This time last year, they were called “wide blockers.”
Now, Georgia Southern’s wide receivers are catching passes, along with just about everybody else on the offense during the first week of spring camp.
“Backs get it. Tight ends, slot receivers, wide receivers,” first-year GSU coach Willie Fritz said. “Right now we’re spreading it around because we want to see who can catch the ball.”
Last year, GSU threw a grand total of six touchdown passes.
At Sam Houston State, Fritz’s offense threw at least one touchdown pass to 12 different receivers. The Eagles completed 52 passes last season, total. Fritz’s Bearkats completed more than twice that many for a first down.
And Fritz doesn’t even like throwing it around all that much.
“We’ll just throw the ball 15 to 25 times instead of five to 15 times, and that’s the difference,” he said. “I just believe you’ve got to be able to run and pass the ball. If (the opposing defense tries) to really pack the box, they can make it extremely difficult for you to run the ball unless you’re a lot better than them physically. So you’d better be able to throw it when they do that.”
Of course a good passing game needs a good quarterback. But while they work on finding out who that will be, the receivers need to hold on to the ball, too.
Wide receivers coach Matt Barrett, who joined Fritz on his staff at SHSU in 2012, doesn’t seem to think that will be a problem.
“I’ve seen work ethic, discipline, attention to detail, maturity. These guys are competitors and so far they're a pleasure to coach,” Barrett said about GSU’s receivers. “They want to win. Any time you're coaching guys you can say that about, it’s an exciting situation.”
Fritz has been impressed, too.
“We’ve got some real ability out there,” he said. “There’s legit speed and there’s good size. I probably haven’t played with as big of receivers as we’ve got, either, so that’s good.”
The team’s top four receivers from 2013, not including running backs — B.J. Johnson, Zach Walker, Montay Crockett and Kentrellis Showers — all return to the mix, along with Tray Butler, a converted running back. Only slotback Johnathan Bryant, who caught eight passes last year, graduated at the end of the season.
As evidenced by GSU’s 26-20 win over Florida to end the season — in which the Eagles famously didn’t complete a pass — all the receivers on the team have plenty of experience blocking. That will still come in handy for Fritz’s option-based running game.
“Blocking really takes more of this,” Fritz said, pointing to his heart. “You’ve got to have contact courage and be a team player. If you can’t block we’re not going to play you.”
But, as Fritz says, getting open takes a lot more skill than blocking, and that’s only part of executing the new passing game.
“It’s a lot different. We’re not an unbelievably sophisticated passing attack, but there are concepts that guys need to understand,” Fritz said. “How sophisticated we are is going to be based on the quarterbacks’ and receivers’ understanding of what’s going on.”
A lot of that teaching will be up to Barrett, who was an offensive coordinator at the Division II level for nine years before joining Fritz and offensive coordinator Doug Ruse at SHSU.
Barrett’s looking forward to the task.
“There’s a culture in that room where they understand the value of hard work,” he said about the receivers.
He added, “I’ve always been a football junkie, and my family’s the same way. I love the game. It’s the greatest game that’s ever been invented, and you learn something new every day. That’s just me. I don’t have a whole lot of hobbies. This is what I enjoy.”
Sounds like the receivers are in good hands.
Matt Yogus may be reached at (912) 489-4908.