With the seventh pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, the Oakland Raiders select Darrius Heyward-Bey from the University of Maryland.
Typically losing a guy with 4.2 40 speed and a Top 10 draft pick in the NFL would be disastrous to a team, but strangely the team feels the wide receiving corps are actually better this season.
“With losing Darrius, you don’t just replace a guy who can run 4.2,” Coach Ralph Friedgen said. “(But) we’ve been bringing this class around for awhile and we have nine receivers that I wouldn’t be afraid to put in a game. “
Maryland quite possibly has the deepest group of wide receivers in the entire Atlantic Coast Conference. Torrey Smith, Tony Logan, Emani-Lee Odai, Laquan Williams, Quintin McCree, Adrian Cannon, Kerry Boykins, Ronnie Tyler, and Kevin Dorsey make up one of the strongest positions on the entire team.
Although there isn’t a guy on the team that possesses the world class speed that Heyward-Bey had, though Lee-Odai claims he’s close, a year of maturity has done wonders for the overall skill levels of the receivers.
“He overshadowed the rest of the receiving corps because he was such a great talent, but a lot of people don’t understand that we have a very deep receiving corps,” safety Antwine Perez said. “The guys got to sit back and watch what Darrius did last year and learned from it, so I think they will be even better this year.”
In addition to Heyward-Bey, Maryland loses starter Danny Oquendo to graduation. The pair combined for 980 receiving yards and seven touchdowns last season, leading the Terrapins to an 8-5-season record.
While difficult to replace two starters, the lack of entrenched starters may actually benefit the team in the long run. With nine high caliber wide receivers competing for only a few spots, it’s bound to bring the best out of everyone.
“It’s the most competitive it’s ever been since I’ve been here,” said junior receiver Emani Lee-Odai. “With Danny and Darrius here they would have the top spots on lock. This year no one has a set position or set starter, so we are all going out to fight for reps.”
Heading into the first week of practice, Friedgen has Smith as the starting flanker receiver and Cannon as the starting split end receiver, though there is plenty of competition in store for both. Logan, Lee-Odai, and McCree should all see a lot of team though as well, potentially as starters.
“I think we all have something to bring to the table,” said starting punt returner Tony Logan. “We’re going to rely on our veteran leadership receivers in Adrian (Cannon) and Torrey (Smith) to lead us into the season. We all have different strengths and weaknesses and coach has said all nine of us could play, so there is a lot to look forward to.”
There certainly could be some hiccups along the way, but most of the team is confident that the receiving unit can get the job done. Despite the fact it’s only been a few short months since Heyward-Bey left early to enter the NFL Draft, there has already been a lot of improvement by the remaining receivers.
“I think they will be able to get the job done,” senior cornerback Nolan Carroll said. “I go against them every day in practice and I’ve seen a lot of development.”
Perhaps most importantly is how comfortable senior quarterback Chris Turner is with the receivers. With another year under his belt of Coach Franklin’s West Coast offense and how it relates to the receivers, the California native isn’t worried about the loss of Heyward-Bey.
“Not going to be much of a difference (without Heyward-Bey),” he said. “They definitely will be as, if not more talented that last year. They all have that swagger right now and definitely won't be a weak link."
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