JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Bigfoot, a staged moon landing of Apollo 11, the Loch Ness monster … and wide receivers cannot succeed in a spread-option offense. Conspiracy theories abound for all, but when the facts present themselves, all can reasonably be deemed as myths.
Playing wide receiver in a spread-option offense does not just lead to success now, but also in the future. New Jacksonville University wide receivers coach Trent Steelman, a former Army quarterback under Dolphin Head Coach Ian Shields and defensive coordinator Rich Ellerson, and who has been in camp with the Baltimore Ravens, knows firsthand what is expected of wide receivers at the college and pro level.
"You've got to be tough to play this position. I tell them all the time that no matter what level you're at, especially the next level, if you can't block, you won't be on the field," said Steelman "Wide receivers are asked to do a heavy load in this offense. We're going to sling the ball around and they are going to have their opportunities for touches and plays, but I tell them that if they can't block, I can't put them on the field. The one thing this offense will train you to do is to be a complete receiver."
Contrary to the notion that option offenses solely focus on running the ball, Steelman and the Dolphins have big expectations for the receivers this season. Their success is a critical component to keeping the option engine running on all cylinders.
"Successfully stretching the field opens up the middle. When you are able to stretch a defense with receivers, it opens up a lot inside," said Steelman.
"Prince and BK (Burnett) have the uncanny ability to get open. They are quick, smooth, and will be playmakers for us," said Steelman. "They're very similar. Both have great speed and feet. They do well in man-press and can also run away from a cornerback. They've made a lot of progress in their blocking from spring practice. They're starting to buy in and take a leadership role amongst the receivers."
Last year, Gray grooved out of the gates, with 8 receptions for 104 yards in his first three games, but saw his season end thereafter with an injury. Now a redshirt-sophomore, he will team up with local junior Burnett, out of Raines High School in Jacksonville, to make the most of their opportunities. Burnett played in all 11 games last season and hauled in 21 passes for 339 yards and three scores. The duo is expected to see a considerable number of chances to make explosive plays.
"We will see a lot of man coverage. We tell them if you can't win one-on-ones, then you have no business playing receiver in this offense. If they are able to win 50-50 balls they will rack up stats," said Steelman.
In addition to Gray and Burnett, Steelman and others have noticed the emergence of another local product, redshirt-sophomore Nic Duch out of University Christian. Duch brings size to the position with his 6-4, 200-pound frame.
"He has made tremendous progress from the start of spring ball until now," said Steelman. "He put in work and takes coaching day-in and day-out. He's turned into a guy we can rely on and will play for us."
Jacksonville has also welcomed a number of freshmen, some of whom have gained attention in practice.
"We have a good group of freshmen that are eager to learn, are humble, and listen" said Steelman. "Michon Sobers is a big body that has the ability to make plays. Mitchell Bailey has a bit of wiggle to him but can also go up to make a play. CJ Lewis runs great routes with good feet and hands."
"We're starting to buy-in on toughness at receiver," said Steelman. "A defensive back's worst nightmare is a physical receiver."