This is the second of a multi-part series where the Maroon Musket takes a first glance at what the UMass football team will look like in 2014. Some of the names listed are not on the official roster. Those are: 1) verbal commits and 2) freshmen who are on the team but not yet listed. This article is based on players listed as of December 3, 2013.
Elgin Long was a familiar face in the receiving corps this year/Andy Heller
During fall camp, the UMass football team looked a lot different than it had a year earlier.
There were more athletes, guys were bigger, and there was a general feeling that the program had taken at least an aesthetic step toward the FBS look.
The problem: Most of the depth, size and speed was inexperienced.
Nowhere was this more obvious than at wide receiver.
For a moment, UMass' receiving corps looked ready for prime time. Tajae Sharpe, the group's sophomore leader, was playing with confidence early and had a few complimentary pieces. One of those guys was Shakur Nesmith, a 6-foot-4 freshman with raw athletic ability. In some packages, Derek Beck (6-foot-4, 225 pounds) would join Sharpe and Nesmith, and all of a sudden the Minutemen had three long receivers ready to fight for jump balls.
That whole thing didn't last long. Nesmith was hurt in the season opener against Wisconsin and missed the rest of the season with an apparent shoulder injury. Beck was banged up all year, but during his healthy interludes, he showed signs of improvement. Effectively, UMass wasn't able to get its tall trio on the field at the same time. The typical lineup was Sharpe, Elgin Long (5-foot-10) and Bernard Davis (6-foot-1).
For the most part, Sharpe carried the load.
As UMass' wide receivers struggled, questions started to arise. The Minutemen brought in three talented Florida receivers – D.J. Woods, E.J. Burston and Shaquille Harris – so why weren't they playing? Kevin Lovaincy (6-foot-4) was listed on the two-deep every week, why not give him a shot? What about Dillon Tighe, a preferred walk-on with impressive high school highlights?
The Minutemen rolled with Sharpe-Davis-Long, with an occasional Beck, and stumbled. Only Sharpe (680) finished with more than 200 receiving yards. He's also the only wideout to tally more than one touchdown.
Barring any JUCO or graduate student transfers, UMass will once again be fairly young at the position. Sharpe, who is 114 yards away from 1,000, will lead the group and – if the unit stays in tact – should get a second shot to work with Beck and Nesmith. One can also assume the Sunshine Boys will get a chance to show off their abilities. Particularly interesting will be the development of Harris, who looked confident (and quick) during limited action.
The status of Dalvin Battle is also something to keep an eye on. The redshirt freshman has been dealing with nagging injuries and hasn't really had a chance to prove himself. If he can get healthy, there's a chance he finds his way into the mix.
As far as new faces, UMass currently has a verbal commitment from Norvel Stewart, a 6-foot-2, 220-pound receiver from Connecticut. Charan Singh can play the position, but he projects to be a defensive back at the next level. The Minutemen are also looking hard at Jarry Williams, a 6-foot-4 receiver from the Jacksonville area. However, there is one concern: Suber was in charge of a good deal of Florida recruiting, so that may affect Williams' recruitment.
Locally, UMass has been looking at Rory Donovan, a wide receiver/tight end at Cardinal Spellman High School (Brockton, MA). Whether he'll be a wideout or a tight end at the next level is unclear. New Hampshire and UMass are in on him right now, but there's a chance he decides to play basketball at the next level.
If there's one position that needs upgrading, it's wide receiver. During the course of the season, it became very clear how important Alan Williams and Deion Walker were to the team in 2012. Perhaps Molnar will look toward a big transfer.
Maybe whoever replaces Suber will have a bigger impact.
Derek Beck (WR/TE)
Rodney Mills (WR/TE)