Southern Miss receiving corps ready to rock

Southern Miss receiving corps ready to rock
Source: WDAM

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Yes, the University of Southern Mississippi graduated their top receivers, Michael Thomas and Casey Martin, from its record-setting, 2105 offense.

And yes, when the two left, they took 52.5 percent of the Golden Eagles' receiving touchdowns, 50.2 percent of the receiving yards and 44.7 percent of the catches along with them.

But if you talk to those responsible for stepping into the breach, USM should be just fine this fall.

"We're deeper than we have been in four years," USM receivers coach John Wozniak. "We've got a lot of competition, and that's a great thing. We really don't have a depth chart right now. We've just been rotating the guys around so that everybody gets chances with the ones and twos."

Thomas, a sixth-round draft pick of the Los Angeles Rams, led the team with a school-record 1,391 yards and 14 touchdowns on 71 catches. Martin had team-high 80 receptions out of the slot for 925 yards and seven scores.

But another 12 Golden Eagles caught at least two passes in a year that saw the USM passing attack reach the 4,000-yard passing mark for the first time in program history and set another single-season mark with 38 touchdowns through the air.

That gives USM a solid nucleus returning with significant game experience, while two, junior college transfers who arrived in the spring also are vying for slots in a scheme that could feature as many as four wideouts on the field on any given play.

Among returnees who have been rotating through the first two receiving units during the preseason's first seven practices:

Senior D.J. Thompson (6 feet, 3 inches, 200 pounds) of Pearl, who averaged 14.2 yards per catch in 2015 while setting career marks with 55 catches for 779 yards and six touchdowns.

Red-shirt sophomore Korey Robertson (6-1, 210) of Greenwood, who averaged 14.3 yards a reception in 2015 on 14 catches for 200 yards and three touchdowns.

Red-shirt junior Tyre'oune Holmes (5-11, 170) of Tylertown is two seasons removed from All-Freshman Conference USA honors. After grabbing 53 passes for 410 yards and two touchdowns in 2013, Holmes missed 2014 with a knee-injury and then never got back into the swing in 2015, playing in just three games and making just one catch.

Red-shirt junior Marquise Ricard (6-2,192) of Baton Rouge, who missed 2015 after chipping a bone in his knee during the previous spring. In his first two seasons, Ricard hauled in 54 passes for 723 yards and five touchdowns

"I've feel real good about the receiving corps," said Robertson, who is following in the footsteps of another Greenwood receiver, former USM standout Sherrod Gideon. "We've worked all summer with the quarterbacks, so we're definitely ready for it and ready to take on the challenge from last year."

The Golden Eagles will be aided in that challenge by a pair of junior college teammates, Isaiah Jones (6-4, 195) of Milton, Fla., and Allenzae Staggers (6-1, 190) of Woodville, who graduated from East Mississippi Community College in December and went through spring practice and summer workouts.

"They've done a great job buying into the system, making a lot of plays here early," USM senior quarterback Nick Mullens said. "So, to able to add those guys into the mix, add another factor to the offense, is great for the team."

The Golden Eagles open the 2106 season at 6:30 p.m. on Aug. 3 at the University of Kentucky.

"We've got some new pieces, and we're excited to put them on the field," Ricard said. "We've got a new offensive coordinator, some different plays, so it's exciting, though it won't be a big change, just a few sprinkles here and there."