Training Camp Preview -- Wide Receivers
Aug. 5, 2014
This is the sixth installment of a series in which VirginiaSports.com breaks down the 2014 football team by position.
CHARLOTTESVILLE — How UVa’s wide receivers fare this season figures to depend in part on how the offensive line and quarterback fare.
If the inexperienced line can give the quarterback enough time to throw — sophomore Greyson Lambert started training camp atop the depth chart — and his passes are accurate, the Cavaliers’ receiving corps could well become a formidable unit.
Of the six wideouts who caught at least five passes for the Wahoos in 2013, five are back: senior Darius Jennings (38 receptions), sophomore Keeon Johnson (20), senior Dominique Terrell (14), sophomore Kyle Dockins (eight) and junior Canaan Severin (five). Morever, redshirt freshman Andre Levrone impressed during spring practice, and UVa’s newcomers include Jamil Kamara, a coveted recruit from Virginia Beach.
Summer seven-on-seven sessions, conducted without the supervision of coaches, paid dividends for the wideouts, who know they must raise their play, Jennings said.
“We still have a long way to go, but we’re definitely moving in the right direction,” he said. “Guys are stepping up and we’re making plays and we’re becoming closer as a group as well.”
The second practice of training camp is Tuesday night, starting at 7:15, and is open to the public. The Cavaliers practice on the fields behind the McCue Center and University Hall.
For wide receivers coach Marques Hagans, the biggest loss from 2013 was Tim Smith, who caught 26 passes for 389 yards and one TD and was UVa’s top deep threat. Jennings, who averaged a modest 8.9 yards per reception last year, is confident he can help the Cavaliers stretch defenses vertically.
“I believe in myself,” Jennings said. “I believe in all the things I can do, and I want the ball in my hands, just like everybody else. When my number’s called and it’s time for me to make a play, I just gotta step up.”
Inconsistency marked Jennings’ play last season, and he wasn’t the only receiver who had several untimely drops.
“That’s part of being a receiver, trying to correct your mistakes, and of course we talk about it,” Jennings said. “Coach Hagans wouldn’t be a great coach if he didn’t bring that up. So he pushes us each day to be perfect, catch balls every day, at least 200 a day, just so you can get the natural feeling of the balls being in your hands.
“I think our progression from last season to the spring has been head over heels, but as I said before, we have a long way to go. But we’re definitely on the right track, and day by day, game by game we’ll get there.”
On the depth chart released in the late spring, three receiver positions were listed. With the departure of Jake McGee, UVa is likely to use three-receiver formations more often than if he’d returned for his final college season.
McGee, of course, transferred to Florida after earning his degree from Virginia in May. The Cavaliers listed McGee as a tight end, but he was often used as an extra wide receiver, and he totaled 71 receptions for 769 yards and seven TDs in 2012 and ’13.
There’s no shortage of tall, strong receivers at UVa who could be used in McGee’s former role, including the 6-3, 210-pound Dockins and the 6-2, 220-pound Severin, both of whom worked in the slot during spring ball. Others of similar stature in the receiving corps include Johnson (6-3, 215), Levrone (6-2, 210) and Miles Gooch (6-3, 230).
Not only does that size create larger targets for UVa’s quarterbacks, “I think it kind of opens up for the big play as well,” said Jennings, who stands 5-11. “You do have guys that can be possession receivers, but while guys are checking them, you also have opportunities for guys like myself to go out and make the big plays as well.
“I think us being more well-rounded and more balanced plays in our favor this year.”
With his size and speed and sure hands, Johnson may have the most promise of any UVa receiver. No. 85 also brings a good mental approach to the field, Jennings said.
“When he’s out there, he just plays,” Jennings said. “He’s not worrying about people around him. He’s worried about his assignment, and he goes and gets it done, which is a great quality for him. He definitely made some big catches for us last year, and during the spring as well, and he’s going to have a big year this year.”
A big year from the wideouts would improve the Cavaliers’ chances of rebounding from a 2013 season in which they finished 2-10.
“The team in general, I think we have to step it up, but especially us,” Jennings said. “Just because it doesn’t matter who the quarterback is, who’s throwing the ball. If the ball’s in the air, we have to go get it. That’s our jobs as receivers, and that’s our mindset.”
A look at the Cavaliers’ wideouts, by class:
* No. 17, Miles Gooch (6-3, 230-pound fifth-year senior, Decatur, Ga.) The senior member of the receiving corps, Gooch came to UVa as a quarterback in 2010 but switched positions the next spring. An outstanding blocker, he has three career receptions for 32 yards and one touchdown.
* No. 6, Darius Jennings (5-11, 175-pound senior, Baltimore). With a strong senior season, Jennings could leave UVa ranked in the top 10 in career receiving yards and in the top five in career catches. He had 20 receptions as a true freshman in 2011, 48 in ’12 and 38 in ’13. His career totals: 106 catches for 1,146 yards and nine TDs.
* No. 2, Dominique Terrell (5-11, 175-pound senior, Manassas). Terrell, who played as a true freshman in 2011, is recovering from an offseason injury and could redshirt this fall. A touted recruit coming out of Osbourn High, he’s had some memorable games but has yet to develop into a consistent threat in the passing game. Terrell has 60 receptions for 641 yards and one TD.
* No. 9, Canaan Severin (6-2, 220-pound junior, Marlborough, Mass.). At the midpoint of his college career, Severin has only six catches for 43 yards. But those modest stats don’t reflect his considerable talent, and it will be no surprise if he breaks out this fall. Severin missed three games with injuries last year.
* No. 85, Keeon Johnson (6-3, 215-pound sophomore, Kannapolis, N.C.). He didn’t make his college debut until the fifth game of the 2013 season, but Johnson immediately stamped himself as a wideout with a rare mix of size and speed. He caught 20 passes for 282 yards and one TD as a true freshman and should be a focal point of the Cavaliers’ passing game this year.
* No. 87 Kyle Dockins (6-3, 210-pound sophomore, Virginia Beach). He didn’t figure prominently in UVa’s offense coming out of training camp last summer, but his role grew as the season progressed, and he followed that with a strong spring. Dockins caught eight passes for 96 yards as a redshirt freshman in 2013.
* No. 81, Jamall Brown (6-0, 205-pound sophomore, Hampton). A former Hampton High standout, Brown played in one game, against VMI, as a redshirt freshman last season.
* No. 14, Andre Levrone (6-2, 210-pound redshirt freshman, Laurel, Md.). One of the major storylines during spring practice was the development of Levrone, who like teammates Vincent Croce, Kirk Garner and Brendan Marshall played in the powerhouse program at Good Counsel High in Maryland. Levrone could well play a significant role in the offense this fall.
* No. 8, Ryan Santoro (6-2, 205-pound redshirt freshman, Oak Hill). A walk-on from Oakton High School, Santoro redshirted last season. For his work in practice before the Ball State game, he was named offensive scout-team player of the week.
* No. 1, Jamil Kamara (6-2, 210-pound true freshman, Virginia Beach). One of the most heralded members of the first-year class, Kamara caught 69 passes for 1,399 yards and 23 TDs as a senior at Bishop Sullivan Catholic High last fall.