Missouri Tigers 2009 Football Preview: Receiving Corps Faces Tall Task

Ryan FallerAnalyst IAugust 28, 2009

264 catches. 3,080 receiving yards. 30 touchdowns.

Those are the offensive totals that left along with former Tiger receivers Jeremy Maclin, Chase Coffman, and Tommy Saunders after the 2008 season. More pertinently, those numbers resemble the enormous task that awaits the current gang of Missouri receivers and tight ends for 2009.

Suffice it to say that no logical fan expects those gaudy stats to be replicated by a unit that features only two seniors—both of which sat out the entire spring while nursing injuries—but those who watched the accomplishments of the aforementioned trio from the shadows last season are chomping at the bit to prove that this refurbished Missouri offense won't miss a beat.

With the exception of seniors Jared Perry and Danario Alexander, both of whom will be counted upon to provide leadership in addition to solid production, offensive coordinator David Yost will have to figure out a means of creating some kind of synergy between first-year starting quarterback Blaine Gabbert and a group of receivers that returns all of 35 receptions, 291 yards, and no touchdowns.

A huge challenge lies ahead for this unit, but with an offensive scheme that spreads the ball around as generously as Missouri's, there will be plenty of chances for this up-and-coming group to forge their own legacies down the road.

Wide Receivers

Jared Perry is being counted upon in '09

Jared Perry (6'1", 180 lbs., Sr.)

Just two years ago, Perry was in a position to become an absolute star. As a freshman in 2006, Perry took the Big 12 by storm, earning All-American honorable mention and a Big-12 All-Freshman Team selection after posting 37 receptions for 429 yards and three touchdowns.

But then he pulled a disappearing act. Perry's potential monster 2007 season coincided with the arrival of two-time All-American receiver/return man Jeremy Maclin, spelling doom for any chance of a follow-up to a terrific freshman campaign. When it was all said and done, Perry caught only 13 passes for 152 yards.

The forgotten man in Missouri's heavily weaponized offensive arsenal, Perry re-emerged last season, recording career-highs in catches (41), yards (567), yards per catch (13.8), and touchdowns (4) in 14 starts.

The mission for Perry now is to sustain that success for 2009, a season in which he will occupy the No. 1 spot at the X-receiver position and provide some much-needed leadership as one of only two seniors in a largely unproven unit.

A string bean in stature, the deceptively quick Perry is shifty and custom-built for the Tigers' intermediate passing game, especially on inside screens, and should see his fair share of balls in 2009. If his recovery from offseason shoulder surgery holds up, it's not unlikely that Perry could come close to registering his first career 1,000-yard receiving season.

Like a number of receivers, Perry has suffered from a case of butter-fingers during preseason camp, a problem that briefly led to a demotion to the second-team offense. But Perry's problems seem to have righted themselves. He's back with the starting unit and is all but guaranteed a spot atop the 2009 depth chart when its official release takes place on Monday.

Danario Alexander (6'5", 215 lbs., Sr.)

The other senior member of MU's receiving corps, Alexander, like Perry, will try to provide an impressive ending to an otherwise frustrating career. After a solid freshman season during which he caught 15 balls for 251 yards, the athletic big man from Marlin, Texas, officially arrived on the scene during Missouri's breakout season of 2007, finishing with 417 yards and two scores on 37 receptions.

Sadly, though, the ending to his fruitful season came not with his usual robust production, but rather a tear of the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the Big 12 Championship against Oklahoma, one game after leading the Tigers to a landmark victory over Kansas with eight catches for 117 yards.

One offseason later, another setback occurred, as team physicians discovered that his surgically repaired ligament had re-torn. Following a second procedure, Alexander was kept off the field until the Tigers' third game of the season in 2008, setting the tone for a disappointing year.

Expected to be a focal point of Missouri's offense in 2009, Alexander sat out spring practice in the wake of a third operation to give his ailing knee ample time to heal. He'll likely enter the Sept. 5 season opener as the team's starter at the H-receiver position and eager to prove he can stay healthy.

When he's right, Alexander is one of the most talented players on the entire Missouri roster. With his large frame and good agility, Alexander presents matchup problems for 99 percent of defensive backs in the Big 12 and, if he's 100 percent, should flash the skills he displayed early in his career. But, with him, that's a big "if."

Wes Kemp (6'4", 225 lbs., So.)

One quick look at Kemp, and you would have sworn you were face to face with former Tiger receiving great Justin Gage. And though the sophomore wideout from St. Louis and current NFLer are strikingly similar in terms of physical features, it remains to be seen if Kemp is able to produce as efficiently as Gage on the field.

A three-time All-State selection at DeSmet High School, Kemp spent much of his true freshman season participating on special teams and enters 2009 as the presumptive starter at the Z-receiver position, where he'll be able to use his athletic skills and physical presence while stationed on the edge of the offensive formation.

Like most of the young receivers hoping to make a splash this season, Kemp should be considered a work in progress, though he seems to be catching on quickly, as evidenced by his nomination as the team's most improved receiver during the spring, as well as his nearly flawless preseason camp performance.

Jerrell Jackson (6'1", 190 lbs., So.)

Besides Perry and Alexander, Jackson is the most tested wide receiver the Tigers have and, because of this, should start his fair share of games this season. Broken out of that do-it-all mold, Jackson proved versatile as a true freshman last season, catching 9 passes for 98 yards in addition to running the occasional reverse.

Wes Kemp (8) and Brandon Gerau will see plenty of playing time

Bottom line is, there will never be another Maclin, but Jackson appears to be the closest thing—and the Tigers will treat him as such.

Expected to contend for the right to supplant Maclin as the team's primary return man, Jackson entered fall camp as the No. 2 H-receiver behind Alexander, but he may find a more significant role if he continues to show the same elusiveness and big-play ability he did in the Black and Gold Game.

Brandon Gerau (6'0", 175 lbs., So.)

A sappy tale of perseverance and hard work brought to life, Gerau worked his rear-end off as part of the practice squad for much of his first two years in the program. In doing so, the former walk-on naturally proved to the coaching staff that he possessed the skills to at least serve as a capable backup in the spread offense.

Then came the spring. Still a virtual unknown to most observers outside of the Columbia city limits, Gerau—a local product from Rock Bridge High School—was arguably Missouri's most effective receiver, catching 11 passes for 143 yards during the Tigers' three spring scrimmages while displaying surprising quickness, soft hands, and a knack for getting open.

Following his string of strong performances, the coaching staff rewarded Gerau with a scholarship effective this fall, and he looks to be a lock to be the backup to Kemp entering the season.

Rolandis Woodland (6'3", 200 lbs., RSFr.)

Speaking of a work in progress, Woodland is as big of a mystery as any other MU receiver, but, if tapped correctly, his talents could be off the charts. An exciting package of playmaking ability, Woodland has waited for his chance for several years.

Initially committing to the Tigers as part of the 2007 recruiting class, Woodland spent a year at Harmony Prep School in Cincinnati after he failed to qualify academically. Upon renewing his pledge in 2008, Woodland spent last season as a redshirt freshman while the NCAA Clearinghouse reviewed his eligibility.

Now, with his path clear of obstacles, Woodland enters 2009 listed on the depth chart behind Perry, at the X-receiver position. Woodland shares the inexperience of his fellow wide receivers, but that won't stop Yost from utilizing his length and physical attributes—including a sub-4.5 time in the 40-yard dash—in the offensive gameplan this season, especially as a deep threat and in the red zone.

Gahn McGaffie (5'10", 185 lbs., RSFr.)

A former high school quarterback from Galena Park, Texas, McGaffie (first name pronounced like "John") was proficient enough under center to warrant a number of offers from schools that coveted his arm, but it was his all-around skill set and athleticism that eventually landed him in Columbia.

As a standout on the practice squad last season, McGaffie earned the Backup Player of the Week distinction a team-high three times for his outstanding work on the offensive scout team. One year later, the redshirt freshman may be busy practicing with the first-string offense, as he is currently listed as the No. 3 Z-receiver despite missing the spring's final scrimmage with a sprained ankle.

Overall, McGaffie's versatility will provide the Tigers with another dimension offensively. The mobility with which he excelled at quarterback in high school notwithstanding, McGaffie will serve as another target for quarterback Blaine Gabbert while stretching defenses both vertically and horizontally.

T.J. Moe (6'0", 190 lbs., Fr.)

Moe is undoubtedly one of the more intriguing pieces of the puzzle, but it's not yet known whether he'll fit into the equation for 2009. A heralded quarterback prospect from St. Louis' Fort Zumwalt West High School, Moe pledged to Missouri last winter initially as a projected safety, but then preseason camp happened.

Enamored with his intellect and ability to pick up the spread offense's complex jargon almost instantly, the coaching staff immediately moved Moe, a 4.0 student, over to offense, where he showed a solid pair of hands. In all, with the exception of fellow true freshman L'Damian Washington, Moe has been by far the most impressive first-year player this preseason, on either side of the ball.

Disappointingly, though, his hands are all Moe got to show. Following surgery on his foot last December, he's been decked out in a red jersey nearly all camp long, meaning he's allowed only to participate in light drills and none involving contact.

It's clear that Yost and head coach Gary Pinkel badly want Moe to forgo a redshirt season, but only if his foot allows. And a decision on whether to dress him for the season probably won't happen until after the Sept. 5 season opener, so as to give Moe's injury more time to heal.

Reserves:  La'Roderick Thomas (6'0", 200 lbs., Jr.), Forrest Shock (6'1", 210 lbs., Jr.), Jonnie Fields (5'10", 180 lbs., So.), Terry Dennis (6'3", 200 lbs., So.)

Tight Ends

Andrew Jones (6'5", 245 lbs., So.)

If Jackson was the understudy to Maclin a season ago, then Jones filled the same position under Chase Coffman, the 2008 Mackey Award winner and college football's most productive tight end ever. And the similarities between the two are eerie.

Will Andrew Jones be the next great tight end at Missouri?

With a mere inch separating Jones' stature from that of Coffman, who stood at 6-foot-6, the sophomore from Smithville, Mo., looks every bit of the part played by his All-American predecessor.

In 14 games as a true freshman in 2008, Jones reeled in 20 passes for 146 yards while displaying the soft hands, uncanny athleticism, and body control that were all hallmarks of Coffman.

With his mentor now gone to the NFL, Jones is expected to become the next great Missouri tight end, although he'll be utilized more like a wide receiver in the spread offense, much like Coffman and fellow former Tiger great Martin Rucker.

More immediately, Jones will be faced with shouldering some of the load for a pubescent group of pass-catchers, as he has 11 more receptions and 48 more yards receiving than any of his underclassmen peers.

Michael Egnew (6'6", 230 lbs., So.)

Jones' inevitable partner-in-crime, Egnew gives the Tigers their next duo of elite tight ends for at the least the next couple seasons. The Texas native proved talented enough to earn playing time as a true freshman in 2008, hauling in four passes for 22 yards in 13 games, and he'll get plenty of chances to develop his skills this season.

Egnew is currently listed as the No. 2 tight end, but that part of the depth chart may as well be crossed out considering Missouri's penchant for fielding two tight ends in the same formation. Plus, the Tigers would be ill-advised to keep Egnew's towering size and receiver-like mobility on the sideline.

At this point, Jones is undoubtedly the more seasoned of the two, but Egnew is not far behind. Despite suffering from a severely sprained ankle that required surgery and caused him to miss the spring's final scrimmage, Egnew played extremely well and was given the Most Improved Tight End Award after registering six receptions and 68 yards.

Given the height of both Egnew and Jones, as well as that of players like Woodland and Kemp, it's possible the Tigers could have four receivers 6-foot-4 or taller on the field at the same time, which is something I'm not sure has ever happened in the history of the program.

Reserves:  Jon Gissinger (6'3", 250 lbs., Sr.), Alex Sanders (6'5", 220 lbs., Fr.)

Photo Credit: Flickr/Columbia Daily Tribune/Columbia Missourian

Lead photo: Charles Ludeke/The Maneater


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