The Arizona Wildcats still have six — maybe seven — games left this season. But it sure is hard to talk about this year’s wide receivers without thinking about 2014.
The group has 68 catches this season; 58 of them by players who will return next season.
Terrence Miller is the lone senior wide receiver on the roster.
This year’s receivers are without three presumptive future starters in transfers Cayleb Jones and DaVonte Neal and junior Austin Hill, who is recovering from a torn ACL.
The UA has verbal commitments from five wide receivers for the 2014 class, including four-star Salpointe Catholic standout Cameron Denson.
All of that makes UA coach Rich Rodriguez straight giddy when he thinks about the talent receivers coach Tony Dews will have at his disposal next season.
“Coach Dews is pretty excited about the group he has now, but I know he’s really excited about the group he’s got coming back for next year,” Rodriguez said.
So while the future is bright for the receivers, it won’t help Arizona win any games this season.
Dews’ group has certainly improved from the start of the season, but the numbers still aren’t gaudy. In fact, Oregon State receiver Brandin Cooks has 300 more receiving yards than all the UA receivers combined.
So how can the group keep improving and help B.J. Denker continue to put up above-average numbers?
“We have to be able to get open,” sophomore David Richards said. “We have to create separation.
“If you’re running your route lazy or not getting your depth, then the quarterback will be off because he’s going where he thinks you should be and not where you are.
“I think a lot of people think it’s always B.J.’s fault, but sometimes it’s on us, the receivers, to get open so he can get us the ball.”
And Denker has been getting his receivers the ball more the last two games. Some of that is his improvement, but part of it is because receivers are running crisper routes and doing their jobs better.
“(Rodriguez) has been on us every day,” Richards said. “He’s making sure we’re running the right routes and reading the right coverages and being at the right spot.”
Added Rodriguez: “I’m pretty hard on them because we’ve been doing it for so long. Coach Dews does a good job with them, and we work hard with them at practice as far as when we go live and things are full speed.”
Here’s a breakdown of what this year’s receivers have done through six games.
His stats: 18 catches, 136 yards, one touchdown.
Best game: UTSA: Five catches, 48 yards, one touchdown.
What he does: The true freshman has become one of Denker’s favorite target on short gainers. Listed at 5 feet 9 inches and 173 pounds, Grant won’t physically overwhelm any defensive backs. But he can use his speed to get some separation off the line of scrimmage and be open for Denker in the slot.
His stats: 13 catches, 199 yards, two touchdowns.
Best game: Utah: Four catches, 63 yards, one touchdown.
What he does: Like Grant, Phillips, listed at 5-7, 177, isn’t a physically imposing receiver. But he has sneaky strength for his size and can get open on short-yardage plays. Against Utah, he also showed that he can catch the deep ball, when he hauled in a 36-yard pass from Denker down the sideline.
His stats: 11 catches, 113 yards.
Best game: USC: Three catches for 53 yards.
What he does: The former walk-on is slightly bigger than Grant and Phillips at 5-10, 180 and is a reliable target for Denker. Jackson lacks size and speed, but has something more important: the coaches trust him. Rodriguez has praised Jackson’s smarts and how well he knows the system.
His stats: 10 catches, 190 yards, two touchdowns.
Best game: USC: Two catches, 73 yards, two touchdowns.
What he does: Rodriguez has on more than one occasion called Wharton the speediest receiver of the group. That speed has helped him get open downfield and catch some of Denker’s longer passes. Wharton hauled in a 45-yard touchdown against USC and a 28-yard score later in the game.
His stats: 10 catches, 126 yards.
Best game: USC: Six catches for a team-leading 76 yards.
What he does: Miller is the most versatile of the group. He has lined up at tight end, in the slot and on the outside at different points this season. His stats aren’t eye-popping, but Rodriguez likes that he can use him in any situation, and his blocking at the tight end spot has been a nice surprise for the UA this season.
His stats: Six catches, 44 yards, one touchdown in three games.
Best game: USC: Three catches, 21 yards, one touchdown.
What he does: Richards is the true deep threat of the group. At 6-4, 214, he’s the biggest of the wide receivers and uses that size to get open downfield and outjump smaller defensive backs. His statistics haven’t been great after he missed the first three games with a broken foot, but his deep routes have opened things up underneath for Grant, Phillips and Jackson, which in turn has loosened up defenses.