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Know Thy Team 2011: Wide Receivers And Tight Ends

This area may be the largest question mark for Purdue Football in 2011. Rob Henry is going to be the starting quarterback. That becomes more apparent every day. Antwon Higgs and Ryan Russell look to be competing for the open defensive end slot, especially now that Higgs has finally made the move that so many before him (Shaun Phillips, Cliff Avril, Anthony Spencer, Akin Ayodele) have made with great success. Every other position seems relatively known.

The receivers are a huge wild card, mostly because the top two projected receivers going into last season played a combined total of zero plays at the position during the Big Ten season. We're back to the unenviable position of having a lot of speed and raw talent, but little proven production. The tight end position is even more bare.

If anything, every receiver on the roster should get a chance.

Projected Starters: Justin Siller (Sr.), O.J. Ross (So.), Antavian Edison (Jr.)

Of these three, only Edison stayed healthy the entire season, and he is our #1 returning receiver in terms of stats. He had 32 catches for 316 yards and four touchdowns, often showing he could be an exciting player in space. He added 146 yards rushing as a running back of need too. I think he is developing into a very dangerous slot receiver that is a threat to break a big play here and there.

Siller gives us the big receiver we often desperately lack, but he was never healthy last year. He had 12 catches for 104 yards and a score before that nagging foot injury cost him virtually the entire Big Ten season. When healthy, we know what he can do with the ball. He's elusive, big, and he can be a quarterback in a pinch or on the occasional trick play. What we need the most from him this year is his physicality. The biggest injury last season was losing Keith Smith mostly because he was a human first down. If we needed seven yards Smith would go out eight yards, turn around, and if you threw it to him he would catch it. Once he was lost we didn't have that go to receiver. Siller has that ability.

Ross had a lot of promise last year as a rookie before getting knocked out with a separated shoulder against Illinois. He has missed the last few days of camp with a family matter down in Florida but is expected to be back. With 11 catches for 149 yards and a score he led the team in yards per catch. Simply put, we need him to be the 4-star receiver we recruited him to be. We don't get many guys with his raw talent.

Top reserves: Gary Bush (So.), Waynelle Gravesande (Sr.), Charles Torwudzo (Fr.), Tommie Thomas (Jr.)

This is an interesting group because they each have certain strengths. Bush has blinding speed. Torwudzo is a big, physical receiver. Gravesande has excellent hands and is a seasoned upperclassman. Of them, only Bush caught a pass last season, grabbing 11 for 95 yards and a score.

I want to keep Bush happy because as long as he is happy we have a chance of grabbing his 4-star safety brother away from some pretty big schools. Bush has a chance to be a serious deep threat because of his sheer speed. He might be the relative newcomer that makes the biggest leap.

Gravesande has been around forever and is a reliable option in the slot. He's not going to break big plays, but he can be a 15-20 receptions guy this year. Torwudzo is an unknown, but he was able to hold on to his redshirt and learn last season. At 6'4" 214 he is our biggest receiver.

Thomas hasn't seen the field much to this point, but he is at least a system guy that knows what we are running and is willing to work for his playing time. He has already moved from cornerback to receiver once in his career.

Freshmen: Shane Mikesky, Dolapo Macarthy, Raheem Mostert

I think all three of these guys are expected to redshirt, but Mostert could see the field primarily as a kick returner because of his blinding speed. He returned an astounding nine kickoffs and one punt for a touchdown during his senior year of high school. From my understanding he is an electrifying returner that was brought in specifically for that purpose. He also had 39 receptions for 723 yards and four more scores. Clearly, he is a threat to score if he has the football.

Mikesky is the same and a player I saw extensively during my work for the Zionsville newspaper. He was the Zionsville passing game the past few years, and he is a two-time state champion in the high hurdles. He is a very interesting pickup in that regard. He will run on Purdue's track team, but in football I think he can be a huge asset by the time he is done because he is another big receiver with speed.

Macarthy is a wild card that will likely redshirt because we recently moved him from quarterback to receiver. In high school he was the #15 dual threat QB in the nation, but went to a prep school for a semester before enrolling in the spring.

Walk-ons: Kurt Lichtenberg, T.J. Barbarette, Zach Sigman

Of these three barbarette has already seen the field and was mentioned as a possible kick returner again. He led the team in average at that spot last year with seven returns for 167 yards and a 54 yard return once. He's a small, shifty player that has earned his way to the field with true grit.

Lichtenberg enters his senior season having played in 11 games last season on special teams. He has also been one of the team leaders off the field, participating in mission trips to South Africa and Haiti as well as serving as the Director of the Dream Season program.

Sigman is in his second season as a walk-on from nearby Benton Central High School.

Tight Ends

Starter: Gabe Holmes (So.)

Holmes seems to be a player that has major strides in the offseason, mostly out of necessity. Among the tight ends, he has the most experience with one catch for 14 yards. We need him to be every bit of his 6'4" 226 pounds at the position. He is definitely more of a receiving tight end that needs to work on the blocking aspects, but there is a bit of Dustin Keller potential in him. Someone has to step up at this position. Kyle Adams and Jeff Lindsay were serviceable the past few years, but it has been awhile since we have had a big red zone tight end target.

Top reserves: Sterling Carter (Jr.), Crosby Wright (Jr.), Justin Sinz (Fr.), Patrick Bade (Jr.)

Carter was brought in with the express purpose of playing immediately, but more of the talk in camp has been around Wright and Holmes. Wright came to Purdue as a walk-on, earned his way to the field on special teams in 2010, and now may be one of our best blocking tight ends. He has the size for it at 6'3" 248. I don't have a problem with him playing at all if he is the best we have at the position.

Sinz could be interesting because he was a former Wisconsin Player of the Year as a quarterback at Edgar HS. He held on to his redshirt last season as he moved from quarterback to tight end. He was also an all-state selection at safety and even at kicker. This guy is a pure athlete that can definitely be an asset, and his size also make him a prospective red zone target.

Finally, you have Patrick Bade, who made the move over from basketball and has three years of football eligibility remaining. Because of his five year window there is little point in redshirting him, so he can play immediately and possibly contribute. So many NFL tight ends were great basketball players in college, so Bade might be able to make the same transition.

Freshman: Robert Kugler

By some recruiting services Robert Kugler was listed as the top-rated player in our 2011 recruiting class. He was a four-star prospect according to Scout. He played both tight end and defensive end in high school, but as the son of an NFL offensive line coach it is possible he could move to tackle before all is said and done. I think he redshirts this year, but he is too good of an athlete not to make an impact before he is done.

Final Analysis:

There is definitely a level of apprehension going into the season with only Edison as a proven commodity. The receivers have a ton of speed with Mostert, Bush, Edison, and Ross. What we need is consistency. As I said above, we greatly missed having Keith Smith as a human first down once he was injured. We have to have guys that can catch those big 3rd and six passes and turn them into first downs. Someone from this group has to become a consistent, move the chains receiver.

At tight end, everyone is basically a rookie considering all six players listed at the position have a combined one catch. There is at least some depth, but who will emerge as that big target over the middle.

Ultimately, these are the guys that will have to make Rob Henry look good. He can throw 100% of his passes perfectly on target, but it doesn't mean anything if his receivers drop it. We've been the Cradle of Quarterbacks because of great receivers making those QBs look good. Each QB in the Cradle often had multiple targets that may not have gone on to the pros, but they had stellar college careers. Taylor Stubblefield, John Standeford, Vinny Sutherland, Chris Daniels, and Brian Alford are just a few of them.

I'm looking for Siller and Ross to have big seasons, with Torwudzo to have a surprisingly good rookie campaign. Among the three freshmen I can see Mostert avoiding a redshirt because of his kick return ability.