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Receivers set to roll

Tuesday, March 30, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 12:21 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

Thomson Omboga thinks he can beat any defender.

Greg Bracey ran a 4.29 second 40-yard dash during the offseason.

Toss in the speed and size of Brad Ekwerekwu, Sean Coffey and Jason Ray, and Missouri quarterback Brad Smith likes his options at wide receiver.

“All of them can run and that’s going to change games by being able to go over the top,” Smith said. “They catch the ball and can beat guys running down the field.”

Smith, a preseason Heisman Trophy candidate, and the Missouri wide receivers hope that combination translates into a prolific offensive threat.

“(Brad’s) our Mr. Everything,” Coffey said. “He makes the plays. He makes it happen. But we’ve got to take some of that off him and make our team a better passing team.

“Speed is everything in this game and when you got a good group of receivers who can catch the football and run up and down the field that can stretch the defense out and scare the DBs.” Missouri’s coaches appreciate the speed as much as the players, but at spring practice they have stressed the importance of consistency to balance the quickness and solidify the position for the Black and Gold scrimmage on April 10.

In 2003, Missouri’s offense ranked seventh in the Big 12 Conference. The Tigers had the conference’s best rushing offense, but their passing attack ranked 11th, ahead of Nebraska.

The Tigers averaged 166 yards passing and 237.5 yards rushing.

“It’s encouraging whenever you’ve got some speed to challenge people on the defensive side,” wide receivers coach Andy Hill said. “But it’s speed on a track and the 40-yard dash still has to be translated. The thing we are trying to strive for is trying to be consistent every day. As a group they’re getting better.”

The Tigers have practiced running routes, reading defenses and blocking, but making catches has been at the heart of their spring practices.

“We’re trying to be more consistent and keep the ball off the ground,” Coffey said. “That’s the biggest focus right know, catching the football, and everything else will come after that.”

Coach Gary Pinkel saw the impact of dropped passes in 2003.

“If you want to be a good receiving core you’ve got to catch the football and I think we were very inconsistent a year ago at that and that’s something we have to improve on,” Pinkel said.

Pinkel said which receiver the Tigers lean on won’t be determined until the middle of two-a-days, but he likes his options.

Omboga, a 6-foot-2, 192-pound senior who has stepped into the leadership role since the departure of wide receiver Darius Outlaw, has the least amount of drops among those competing for positions.

Omboga had 52 catches for 466 yards and a touchdown in 2003, including a career-high eight catches for 63 yards in the Independence Bowl against Arkansas.

Coffey, a 6-foot-5, 222 pounds, led the team in yards per catch last season and finished with 27 catches for 341 yards and a touchdown.

Ekwerekwu, a 6-foot-3, 204-pound sophomore, was one of two true freshmen on last year’s team. He ended his redshirt season when he played against Kansas.

He finished the year with 11 catches for 128 yards.

“I don’t have any question that it’s going to help him next year,” Pinkel said. “He’s been in the arena. He’s been in the battles. That’s something that until you’re there you don’t know. You don’t know how you’re going to react. That’s always something that is very significant. You try to prepare our players as well as you can for that environment.”

Bracey and Ray are in that situation. Both were redshirted in 2003.

“I think with any young player you always look at them, and when you had a Justin Gage here, you say, ‘Be like that guy,’” Pinkel said. “If you have that kind of leadership in front of you it helps make the whole team look better.”

Gage played from 1999-2002 and is Missouri’s all-time leader in receptions (200) and receiving yards (2704).

“We have a lot of guys that have the potential to step up and be a big play receiver,” Ekwerekwu said. “Hopefully, it will open up our passing game. We can go down field a little bit more. That should back the defense up and allow Brad and some of the other running backs to move around in the box.

“But I think even spreading the ball around to a lot of big play guys is what we have in store for the season also.”


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