Spring Practice Position Battle: Wide Receivers

 Dominique Booth attempts to evade a Penn State defensive back in the team's 13-7 loss to the Nittany Lions. Booth is one of Many young wide receivers the Hoosiers will be relying on to improve their passing attack in 2015.

Dominique Booth attempts to evade a Penn State defensive back in the team's 13-7 loss to the Nittany Lions. Booth is one of Many young wide receivers the Hoosiers will be relying on to improve their passing attack in 2015.

Written By: Nick Holmes (@HoosierHolmes)

Hoosiers enter 2015 with plenty of options at Wide Receiver

If there's one thing for certain going into next season, it's that the Hoosiers' aerial attack will have to be vastly improved for the team to have a legitimate shot at the postseason in 2015. After compiling 3,680 yards through the air in 2013, the team saw their production plummet to just 1,697 passing yards after a season-ending injury to quarterback Nate Sudfeld this past season.

The Hoosiers knew entering 2014 that their passing attack would likely take a step back, losing three career one thousand yard receivers is tough for any team to overcome. Factor in that the receivers from the 2012 and 2013 recruiting classes had not panned out the way the coaching staff had hoped, the Hoosiers found themselves relying on a group of true freshman. Despite how talented this group was, as it’s clear they possessed plenty of potential, they still faced a steep learning curve to be productive, reliable pass catchers. As a result, the Hoosiers were never truly able to get their passing attack on track in 2014.

The running game, which looks to replace Consensus All-American Tevin Coleman, would also greatly benefit from a more consistent and reliable passing attack. The threat alone would keep defenses honest, opening up running lanes and dissuading teams from stacking the box. For the passing game to take a step forward in 2015, it's going to take some serious development by a young group of receivers that were thrust into action during the first season on campus.

The Departed

For the second straight season the Hoosiers will be looking to replace a 1,000 yard career receiver, this time the shifty and electric Ohio native, Shane Wynn. He was without question the Hoosiers only consistent receiving threat in 2014, making 56 catches for three touchdowns and a career high 708 yards. His exploits weren’t merely limited to the passing game, proving to be a threat on the ground by breaking off long runs of 75 and 41 yards against the Spartans and Boilermakers, respectively, both resulting in touchdowns.

In addition to Wynn, the Hoosiers see the departure of seniors Zeke Roundtree and Nick Stoner. Neither player had quite the impact they had hoped due to injuries, Roundtree suffering a torn Achilles during practice midway through the season and Stoner dealing with a hamstring issue. The two combined for 30 catches for 249 yards and one touchdown in 2014

SEASON STATSRECEIVINGRUSHING
2014RECYDSAVGLNGTDATTYDSAVGLNGTD
Shane Wynn5670812.6763413834.5752
Nick Stoner222179.9471000.000
Isaiah Roundtree8324.090000.000

The Contenders

Before even playing a down for the Hoosiers, the 5-foot 8, 162 pound J-Shun Harris II was already being compared to Shane Wynn. “I don’t know how they found someone who was just like Shane. It’s crazy,” Isaiah Roundtree said prior to the 2014 season. “He plays consistently as fast as Shane Wynn does on the field,” OC Kevin Johns said. “He does a great job of feeling space and getting open.” The similarities between the two go beyond size and speed, statistically Harris' freshman season nearly mirrored Wynn's first season with Hoosiers. Much like during Wynn's freshman season, Harris' performance was also hindered by lack of consistency from the quarterback spot. Harris made 14 catches for 139 yards and two touchdowns in the team's first six games, while only making four grabs for 29 yards in the last half of the season. Despite the decline in his production in the team's final six games, Harris is still the Hoosiers leading returning receiver in 2015. His speed, ability to make plays in space, and experience give him the inside track to start in the slot this season.

RECEIVINGRUSHING
SEASON STATSRECYDSAVGLNGTDATTYDSAVGLNGTD
J-Shun Harris 2014181689.3332430.860
Shane Wynn 20111919710.43206376.2160

Fort Wayne native Isaac Griffith provides the Hoosiers with another option in the slot. After redshirting his first year on campus, he played sparingly in 2014, seeing action against the Sycamores and the Buckeyes. At 6-foot, 196 pounds, Griffith has good size and has the potential to develop into a solid possession receiver.

After seeing action at outside receiver for the Hoosiers in 2014, don't be surprised if junior Ricky Jones moves inside. He played on the perimeter out of necessity this past season, however his 5-foot 10 frame is better suited to play in the slot. Nevertheless, wherever Jones ends up, he will face an uphill battle to play meaningful snaps in 2015.

Much in the same mold as recent Hoosier wide-outs DeMarlo Belcher and James Harden, former hardwood star Simmie Cobbs has all the physical tools to succeed in the Hoosiers offense. At 6-foot 4, 209 pounds, Cobbs is the Hoosiers tallest wide receiver, making him a potentially lethal red zone threat. However, if Cobbs is to reach his high-ceiling as a wide-receiver, he will need overcome his tendency to drop passes and focus on polishing up his route running. Cobbs will have a great opportunity to work on both of these areas as the Hoosiers close in on spring practice in a couple of weeks.

As the 2014 season progressed Indianapolis native Dominique Booth saw his playing time increase, which offered Indiana fans glimpses of what type of player he might become. While not as physically gifted as Cobbs, Booth is another big-bodied receiver that has the potential to be a playmaker for the Hoosiers. Booth is someone who can play on the perimeter or possibly slide inside in four wide sets, as he saw some action in the slot during his high school career. Although, this is somewhat unlikely as Coach Wilson has shown a preference in the past to play a tight-end in such situations. Nonetheless, look for Booth to make some strides during his second spring session with the Hoosiers.

As the only receiver in the Hoosiers 2014 recruiting class who did not see the field this past season, little is known by those outside the program about Georgia native Coray Keel. What we do know is that Keel has good size, 6-foot 2, 195 pounds and coming out of high school was a three-star prospect according to 247sports with offers from Minnesota, Purdue, Illinois, and Kansas State, among others. It will be interesting to see if watching from the sidelines has hindered or aided in his development when compared to his peers who saw the field early.

Much like Keel, UAB transfer Marqui Hawkins is largely an unknown. Despite entering his third season in college football, he has yet to play a down. After redshirting his freshman season at Florida, he had to sit out the 2014 season at UAB due to the NCAA's transfer rule. At 6-foot 2, 215 Hawkins possesses the prototypical size you look for in an outside receiver. How soon and how much playing time he'll depends heavily on his ability to pick up the offense. Based on potential alone, Hawkins looks like a safe bet to see extensive playing time in 2015.

SEASON STATSRECEIVINGRUSHING
2014RECYDSAVGLNGTDATTYDSAVGLNGTD
J-Shun Harris II181689.3332430.860
Dominique Booth8708.8150000.000
Simmie Cobbs711416.3340000.000
Ricky Jones35819.3250000.000
Andre Booker12121.0210000.000
Isaac GriffithNo Statistics - Limited Action
Coray KeelNo Statistics - Redshirt

More Help is on the Way

In addition to Hawkins, the Hoosiers added five other options at wide receiver this offseason, including Camion Patrick, Nick Westbrook, Leon Thornton, Isaac James and Mike Majette

Of the five receviers that will be arriving in Bloomington this summer, Junior college transfer Camion Patrick is the most likely of the group to have an impact this fall. Patrick’s combination of size, 6-foot 2, 215 pounds and experience, catching 42 passes for 631 yards and 12 TDs for a East Mississippi team that went undefeated and won the NJCAA Championship, will give him an opportunity to contribute immediately for the Hoosiers. How quickly he picks up the offense and builds a rapport with senior quarterback Sudfeld will determine what kind of impact he'll have this fall, which could go a long way in determining how much improvement the Hoosiers passing game experiences in 2015.

Florida native Nick Westbrook also provides the Hoosiers quarterbacks with another big target. The 6-foot 3, 205 pound athlete had an outstanding senior season, making 80 grabs for 1857 yards, 19 touchdowns and was named to the Florida All-State Class 8A Football Team.

Leon Thornton certainly isn't lacking in size either, at 6-foot 2, 195 pounds, should be another solid option on the outside for the Hoosiers. The dynamic playmaker lined up in the slot, on the outside, and even played at quarterback in the wildcat role for Montini during his senior season. Much like Patrick and Westbrook, Thornton could also push for early playing time.

Both Isaac James and Mike Majette are versatile athletes that are capable of playing on either side of the ball, but will likely begin their careers at slot receiver. Out of the two, I expect James to push Harris for playing time.

Outlook

The Hoosiers enter the spring session with plenty of question marks at wide receiver, but also have plethora of pontential answers. Under Wilson the Hoosiers have typically utilized at least six wide receivers on any given Saturday, and outside of Harris in the slot, it looks as if the five other spots are up for grabs. The 2014 class will need to make some major strides this spring, as the talented group in the 2015 class will be breathing down their necks when they make it to the capital of Hoosier Nation. If the season were to start tomorrow, I could see Patrick, Harris, and Cobbs trotting out on the field first. Regardless of whoever Wilson ends up going with, expect greatly increased production from this group due to an infusion of talent and maturation by those players entering their second season.