Inside Tulsa Sports / Miles Lacy
When a team has returning receivers like Justin Hobbs and Keenen Johnson, the cupboard isn’t exactly bare. But it definitely needed some re-stocking after losing two 1,000-yard stud receivers like Keevan Lucas and Josh Atkinson to graduation.
Tulsa coach Philip Montgomery believes strongly in the ability of Hobbs and Johnson, and believes that the mix of returning roster players with incoming players will make the TU wide receivers a position of strength again this year.
But they are not quite there yet.
“We’re losing a lot of production at the receiver spot,” said Montgomery. “Any time you’ve got guys who have been around here for the amount of time that Keevan and Josh had been around here, and been under the lights and made plays – those guys were staples for us last year.”
Hobbs, a 6-foot-4, 218-pound junior from Overland Park, Kansas, is the likely candidate to lead Tulsa in receiving in 2017. He had 50 catches for 685 yards last year after catching 32 passes for 551 yards as a redshirt freshman. He has played in every game in those two years.
“Hobbs, I thought he really stepped up when Keevan got hurt his first year and played really well,” Montgomery explained. “I thought he played even better last year. We threw him over there where Keyarris (Garrett - NCAA leader in receiving yards in 2015) was, which were big shoes to fill. I thought he did an outstanding job.
“His production level has got to increase quite a bit now. I think he’s ready for that. He’s really matured. He’s grown as far as learning how to play the position. We’ve got high hopes for Hobbs. I know he’s going to have a great summer and a great fall.”
Johnson made quite the debut after his redshirt was pulled midway through his freshman season. In his first game, the elusive and quick 6-1, 196-pounder from Alto, Texas had eight catches for 94 yards at Houston. In eight games, he finished with 30 receptions for 305 yards.
“Keenen’s a guy who we held off, held off, held off, and we finally started having to play him,” Montgomery said. “We played him against U of H, and he was very productive for us. He’s still really young. He’s got a bright future ahead of him. But it’s all about how he handles that success and learns how to work through all of those things.
“His role is going to increase dramatically. We have high hopes for him. He’s a guy who answered the phone every time we dialed him up. I’m excited about the direction he’s headed."
The biggest question mark among the receivers is who will step up behind Hobbs and Johnson. Since the Golden Hurricane starts a minimum of three receivers, and plays four receivers regularly, at least two more receivers will have to produce in order for the offense to click. And with a young, inexperienced quarterback at the helm, the receivers will certainly have to be ready.
The competition will be fierce, considering TU rarely plays more than five receivers during the season, and usually only plays four for most of the games. But will the winners of the competition be holdovers or newcomers?
The two holdovers with the most experience are senior Tulsa McLain products Nigel Carter and Bishop Louie. Both are terrific athletes who have had their moments at TU, but question marks remain for both, who are being looked at mostly as inside receivers.
“Nigel got some playing experience last year. He’s got to continue to keep growing and step up,” said Montgomery of the 6-3, 205-pound Carter, who was the fourth receiver last year until Johnson took over his role. Carter was fifth on the team in catches and yards with 66 yards on six receptions while starting one game.
“Bishop Louie has got to do the same thing,” Montgomery said of the lightning quick, 5-9, 172-pounder. “This is kind of their last hurrah type of deal. I think those two guys had great springs. I’ve got to see them do it consistently throughout fall.”
Louie is an example of how some players get lost in the shuffle during a coaching change. Louie had an extremely promising debut as a true freshman in 2014 with 23 catches for 274 yards, and seven rushes for 100 yards.
But Louie has only caught five passes the last two years after Montgomery took over, including three last year. He played at times last season as the fifth receiver, and was TU's leading kickoff returner while playing in every game.
Another holdover who will definitely get his chance when fall practice comes around is Brodrick Umblance. The 6-0, 189-pound senior from Arlington, Texas, started out his TU career as a receiver, moved to defensive back, and moved back to receiver. But his only career reception was for two yards last year while playing in only five games.
Umblance was lining up with the starters as the third receiver in the spring.
Redshirt freshman Josh Stewart is big and talented. The 6-3, 211-pound redshirt freshman from Cedar Hill, Texas, has shown flashes of ability during practice.
“Battling at the other outside receiver spot you’ve got Brodrick Umblance and Josh Stewart,” said Montgomery. “I think both those guys are really talented. Having a great battle for it in the spring. We’ll see who comes out through summer and fall camp.
“I feel confident with either one of them going in and playing. They just have to continue to keep growing and developing.”
Jarion Anderson and Jordan Brown are two more candidates. Anderson is a 5-9, 179-pounder from Texarkana, Texas, who returned punts as a redshirt freshman last season. Brown will be a freshman after redshirting last season. He is a big target at 6-2 and 226 pounds from Stillwater.
Montgomery will definitely give his newcomers a shot as well. Those include J.C. Santana (6-1, 175, Katy, TX), Sam Crawford (6-1, 193, Rockwall, TX), Keylon Stokes (6-1, 180, Manvel, TX) and Malik Jackson (6-2, 205, Taylor, TX).
“We have some freshmen coming in who I think have a chance,” Montgomery described. “When you look at Keylon Stokes, who is Keevan’s little brother, a guy that coming out of high school they used him in a lot of different spots. He was an explosive player. He’s kind of got that same mentality that his brother does – kind of plays with a chip on his shoulder and works extremely hard.
“Sam Crawford is another kid that we signed out of the Metroplex. We think he can play either inside or outside. I think we kind of stole him. He’s a guy that is really, really talented. He’s got great speed. They used him in a lot of different instances.
“J.C. Santana, a kid out of Katy, he’s got a chance. We’ll see what he does when he gets here. Malik Jackson, the same thing. Those guys, we’ll see how they develop and grow.”
Chances are, it is likely that at least one freshman comes in and gets playing time. It will likely take a combination of old and new for Tulsa’s receivers to approach the production of the last two seasons under Montgomery.