TERRE HAUTE —
Unlike some of Indiana State’s football units, experience is not an issue when it comes to the wide receivers and tight ends.
Four players who caught at least seven passes in 2012 return to the fold, including wide receiver Demory Lawshe, who had 31 receptions for 393 yards and three touchdowns. He leads the returning Sycamores pass-catchers in all three categories.
The question now is whether those receivers can be productive enough to give Mike Sanford’s spread offense the balance it needs to succeed.
That sought-after balance was an open question during the 2012 campaign. ISU became increasingly dependent on running back Shakir Bell as the passing game was inconsistent. Part of the issue was that ISU never developed a legitimate deep threat to keep opposing secondaries honest.
Sanford and his staff recognized the problem. The solution? An influx of six junior college transfers at the wide receiver spot alone.
Travis Reyes (a Louisiana Tech transfer), Antonio Johnson, Kyani Harris, Cory Fisher, Greg Cuthbertson and Justice Berry are the transfers. Though the roles of all will be contingent on their skills — Berry, for example, could see time as a tight end or H-back — there’s a common trait that ties together several of ISU’s newcomers.
“We’ve added speed and people who can threaten deep. We’re going to throw it to them,” Sanford said.
“The guys that would fit that category would be Kyani Harris, Travis Reyes and Greg Cuthbertson. All new guys, all transfers, all guys with legitimate 4.5 speed. They can get down the field and threaten people. Which one will be that guy in that game? I don’t know.”
Among the effects the influx of newcomers has had is to serve as a motivating tool for the receivers Sanford inherited.
“We’re looking really good, really strong. There’s a lot of us. It’s deep, it’s very competitive. It’s fun,” Lawshe said.
Sanford said that Lawshe might have gained the most from competition.
“I think he struggled at first that we recruited some more guys. Then I think he settled in and said, ‘I’m going to compete.’ He’s become a force to be reckoned with,” Sanford said.
Sanford also had high praise for returning starter Tanner Riley. The senior had 22 catches for 219 yards in 2012.
“Tanner Riley has gotten better everyday. He’s a warrior. He practices hard and he does a great job,” Sanford said.
Chris O’Leary had seven catches in 2012 and is due to return to practice soon after sitting out with injury throughout much of August.
Like Trent Miles did before him, Sanford will employ the tight end as a target. ISU has been blessed with significant production from former tight ends Michael Mardis and Alex Jones in recent seasons. Sanford is confident that production can continue as Jamar Brown takes over the starting role.
Brown spent his first two seasons on the defensive side of the ball as a reserve linebacker. Sanford thinks his 6-foot-5, 230-pound body can be put to better use on the offensive side. Through spring and preseason practice, Brown has proven to be a quick study and a steady target.
“We feel very good about Jamar Brown as a starter. He can do a lot of things,” Sanford said.
Senior veteran Garrick Dikos has missed part of preseason practice due to a concussion. Sanford said Logan Buske, a former Terre Haute South standout, has done a good job with the reps he’s received due to Dikos’ injury.
The spread allows Sanford to utilize several combinations of receivers, tight ends, fullbacks and tailbacks, but to make it all work, the receivers have to provide balance.
Lawshe thinks they can.
“Defenses know about Shakir Bell. What they don’t know is how much talent we have on the outside. To balance that out would be a great fit,” Lawshe said.
ISU Unit-by-Unit previews
Today: Wide receivers/tight ends
Next: Special teams
Note: Unit-by-unit previews will run periodically through Indiana State’s preseason practices.
ISU WIDE RECEIVERS/TIGHT ENDS
Projected starters: WR Demory Lawshe*, Sr.; WR Tanner Riley*, Sr.; TE Jamar Brown, Jr.
In relief (WR): Travis Reyes, Jr.; Antonio Johnson, Jr.; Kyani Harris, Jr.; Chris O’Leary, Jr.; Miguel Johns, Jr.; Cory Fisher, Jr.; Greg Cuthbertson, Jr.; DeSean Prentice, So.; David Roberts, Fr.; Sampson Levingston, Fr.; Chris Davis, Fr.; Jeremiah Alphabet, Fr.
In relief (TE): Garrick Dikos, Sr.; Justice Berry, Jr.; Logan Buske, So.; Joel Magrum, RFr.; Sam Clancy, RFr.; Braxton Shirley, Fr.
Offensive coordinator: Brian Sheppard.
Position coach: Joe Bever.
* denotes returning starter