adams was behind Watkins in terms of statistics last season with eight receptions for 219 yards and a touchdown. Jones only had five receptions on the season but made the most of those, totalling 121 yards though the air with a touchdown, an average of 24.2 yards per reception.

Southern Miss head coach Jay Hopson mentioned other players at the position that could also serve as contributors and key depth players over the course of the season. DeMichael Harris, a junior transfer from Hinds Community College, and juniors Trevor Terry and Jordan Mitchell are guys who have had minor injuries this offseason but should be ready to go once the season starts. Junior Neil McLaurin is another junior college transfer from Southwest Mississippi Community College that has playing experience, which will be important for the unit heading into the season.

Out of the three receivers mentioned, Terry is the only one to record a catch with the team, grabbing one pass for six yards last season. Mitchell appeared in five games last season but did not record a receiving statistic. Harris, Mitchell and Terry should complement Watkins, Adams and Jones and have opportunities for receptions throughout the season in four and five-wide offensive sets.

Southern Miss head coach Jay Hopson believes that the unit’s speed is an asset as they head into the season.

“That’s a group that has a lot of speed so you’ve got to like that,” Hopson said. “We’ve got guys that can separate and make plays and space earlier.”

Another player to keep an eye on the passing game is Jay’Shawn Washington. The senior emerged as the team’s primary option at tight end last season, and recorded six catches for 72 yards and a touchdown last season. With Smith, Staggers and Robertson gone, Washington is a player in line for more targets in the passing game.

There is much optimism surrounding the receiving corps, but many questions still remain. The unit has the talent to succeed in 2018, but with a corps of mostly sophomores and juniors who have had limited playing time up to this point, it remains to be seen if they can adjust to being full-time contributors. In addition, the depth players at wide receiver must step up and stay healthy to give quarterback Jack Abraham multiple options to throw to.