Komar against Arizona in 2008
The wide receiver unit has taken their lumps in recent years, both in the press and on the field. In the last five years Idaho has operated under three different offensive coordinators, and this unit has suffered its share of attrition over the years. But this season, led by senior slot receiver MAX KOMAR and an experienced depth chart, the Vandals are poised to make the passing game a weapon.
Among the first reactions when watching the wide receivers hone their craft during this fall camp is the following: "tall and athletic." Compared to Vandal receiving corps at any time in the past eight or nine years, this year's group is notably tall. Tall, and athletic enough to run clean routes, shed defenders along the way, and throw a few blocks down field (arguably one of the key behind-the-scenes characteristics that good receiving crews do well).
And, throughout spring and fall camp, the group has been in-sych with each other and with the quarterbacks delivering the ball (i.e. there have been much fewer instances of receivers going one way and the pass going another). And, the group is doing a noticeably improved job hauling in passes and gaining yards after the catch.
These are all traits that come from a corps that is maturing into a solid group.
Maturity -- we didn't make a huge point of it last season (or the season before, for that matter), but this unit was exceptionally young and inexperienced last year. How inexperienced? Last season there were just TWO scholarship receivers that were juniors or seniors, and both were hard working former walkons that had earned scholarships at Idaho. Aside from these two, all of Idaho's remaining scholarship receivers were freshmen and sophomores.
The bad news was that this unit had to learn everything during game time. The good news is that Idaho returns four top receivers, all with extensive playing experience and an offseason to add strength and work out the kinks.
More importantly, for a change Idaho won't be counting on true freshmen to come in and play a crucial role in the passing game. If it happens, that is one thing. But the returning upper classmen should give Idaho the experience needed to compete week-to-week.
Time will tell how good this group of receivers will perform in the heat of battle - a group that had a lot to work on this offseason in all facets of the passing game. But so far, the early returns indicate noticeable improvement across the board.
Below are GoVandals.net projected starters for the 2009 season, followed by standouts who could see action in the rotation.
5-10, 200, Senior
Max is the last of the wide receivers on this team who came to Idaho during the Nick Holt era. An invited walkon, he redshirted his first season and by his redshirt freshman season had already established himself as a key member of the Vandal wide receiving corps (a solid prep athlete, Komar was a First Team AP All-State selection in Washington as a defensive back and was ranked the #32 prospect in Washington as a senior). As a sophomore he was awarded a scholarship and saw his playing time steadily increase, and by his junior season last year had settled in as the top slot receiver on the team. For 2008 he finished No. 3 on the team with 26 receptions in 12 games for 298 yards (No. 2 on the team) and an 11.5 yards per reception average. He also added three carries for a 7.3 yards per rush average. He has good speed and years of game-day experience to draw on, and has established himself as a senior leader going into the 2009 season.
Maurice "Mo" Shaw
6-3, 210, Junior
Three seasons ago - as part of the 2007 recruiting class - Maurice committed to then-first year head coach Robb Akey, turning down an offer from UNLV of the Mountain West Conference to join the rebuilding effort being undertaken by Akey. He made an immediate splash with Vandal fans as a true freshman, hauling in one acrobatic catch after another in a regionally televised game on Fox Sports NW againt Washington State. In the same game, he ripped the ball out of a Cougar defender's grasp to score his first career Vandal touchdown, a play that required him to walk a tightrope on the sideline for the score. Behind the scenes, he is a key member of the Vandal punt blocking team and has been a disrupting element on several attempts in his young career. He has battled injuries the last two years, but this offseason focused his attention on football (he has been a member of the Idaho track team), has added 15 pounds after a solid off-season in the weightroom, and will be a key member of the split end rotation this fall.
6-6.5, 212, Junior
Of all the Vandal receivers, none is due a breakout year quite as much as big Eric Greenwood. An athletic 6-6.5 tall receiver, he has steadily worked his way into the rotation since his true freshman season. A member of Shaw's junior class, Greenwood also spurned an offer from UNLV to join Coach Akey's first recruiting class. Like all of the Vandal wide receivers, he has been a cog on special teams, most often being on the receiving end of onside kicks - Idaho converted at least six onside kicks in 2008. But receiver is his main position, and he is poised for a solid 2009 campaign. As a sophomore last season he caught eight passes for 72 yards and his first collegiate touchdown. So far this camp, Greenwood has been impressive as his work this offseason is readily paying off. He has seen extensive reps with the No. 1 offense and will be one of Idaho's prime targets this fall.
6-1.5, 200, Sophomore
When Maurice Shaw went down with an injury early last season, Vandal fans witnessed the emergence of true freshman Preston Davis, a 6-2 receiver out of Las Vegas who got his first action in the season opener at Arizona. A highly regarded prospect (he picked Idaho over offers from Nevada, Utah and Air Force), the former high school teammate of Vandal defensive lineman Michael Cosgrove hit the ground running. He completed his first full season last year as a Vandal by playing in all 12 games, working as a starter most of the season at flanker, hauling in 27 catches (No.2 on team) for 296 yards (No.3 on team) and three touchdowns (No. 2 on the team). His tremendous jump start last season should set him up for an impressive career in Moscow, and his work this offseason should make him a force in the Vandal offense this fall.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
There will undoubtedly be more players seeing action this fall in the wide receiver rotation, but below is a look at two we anticipate getting on the field this fall (based on spring and fall camp performances).
5-10, 168, Sophomore
He didn't put up the numbers of fellow sophomore Preston Davis, but Marsel Posey saw action last season in seven games, finishing with three receptions for 23 yards and an average of 7.7 yards per catch. The fleet-footed receiver backed up Komar last season at slot and is poised to make a major impact this fall, but some preseason setbacks could delay his return to the field for a few weeks. Regardless, Posey should see his role in the Vandal offense increase this season as Idaho's passing attack improves.
5-10.5, 173, True Freshman
Get ready...this kid can roll. Veltung originally had an offer to play football at neighboring Washington State, but a turf toe injury suffered during his senior season caused the Cougs to look elsewhere. Lucky for Idaho. Last May Justin recorded a ridiculous 4.39-40 at the Scout Competitive Edge Combine in Sumner (Wash.), and so far this fall camp he doesn't appear to have missed a beat. As a senior he earned First Team All-SPSL at wide receiver, defensive back, and kick returner. He was also named to The Tacoma News Tribune All Area Team as a return specialist. All of this despite missing the last half of the 2008 season with the toe injury. He finished his senior season with 481 receiving yards (fourth in the SPSL) on 19 receptions (also fourth in the SPSL) and finished with 944 all-purpose yards. Outside of football, he was an All State selection and League MVP as a soccer forward. Look for Veltung on special teams and getting looks in the receiver rotation.