Mizzou camp preview: Wide receiver
It’s been an offseason like no other for the Missouri football program. The Tigers fired four-year head coach Barry Odom following a 6-6 2019 campaign, replacing him with Eliah Drinkwitz. Drinkwitz cleaned house on the offensive side of the ball, then just after the team began holding spring practices, the COVID-19 pandemic hit college sports. Missouri had to cancel 12 of its 15 originally scheduled practices, as well as the Black and Gold game, in the spring. While the team was able to return for voluntary strength and conditioning workouts this summer, which have since transitioned to mandatory practices, the Tigers have still only once taken the field in pads under Drinkwitz’s watch.
Despite all the uncertainty that continues to swirl around the 2020 season, Missouri and the rest of college football are scheduled to begin fall camp practices Aug. 7. So, each day between now and then, PowerMizzou is previewing the Tiger roster one position group at a time, breaking down the depth chart and providing the storylines to watch for what should be the most important fall camp in recent memory. Today, we take stock of Missouri's wide receivers.
Missouri fans will see a very different receiving corps take the field in 2020. Given the Tigers’ struggles in the passing game during the second half of last season, that might not be a bad thing. Gone are Missouri’s leader in receiving yards from a season ago, Jonathan Nance, as well as the sixth-leading receiver in program history, Johnathon Johnson. Replacing them are two newcomers who have already instilled optimism in the new staff.
One of the first players added to the roster after Drinkwitz took over as head coach was Virginia Tech graduate transfer Damon Hazelton, who will be immediately eligible for his final college season. Hazelton, who began his career at Ball State, led the Hokies in receiving touchdowns each of the past two seasons. A few months later, the Tigers added Keke Chism, a graduate transfer from Division-II Angelo State. Chism accounted for more than 1,800 yards and 12 touchdowns across the past two seasons. Both players should provide big targets for whomever lines up at quarterback for Missouri, and both have already earned rave reviews from Drinkwitz.
We expect both Hazelton and Chism to start, but that still leaves one more starting spot vacant. Which player occupies it will likely depend on what type of personnel set the staff runs. If they’re married to the idea of having a traditional slot receiver at the inside spot, Barrett Banister and Dominic Gicinto would be the likely candidates. Banister, a former walk-on, served as one of the few bright spots on the offense toward the end of last season. He caught 17 passes for 157 yards and a touchdown across the final four games. The speedy Gicinto made a big impression during his true freshman campaign in 2018, catching two touchdowns, but took a step back last season when he was limited by injury. If the staff feels less bound by traditional positions, Jalen Knox would seem the best bet to join Hazelton and Chism in the lineup. Knox has shown flashes during each of the past two seasons, but he’s struggled with consistency. However, he’s the only returning player among Missouri’s wide receivers to log more than 250 yards receiving last season. Regardless of who gets named the starters, expect the five names mentioned above to all see regular reps.
In addition to the players mentioned above, the Tigers have plenty of options at wideout, but all are unproven. The team will need at least a couple of them to step up and earn the coaching staff’s trust during fall camp in order to have enough depth at the position.
Senior Micah Wilson is the elder statesman of the group, although he has only been playing wide receiver for one season. The former quarterback didn’t log a reception in 2019, although he did contribute to a big play, completing a touchdown pass to Tyler Badie on a trick play. Redshirt sophomore Tauskie Dove is actually the only player among the group to log a catch in a college game, and he has exactly two receptions, although one of them was an impressive grab of a jump ball in traffic during the season-finale against Arkansas. Other returners include Maurice Massey and C.J. Boone, both of whom redshirted last season. Both possess traits that could earn them playing time — Boone’s speed makes him a deep threat, while Massey flashed impressive body control and hands during practices last season — but both will need to demonstrate more consistency and maturity during their second season on campus.
Then, there are the true freshmen. Jay Maclin, cousin of Missouri great Jeremy Maclin, projects as a slot receiver who will likely back up Gicinto and Banister. JJ Hester, who initially committed to Barry Odom’s staff, and Kris Abrams-Draine, a late addition to the signing class, will have a chance to push for time on the outside. Chance Luper, the son of running backs coach Curtis Luper, will count as a walk-on this season, but he is expected to receive a scholarship after the team serves its NCAA-issued sanctions and gets four scholarships back, so he figures to have the same opportunity to compete for playing time during camp.
Storyline to watch
Can someone — anyone — consistently create separation? And can the receiving corps hold onto the ball? Missouri’s offensive issues certainly weren’t limited to the wideouts last season, but a lack of explosive plays in the passing game and an excess of drops certainly didn’t help matters. Across the final six games, the team had more than twice as many drops (16) as completions that traveled 20 or more yards downfield (six). Drinkwitz may have been optimistic that Chism and Hazelton can help rectify that trend and emerge as “touchdown-makers,” but seeing them prove it when the players don pads every day in camp would be more telling than the handful of workouts that have taken place so far.
Whether or not they’re all called starters, we believe Chism, Hazelton and Knox will emerge from camp as the three primary targets and see the most reps. There will likely be a consistent place in the offense for Banister, as well. We wouldn’t be surprised if a freshman, either redshirt or newcomer, seizes a spot on the two-deep and earns regular playing time, but at this point it’s tough to speculate who that could be.