Central Michigan spring football: Who can the Chippewas trust at wide receiver?
This is the third of a series of nine Central Michigan position group previews entering spring football practice, which begins March 19. Today's edition focuses on the wide receivers. For more, check back with Central Michigan Life over the next week.
Quarterbacks – March 4
Running backs – March 4
Wide receivers – March 5
Tight ends – March 5
Offensive line – March 6
Defensive line – March 6
Linebackers – March 7
Defensive backs – March 7
Special teams – March 8
Running back Jonathan Ward, expecting a breakout 2018 season, registered just one rushing score for the Chippewas last campaign.
And, as many know, the run game opens up the pass game – vice versa.
Passes were dropped. And when they were caught, fumbles often followed.
CMU's most seasoned wide receiver, Brandon Childress, may have said it best when the Chippewas were struggling through the 1-11 campaign.
"We’ve left plenty of plays out on the field and have left plenty of touchdowns out there," he said last season. "We need to execute in order to make the big plays.”
Senior Childress, redshirt sophomore Julian Hicks and senior Cameron Cole are all returning for 2019, but the trio amassed a combined 653 yards – not enough.
Something needs to change. Someone needs to step up.
His name is Kalil Pimpleton.
Returning impact players
If anyone is going to step up to center stage, it's Pimpleton, a redshirt sophomore. He was unable to play in 2018 due to NCAA transfer rules, but he came over from Virginia Tech for a reason. Pimpleton has the skill set to open up the field, something CMU's missed since the days of Corey Willis and Mark Chapman.
Pimpleton has something to prove. His quickness, route running and hands are well above par. He doesn't have a noticeable weakness, so the only thing he can do is use his size and quickness to his advantage rather than against himself.
Before John Bonamego was fired as CMU's coach, he spoke highly of what he saw from Pimpleton during practice.
"I'm excited to see Kalil Pimpleton play on something other than scout team," Bonamego said. "He's an electric player who will be an impact player for us. He's going to be around for three more years."
Even if Pimpleton rises to the challenge as a speedster in the slot, much more is needed, and it all starts with Cole and Childress.
Both seniors in their final season, Cole and Childress have sat on the verge of a breakout season for the last two years. Childress, as he mentioned, had trouble with his execution. Cole was too often used on third down and rarely got a shot in the long-ball game.
McElwain wants to change that, and Cole could be the answer.
“Offense fills up the stadium,” McElwain said. “We can get explosive plays.”
Of Childress' 155 yards, he only had four receptions for 34 yards in October. If he can find some consistency, there's an opportunity for him to be a threat regardless of how CMU uses him.
Hicks, a redshirt sophomore, is McElwain's most dangerous weapon as a true playmaker. He has a superb cut on his slant route, which helped him pace the wide receiver room with 313 yards and four touchdowns last season.
Against Michigan State on Sept. 29, he gave First-Team All-Big Ten selection Justin Layne all types of trouble. Hicks also provides solid breakaway speed on the wheel route and has the hops to get up over defenders.
Hicks has all the physical needs to end up as a First-Team All-MAC player. If the quarterback play is consistent, there's no reason why that can't be the case.
Aside from Pimpleton, Hicks, Childress and Cole, expect senior Jamil Sabbagh, sophomore Drayton Law and junior JaCorey Sullivan to get significant time on the gridiron.
While the aforementioned players solidified themselves in years past, Sabbagh, Law and Sullivan should show some separation between each other for the backup wide receiver spots throughout spring practice.
Sullivan was the most productive "dark horse" in 2018, making 18 receptions for 153 yards and two touchdowns. He had the highest catch rate on the team, snagging 75 percent of passes thrown his way.
For Law, it's all about building on the 2018 season, which he caught eight passes for 82 yards.
Law is one of the tallest pass catches on the Chippewas roster. He wasn't often used downfield, rather as a someone to just move the sticks late in games. If that changes, he could find himself making noise off the bench.
Sabbagh was heavily targeted in the deep ball game last season, but was unsuccessful on most occasions. He could work in a backup role to Pimpleton in the slot, using speed and smaller size to his advantage.
All three have the potential for a highly successful season, and top-notch wide receiver play is something McElwain needs to make his offense run fluid. If that's not the case, it could be a long, dull season for the Chippewas.
The only wide receiver brought in on scholarship is Darrell Wyatt from Detroit Martin Luther King High School, a three-star prospect in the 2019 class.
Wyatt has all the ability to become a breakout receiver in the MAC, but a redshirt might be the best option for the 2018 season. However, don't be surprised if he gets time late in events with the recent NCAA rule allowing a player to participate in four games without being stripped of the redshirt option.
The 6-foot-1, 175-pound pass catcher can flat out play, but his time is at least a year or two down the road.