Missouri hopes talented group of receivers pays off this season

Missouri receiver Dorial Green-Beckham watches practice earlier this month in Columbia.

Missouri receiver Dorial Green-Beckham watches practice earlier this month in Columbia. Photo by The Associated Press.

COLUMBIA — Missouri’s receiving corps showed two sides in Saturday’s first scrimmage of fall camp.

Marcus Lucas and Jaleel Clark each hauled in touchdowns of more than 65 yards, showing the group’s deep-threat potential. But Missouri’s receivers were plagued by several dropped passes and they made a few mistakes in route running.

For an offense that struggled to find any rhythm last year, the Tigers need as many positive moments as possible from its experienced group of receivers.

“Our depth of receivers is unbelievable,” Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk said. “If five people are tired one series, we’ve got five more that are ready to go that can play. They’re all just as good. Different heights at different positions, but there’s nowhere else you want to be when you have these receivers.”

Missouri may have more depth at receiver than any other position. The Tigers return more than 56 percent of their catches from last season. That includes seniors Marcus Lucas and L’Damian Washington, who combined for 71 catches.

The two upped their production from 2011 when they combined to catch 46 balls.

With Lucas and Washington solidifying themselves as Missouri’s top two receivers in terms of production, eyes turn to Dorial Green-Beckham.

He was productive last season, catching 28 passes for 395 yards and a team-high five touchdowns. Those weren’t bad numbers for a freshman, but the expectations on the former No. 1 recruit were so high, some may have viewed his freshman year as a disappointment.

“Look what he’s been though,” Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel said. “You’re marked since you’ve probably been in ninth grade. I think if you sit back and you look at it you can see how tough that is on young people. It’s hard, especially nowadays, the multimedia, the multicommunications. I think overall he’s done a great job.”

Many around the program have given high praise to Green-Beckham for his improvement in the offseason. He credited moving back to the outside this season, after playing on the inside last year, as one reason he feels more comfortable.

But there’s still room for Green-Beckham to improve. In Saturday’s scrimmage he dropped a pass and did not adjust quickly enough to an underthrown pass, resulting in an E.J. Gaines interception.

“Last year, he might not have caught as many balls as he could have or should have,” Mauk said. “Right now he’s really sticking out. He’s a freak on the football field. To be that big, that fast and for him to learn what he has. He knows what he’s doing. He’s not taking routes off, plays off. He’s busting his tail 100 percent of the time. That’s what we need him to do and we should expect some big things out of him.”

Added Green-Beckham: “You’ve got to take every step that you take out here seriously. I mean, you’ve got to be able to read coverages well. I just felt like the difference from high school was you could just make those plays, but now it’s like you’ve go to read it a lot more.”

If Green-Beckham can see the same increase in production as Lucas and Washington saw, that opens up Missouri’s offense even more for redshirt freshman tight end Sean Culkin and junior receiver Darius White.

Culkin had a chance to play as a true freshman, but took a redshirt after suffering an injured finger.

White, a transfer from Texas, was the 20th-ranked player nationally coming out of high school in 2011. But the Parade All-American had two unproductive years as a Longhorn where he had just six catches.

Pinkel, who mentioned all the drops after Saturday’s scrimmage without being asked, has high expectations for the group.

“Our receiving corps is pretty good this year,” he said.

Notes: A pair of starters sat out practice Tuesday with injuries. Gaines suffered a strained patella tendon and is expected to miss a week of practice. Running back Henry Josey missed practice with hamstring soreness. ... Missouri’s second scrimmage of camp is at 7:15 a.m. Thursday.

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