March 20, 2008

Spring Preview: Wide Receivers

OUTGOING PLAYERS: Danny Amendola, Grant Walker

2007 SEASON STATS: Amendola (103 receptions for 1,177 yards and 5 touchdowns), Walker (28 receptions for 309 yards and 2 touchdowns)

MOST DIFFICULT QUALITY TO REPLACE: Reliability and toughness

THE STARTERS: Eric Morris (H), Detron Lewis (Y), Ed Britton (X), Mike Crabtree (Z)

THE COMPETITORS: Lyle Leong (Z), Jacoby Franks (Z), Rashad Hawk (X), Tramain Swindall (Y), Todd Walker (X and Z), Adam James (H), Cornelius Douglas (H), Adrian Reese (Y)

THE OUTLOOK: With three of four starters returning-and not even taking into consideration the rest of Tech's potent, experienced offense-and a talented new starter in the mix, Texas Tech's receiving corps looks set to scorch the earth in 2008.

The obvious place to start when examining the Red Raider receivers is supernova wideout Mike Crabtree. His story is now well known. Following a redshirt year, Crabtree had the best season of any freshman receiver in college football history, earning unanimous All American honors and the Biletnikoff Award for the nation's best receiver.

His statistics were dumbfounding: 125 receptions for 1,861 yards and 21 touchdowns. But to see him perform was even more impressive than his numbers. Crabtree's ability to run after the catch is the best I have ever seen in a college receiver. And that's what makes him so very special. If he improves his blocking and runs his routes more crisply on a regular basis, Crabtree will be perfect as a sophomore.

Crabtree has plenty of help in the form of H receiver Eric Morris and X receiver Ed Britton. Morris is diminutive, but is also a sneaky route-runner who gets open, makes the catch, and is capable of doing great things with the ball in his mitts. Britton is the speed guy, and is also one heck of a blocker for a player with such a slight frame. He needs to improve his hands, but over the course of his career, has already made strides in that department.

The new starter in the receiving unit will almost certainly be sophomore Detron Lewis. He runs silky smooth routes and has superb hands. All the other requirements one must possess to be an effective Y receiver in Mike Leach's scheme remain to be seen in Lewis. And those requirements-principally toughness and courage under fire-are what departed starter Danny Amendola possessed in spades. Amendola caught 103 passes in 2007, and was quarterback Graham Harrell's security blanket. It is hoped that Lewis will develop into a reliable asset in the vein of his predecessor.

THE PREDICTION: There is every reason to believe that the 2008 Tech receivers will be borderline unstoppable. Crabtree's presence alone will distort defensive schemes and create holes for Tech's other talented receivers to exploit. And the three starters (Crabtree, Morris, Britton) will all be a year wiser, and noticeably better than they were in 2007. Britton, in particular, could easily emerge as a deadly weapon on the outside.

Detron Lewis will do well as the new starter at Y. He will not, however, catch 103 passes as Amendola did last year. Instead, look for ball distribution to be more equal in 2008. Heck, even Crabtree's numbers may come down a bit. But that means that Morris and Britton could have breakout seasons and that the passing game in general will be even more efficient.

In addition to the starters, Leach has some nice talent at his disposal on the bench. Lyle Leong, Mike Crabtree's understudy, would start for just about any team in the nation. He has the best hands on the squad, and is great in the air. Tramain Swindall, a redshirt freshman, will be the unit's great surprise. He is not as polished as Detron Lewis, but has game-breaking ability. Swindall has a supercharger on his motor that can get him behind the secondary in a heartbeat. And six-foot-seven Y receiver Adrian Reese has also come along nicely. Assuming that his hands continue to improve, expect Leach to find more ways to get Reese the ball in goal-line and short-yardage situations.

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