March 15, 2012

Spring practice Two-a-Days: Wide Receivers and Tight Ends

Seeing the new wide receiving corps is really what has Western Michigan fans excited about the upcoming spring, and there will be plenty of new faces to watch with the first team as seven scholarship wide receivers return, but only two with previous experience. A trio of redshirt freshmen and two early enrollees round out the group.

Headlining the returners is big 6-foot-2, 211 pound junior Josh Schaffer, who really came on in the latter part of 2011and finished with 19 catches for 241 yards, including 114 and a touchdown against Toledo. He also scored a touchdown and forced a pair of fumbles to bail out WMU following interceptions in the Little Caesar's Bowl against Purdue, becoming somewhat of a fan favorite in the process. With the success in the latter half of the season, he will get an opportunity in the spring to show he deserves to be the number one man.

"Josh, I was really proud of him, because he wasn't a very good practice player but when we gave him a shot in a game, he seemed to produce," head coach Bill Cubit said. "The problem we've got is that nobody really knew about him, so they were guarding Jordan [White], Chleb [Ravenell], and Robert [Arnheim]. So how will he react when he's that guy? He's got to understand that sense of urgency, and where he's got to get to."

Former Portage Central standout Eric Monette is a great story, rising from unknown three-year walk on to become a key contributer and earn a scholarship in 2011. Monette caught 29 passes for 306 yards with a touchdown in 2011 and clearly earned the trust on the field of his roommate, Alex Carder, as the season went on. Monette will have to continue to improve in leaps and bounds starting in the spring to stay relevant in this group of talented wide receivers, but there is no doubt he's willing to put in the work to do so. With great height at 6-foot-6, Monette could be a top red zone target.

"He's an outside guy that gives us some experience out there. He's got to play better than he did last year because he's got more responsibility," Cubit said.

As for the three young redshirt freshmen, Cubit expressed great relief that the receivers last year stayed healthy and WMU was able to redshirt all three in preparation for full four year careers.

"They could have played last year, no doubt. They're that good," he said.

Kendrick Roberts is a terrific athlete with good size at 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds. A three-star recruit on Rivals.com, Roberts chose WMU over offers from Iowa, Toledo, and Central Michigan. While Roberts came out of high school a bit less polished than some receivers due to an offense that focused mainly on the running game, Cubit says that he's definitely ready to go heading into the 2012 spring.

"He has a body height-wise and speed-wise that we haven't had since I've been here," Cubit said.

Another three-star Rivals.com recruit, Timmy Keith is a thick 6-foot-1 and 201 pound Manassas, Va. product who chose WMU late in the process. Keith at one time held offers from Illinois, Connecticut, North Carolina, Virginia, and others, but his SAT scores were somewhat low, prompting them to pull their offers. WMU stuck with him and Keith has rewarded them with hard work. Cubit speaks highly of Keith and compares him favorably with a certain former Bronco.

"He's more of a Jamarko Simmons type guy, big and physical," Cubit said.

Rounding out the redshirt freshmen is Courtney Bynes of Lauderdale Lakes, Fla., who weighs in at only 161 pounds and 5-foot-9, but runs very well having been clocked at 4.4 in the forty yard dash in high school. Bynes was reportedly the leader for playing time as a true freshman before it was decided all the freshman wideouts would redshirt.

"He's had a really good offseason," Cubit said. "He's gained twelve pounds since he's been here... You can see where he's starting to feel more comfortable."

Starting at WMU in January, Seffner, Fla. wide receiver A.J. King checks in at 5-foot-9 and 159 pounds, and is a similar type of player as Bynes. High profile programs had interest in King as a three-star prospect, and he was committed to Purdue before suffering a knee injury and the Boilermakers downgrading their offer to a grayshirt. Although King ended up waiting it out and starting in the spring semester anyway, he was pleased that WMU stuck with him through the process, choosing to accept their offer instead.

"He had a little bit of an issue with his knee, but it actually worked out perfect for him, because he was able to rehabilitate the knee. He looks a lot better now than he did back then. The grayshirt really helped him out. Again, we haven't seen him in practice, but his high school tape was really good so I think he has a chance to get into the mix," Cubit said.

Joining King as a January enrollee is new junior college signee Darrin Duncan, who attended Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, Calif. and will enter as a junior. The 6-foot, 190 pound pass catcher was a teammate of current Bronco offensive lineman Tim Maka. Cubit feels he is another who will be able to compete for playing time.

WMU will also bring in four more new receivers in the fall, with Cubit speaking highly of Jaime Wilson and Daniel Braverman in particular, but fans will have to wait a few months to see those players.

At tight end, Western Michigan returns a lot of experience, but Cubit expects more out of them in 2012.

"They've got to play at a better level," Cubit put it bluntly. "We have not been real productive there. But the one thing I do like is their attitude the last few weeks."

Blake Hammond and Clark Mussman will battle it out for the top slots at tight end in the spring. Hammond, from Mokena, Ill., provides a slightly bigger target at 6-foot-5 and 247 pounds, but his production in 2011 diminished to just three catches for 34 yards. Cubit says heading into his senior year, Hammond is beginning to feel the pressure and respond.

"He sees where it's getting near the end of his career and I see more sense of urgency with him," Cubit said.

Mussman hails from Ogden Dunes, Ind., and stands at 6-foot-3 and 232 pounds. He looks to have a breakout year after hauling in 13 catches for 127 yards the past two seasons. Like Hammond, Mussman's production dropped last season, but Cubit is proud of his effort in the offseason.

"He's taking the thing pretty seriously. I like what he's doing," Cubit said of Mussman.

Outside of that battle, Cubit also mentioned hometown product Matt Cutler as someone to watch, as he expects Cutler to get increased playing time as a blocking tight end this upcoming season.

Once fall comes around, freshmen Ben Arnold and Gabe Hantsbarger will join the team, with Cubit singling out Hantsbarger as someone who could compete for time.

This spring will prove key for the many receivers who would like playing time in Western Michigan's wide open spread offense. While a good spring will not guarantee anything in the fall with a solid class of wideouts and tight ends enrolling, the jockeying for position this month will shake out a tentative depth chart for the fall, which would be a huge leg up for the players at the top. This is expected to be a fierce competition, with plenty of eyeballs on it.

As this concludes BroncoBlitz's exclusive Two-a-Days series, keep an eye on BroncoBlitz.com in the coming weeks as we cover spring practice itself and keep you updated on all the battles and players mentioned in this series. We will also continue to bring the best WMU football and basketball recruiting news the web has to offer, as recruiting ramps up during the spring and summer months. Thank you for subscribing and we hope to continue to provide all the coverage you crave.

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