Story Poster
Photo by Hanna Winn / Bear Insider
Cal Football

Cal Fall Camp Preview: Wide Receivers

August 3, 2022
1,346

The wide receiver room saw some of the heaviest starter turnover of any unit in the Cal program after the 2021 season, with starting receivers Nikko Remigio, Kekoa Crawford and Travon Clark all moving on. The trio represented 111 of the 145 total wide receiver receptions (76%) last season. Ordinarily, that would be a recipe for future struggles, but a quick glance at the size, speed and production from their young core of returning receivers leads one to a different conclusion.

“My first impression was just their energy was up there,” said wide receivers coach Burl Toler of his unit in spring ball. “We have a lot of young guys, a lot of guys that are just itching to be on the field. The good thing is a good amount of them had redshirted and got a handful of special teams reps so they at least touched the field a little bit.”

“Spring was super competitive. Guys were jumping out there, They’re ready to play all three receiver positions. It shows they understand the playbook, which really helps, I can move guys around and these guys are competitive. I think we’ve seen that in the offseason through the grades they’ve gotten in the classroom. They’re the highest GPA (at any position group) for 2 semesters in a row. You see the competition there then you see what they do every single day.

“They’re trying to outwork each other but most importantly, outwork themselves. It’s a great group with a lot of great energy. We have a couple of good new additions that can contribute at some point here and we’re looking to improve everybody’s game and have them contribute to this team.”

Adding to the positive impressions many of the young receivers made was the precision that presumed starter Jack Plummer -a redshirt junior transfer from Purdue- and redshirt frosh QB Kai Millner often executed the offense throughout much of spring.

“All the quarterbacks did a great job,” said Toler. “I was impressed with how quickly they got their rhythm down and you can tell the quarterbacks and the receivers, all of them, you can tell how much work they put in. They’re watching film together, they’re throwing on their own, they’re getting to know each other. So all those important things, the things it takes to be great, they’re taking advantage of. It was great seeing them in the offseason, and you’ll see it matriculate through spring and I look forward to seeing that continue through fall camp.”

The top returning receiver in the unit is redshirt soph receiver, Jeremiah Hunter. The 6-2/205 Hunter was third on the team with 388 yards on 21 receptions (18.48 ypc) and a touchdown last season and is the leading returner in overall yards and receptions. The talented Fresno native has assumed a leadership role in the WR room this season.

“Absolutely,” said Toler.  “Jeremiah is the one that has the most playing time. He’s been around. He’s still a young guy, but he’s been around almost the longest with the exception of Monroe (Young) and Chris Rogers. But Jeremiah has the most playing time, and he missed some time the last few years but he’s really fired up and he’s ready to get out there. He’s extremely positive. He’s one of the best kids you’ll meet on and off the field. He is super-detailed in everything he does.

“His skill set is detailed routes, being a student of the game, great hands, has the ability to play outside and inside. He’s not a big bruiser out there but he’s physical…selectively physical at the right times. He’s slippery when guys try to cover him. He’s great off the line of scrimmage with releases, and he’ll be a great threat for us this year.”

Redshirt frosh receiver J Michael Sturdivant came to the program with lots of accolades from Highland Village, Texas. The former 4-star prep had offers from LSU, Florida State, Notre Dame, Stanford, UCLA, and many more before choosing Cal but he injured his hand in fall amp last year and had to wear a wrap until well into the season, making it easier to redshirt him and limit his playing time when he returned. However, Sturdivant made a big splash during spring, with a wide variety of contested catches, flashing his elite 10.31 100-meter speed in the process.

“J Mike is doing great,” noted Toler. “He had a great spring. Last year, he played 4 games so we redshirted him. He had 11 special teams reps in 1 game and showed he can utilize his speed. He ran down there and stood out making a couple of special teams tackles on a punt. He played gunner. He is obviously extremely fast and has all the skill set in the world. It’s just a matter of him putting it all together and sharpening his tools. Knowing when to be at full speed or when to throttle his speed and when to break down and when to use his body to the best of his ability. He really honed in on that this spring and we’re looking forward to him contributing in every way possible and using all the skills he has.”

Another spring standout was redshirt frosh Mavin Anderson. The 6-0/200 receiver was a nightmare in coverage all spring playing the slot and showing his considerable speed on several long gainers on end-arounds.

“Mavin is great,” said Toler. “Now, Mavin is a student of the game. He's never satisfied with where he is. Even if he had a great catch or great route, he always says, ‘Coach, what do? I need to do to get better.’”

The talented receiver has a great relationship with his family and his father Terry keeps a close and encouraging eye on his son’s continued growth and development, on and off the field. 

“Coach T doesn’t play,” said Toler. “He stays on him and he has a great balance. Great balance of turning it on, great personality, having fun, working hard, taking notes, and I think a lot of that is from his dad and his mom. He’s transformed into a leader already being how much he played in spring and were looking forward to seeing how much he can do. He’s physical.”

Yet another young receiver who made big moves in the spring was 6-4/220 redshirt soph receiver Tommy Christakos. Known for his high point ability and his big catch radius, Christakos is also a sure-handed receiver across the middle with strong hands and an innate ability to shield defenders away from the ball on contested passes.

“Tommy is another guy coming off of a great spring,” said Toler. “He’s confident. Last year obviously he had Travon Clark and a couple of those older guys he played behind, so he didn’t get too many snaps, but you couldn’t tell during this spring. He looked like the guy who had a lot of snaps.

“He played more mature, more ready, and with a chip on his shoulder and those are the exact things that are going to get him on the field and keep him on the field. He’s a threat, he’s a huge red zone threat. I say it all the time, but we call him Top Shelf Tommy for a reason. He can go up there and get it. There’s not a DB that I’ve seen that can cover him when he’s doing everything to the best of his ability. Great catch radius and we’re looking forward to him utilizing that to get us big chunk plays this season.”

Not only just a red zone, high point threat, but Christakos has also become a high-level route runner able to get open and secure balls at every different level.

“Absolutely and one thing he’s really improved on this spring is that exactly,” said Toler. “He’s a natural red zone threat guy but he really improved his intermediate game and a lot of that has come from the ability to stick his toe in the ground and change direction. A lot of you don’t know this but he played outside in high school and got moved to slot, but it’s because he can change directions, he could move, and he has that catch radius. So, it’s a lot of different things we’re able to bring out now is awesome to see.”

Redshirt soph receiver Justin Baker came to the program with a reputation for making things happen, whether as a receiver, on runs, or on special teams. In his season-opening win as a senior in 2019, the speedy slot receiver opened the game with a TD kick return and closed it with a diving, game-winning catch in the end zone with bookend scores, flashing his abundance of playmaking potential. The 5-10/180 receiver was dinged up early in spring ball but started making waves as he regained his health.

“Justin Baker, he finished spring really strong,” noted Toler. “Justin is a guy you see him before you hear him and that is always a good thing. He’s a guy that flies around and he’s not going to brag or boast too much but he kind of keeps his nose to the grindstone and makes sure he’s a perfectionist.

“From the drawings he turns in, to the questions that he asks, he wants to make sure that he’s going to be the best Justin Baker he can be. Academics, he’s always on point with but he is electric with the ball in his hands and he’s a guy we’re going to find a way to get the ball to. We’re going to give him a bunch of different plays. Towards the end of spring, being able to catch deeper routes or short intermediate routes or whatever burst he can do either one of those things. I am looking forward to him this season. He’s a leader in his own way, as well. He’s not going to scream and shout but he’s going to do everything the right way and he knows what is right and what is wrong. He is not afraid to speak up if he needs to.”

6-4/205 CSM transfer Mason Starling missed a bunch of time early in spring but came in strong late, flashing his tremendous red zone potential by going up high above his defender for a TD reception in 11x11 drills late in the spring session.

“Mason Starling has all the ability in the world,” said Toler. “Obviously, his stature stands out. Wide shoulders, long legs, long arms, can go up and get it. Missed some time early in spring but really finished strong. So we are looking forward to him picking up where he left off in the spring.

“He had a great offseason, put on some weight, and improved on some things he needed to improve on. He’s real specific, like a lot of the guys in the room. They call it corrections on what they improve and get better at and it has really shown. He's been focused, he's fired up about being here. He's got a good handle on academics. It’s a little bit of a transition with those junior college guys coming to Cal, but just like Travon Clark and Kekoa Crawford, they proved they can do it.”

6-0/210 5th-year senior receiver Monroe Young is a player off many people’s radars but is a guy that gets the dirty work done that sometimes goes unnoticed and is a definite leader in the locker room and on the field.

“Well first off Monroe outside of the football field is just a leader, noted Toler. “He does everything right. He works extremely hard, and he’s not a guy you’re not going to notice his stats right away, especially in the previous year but you’ll notice the plays he’s in. But he’s putting guys on their back. He takes pride in winning, he’s the first guy celebrating when we do things well as a team. He’s a team leader type guy and knows how things need to be done.

“He’s been here the longest, he’s the OG, the leader of the group, and I lean on him a lot because he knows how things are supposed to be done. On top of that on the field, he's (in my opinion) just getting started. I won’t be surprised by the things he does this season because he's just on top of it.”

Redshirt soph receiver Mason Mangum did not participate during much of spring ball but he was busy on the track, compiling elite times on the track and in the jump pit.

“Mason Mangum is just scratching the surface on what he’s gonna be able to do,” said Toler. “I am really fired up about what we’ve seen out of him in the offseason. He’s coming to his own this offseason. A lot of fans don’t really know because he’s been at track. He’s an all-conference national-type track guy. Long jumped almost 25 feet. He’s really explosive and we're really looking forward to him contributing and putting his skill set to use. His specific skill set is speed and explosiveness and being able to stretch the field, put him in the slot and he can change directions so all the things he worked on this offseason we’re looking forward to.”

6-1/240 redshirt soph receiver Aiden Lee was off to a good spring before injuring his ankle mid to late spring ball but is making progress on his return to the field.

“Aiden will be back soon,” said Toler. “He had to take some time off with the injury, but he’ll be back in action and I look forward to him being back whenever he is ready. His size and his strength come with that. His ability to move with his strength and his strong hands and his ability to contribute on special teams are some of what he brings.”

6-3/210 receiver Jaiven Plummer was the lone prep wide receiver signee in the 2022 class. Like so many other of the Bears’ talented young receivers, Plummer brings loads of size, speed, and athleticism to the field, creating difficult mismatches for the defense.

“Jaiven is awesome,” said Toler. “Coming all the way from Virginia, he has California ties through Sacramento. His family is from there. Well-traveled and he knows Cal is the place for him. Had a great start, and did a great job in the offseason picking up the playbook, and working out with the strength staff. They said great things about him. He put some good weight on already he’s 6’3/210 so he’ll be another good target out there. Some of his strengths are his speed and his strong hands. He’s extremely physical. He attacks the ball. He will play a majority of outside the ball for now but we’ll see how that progresses. Looking forward to him putting that on the field.”

Another new addition came via the preferred walk-on route in 6-2/215 Portland receiver Jordan King, who has been turning heads since his arrival in June.

“Jordan King is a steal of a walk-on,” noted Toler. “He is a guy that passed up 7-8 scholarships to come to Cal. A lot of it had to do with relationships and opportunities and he really felt that connection with myself, the staff, and the rest of the team. So, he’s going to do great things. He already has made a great impression with everyone based on his workouts and the way he does things. We are extremely excited to have him on board.”

Toler also talked about the remaining trio of PWO receivers who all saw plenty of reps in spring ball: 6-4/205 rs frosh Trond Grizzell, 6-3/190 rs junior Chris Rogers, and 6-1/205 rs soph Grant Daley.

“Trond has great hands and is extremely long,” noted Toler. “He can go out and snatch the ball. He can also run as well. He has a great change of direction. We’re looking forward to him doing those things on the field.

“Grant Daley can do it all, he plays all 3 positions. He’s durable, he has the background of De La Salle and is able to jump out there and be ready to play big-time ball. Looking for big things out of him.

“Chris Rogers has had the biggest improvement this offseason. It is not surprising how it works. It was just a matter of time. Not many people know but he was on track to play soccer nationally with his quickness and his feet. It was just a matter of him putting all of his skillsets together on the football field. He's always had it, it's just good to see how rewarding it is now.”

Toler wrapped things up by giving a primer on the offensive terminology behind each of the receiving positions, noting who plays where in the system.

“The X is typically our longer bodies who stretch the field, deep route guys who still run intermediate routes but longer bodies like Jeremiah (Hunter), Tommy Christakos, Mason Starling, those are our Xs, Jaiven Plummer, Trond Grizzell.

Our Zs are our flankers, they’re typically off the ball. You motion them, you can insert them to lock a safety, or you can run intermediate routes or post routes as well. But those are our stronger bodies Monroe Young, J Mike Sturdivant, Chris Rogers, Aidan Lee.

Then our F position is our slot position. Those are the guys with great change of direction like Justin Baker, Mavin Anderson, Mason Mangum, guys like that, that are able to change direction and utilize their speed. Still run good routes but also be able to run a reverse or end-around and all those things.”

Though the unit may be fairly inexperienced, with the arrival of Plummer, the emergence of Millner and the talent and production the unit flashed all spring long against one of the league’s tougher defenses, Cal fans can expect big things from this exciting unit this season.

Stay tuned for our next review on the tight end group coming up later today.

Related:

Cal Fall Camp Preview: Offensive Line

Cal Fall Camp Preview: Running Backs

 

 

 
×
subscribe Verify your student status
See Subscription Benefits
Trial only available to users who have never subscribed or participated in a previous trial.