“Depth” is the word used whenever wide receivers are brought up in conversation with the IU Football team.
The biggest question, senior receiver Mitchell Paige said Wednesday, is who to play and when to play them.
Paige will spend fall camp battling with sophomore J-Shun Harris for the starting slot position, but even though one will end up starting over the other IU Coach Kevin Wilson said both could see the field.
That reality appears to hold true for most receivers on the roster, as Wilson said he and his staff plan to play eight to 10 receivers throughout the season.
“It starts with those three, but we do need more than three,” Wilson said about the three starting receiver positions. “We'll play 8, 9, 10. So we're going to need (sophomore Nick) Westbrook, (sophomore Luke) Timian and those freshmen coming in. Because, again, the volume of work that those guys get can be taxing as you go through the year.”
Junior Simmie Cobbs and senior Ricky Jones produced well for the Hoosiers in 2015, and enter camp on the Biletnikoff Award Watch List. Cobbs had a break-out year, catching 60 passes for 1,035 yards and four touchdowns, while Jones started quickly and finished sixth in the Big Ten in yards and 11th in touchdowns.
Sophomore Isaac James is also in the mix for the slot position with Paige and Harris. Paige said James has gained confidence as a receiver after making the transition from quarterback to receiver last year.
Westbrook and Timian — who caught a deep touchdown in the New Ear Pinstripe Bowl — will have opportunities on the outside.
Freshmen Taysir Mack, Justin Berry and Phil Benker may also have opportunities to see the field, Wilson said, depending on how they perform in practice.
Paige said IU’s depth at receiver is an advantage for the offense, as fresh legs can help the coaching staff cycle receivers at secondaries that can’t sub players as often as the offense.
“Any time you can get fresh guys on the field, it’s going to help us play faster, especially us being up-tempo,” Paige said.
Competition in the summer months, which Wilson said he encourages because a good season doesn’t guarantee position on the depth chart come fall, should help ensure each receiver is ready to step up.
When making determinations on playing time, Wilson said he won’t just look at each individual’s route-running, catching and consistency, but also at how they block on the perimeter and play without the ball. A plethora of receivers can help in the running game as it opens up the defense for ball carriers.
“There’s so much depth,” Paige said. “There’s a lot of things that could happen. We just have a lot of guys that could step in and make things happen. We’re six, seven, eight guys deep, so really it’s anybody’s camp.”
4 Ricky Jones, 5-10, 185, Redshirt Senior
82 Luke Timian, 6-0, 193, Redshirt Sophomore
1 Simmie Cobbs, Jr., 6-4, 220, Junior
15 Nick Westbrook, 6-3, 215, Sophomore
87 Mitchell Paige, 5-7, 180, Redshirt Senior
5 J-Shun Harris II, 5-8, 170, Redshirt Sophomore