COLUMBIA — The receivers on the Missouri football team are easy to see. And hear.
As the Tigers head into their first game of the season Saturday against Southeastern Louisiana University, expectations for the receivers are high. The group’s strength is its depth, with reliable returners T.J. Moe, Marcus Lucas and L’Damian Washington anchoring an experienced group.
With receiving options on both sides of the field, quarterback James Franklin should have no problem spreading the ball around again this season. When listing all of the receivers he would classify as “playmakers,” Franklin couldn’t name them all off the top of his head. If he were counting on his fingers, he would have used nearly all of them.
“L’Damian (Washington), Marcus (Lucas), Bud (Sasser), Dorial (Green-Beckham), T.J. (Moe), Gahn (McGaffie), pretty much all of them,” he said, stopping both to laugh and catch his breath. “I see them all through camp, and sometimes the ball gets to one guy more than the other, but to be honest, just about all of our receiving corps can have an impact this season.”
Even if the ball doesn’t get spread evenly in all directions, the personalities of the group ensure that nobody’s feelings are hurt. Anyone who attended a summer practice could easily see Missouri’s receivers cutting into the open and making catches for both short and long gains.
But it was also easy to hear them. The pass-catchers are loud and confident. They have little problem pestering each other, pushing each other, congratulating each other.
Like a family full of diverse and unique characters, Missouri’s receivers do not simply coexist. They thrive with each other’s company.
“I’m glad that nobody on this team has the same personality. It’s kind of great,” Washington said. “It’s a mix of what Marcus’ goofy side brings to the table, what T.J. (Moe)’s serious side brings, and I’m just kind of all over the place. We just mesh, and that’s what makes us great.”
Lucas – one of the team’s more dynamic options — stands at the far sideline near the line of scrimmage, gazing back at his quarterback during a practice drill. While each receiver will run his separate route, Lucas doesn’t particularly care who receives the ball as long as that player succeeds.
Of course he wants to be a popular target, he says. But it’s easier to support your fellow receivers when those players aren’t simply teammates. After years of interaction followed by a summer of two-a-days, they’ve become more than that.
“When you have your friends out there next to you and behind you or whatever, it makes you a lot more comfortable out there. That’s the biggest thing,” Lucas said.
“We’ve grown so much over the summer, and when you can be mid-play and make a joke with the guy next to you and still keep your focus, I feel like you’ve got a special group.”
The team’s incoming receivers might lack the bond of the older players, but there’s little doubt about their talent. Of course, there is Green-Beckham. The Springfield native had the most buzz coming into camp of any freshman in recent memory, after being named Rivals’ top overall prospect in 2012.
And while Green-Beckham has impressed throughout camp, taking reps with both the second- and first-teams, the receiver who created the most buzz around fall practice might have been freshman tight end Sean Culkin.
At 6 feet 5 inches and 232 pounds, Culkin has impressive size. But he also showed fluidity over his first few weeks in practice, so much so that a broken finger he suffered midway through camp did not cause the coaching staff to consider redshirting him.
Washington was quick to compare Culkin to former Missouri tight end Chase Coffman, saying the freshman is “a guy that’s athletic and can do it all.”
With so many options and such an obvious rapport, it’s not surprising that expectations are high. Washington, looking forward to his team’s first season in the Southeastern Conference, isn’t afraid to raise the bar for himself and his teammates.
“I’m planning by the end of this year for everybody to be talking about how great that Missouri receiving corps was,” he said.