After losing the top two receivers from a year ago, the biggest task for new Southern Miss offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson and his staff is putting together a dependable receiving corps for senior starting quarterback Nick Mullens.
USM head coach Jay Hopson left Tuesday morning's practice fairly upbeat about what he's seen out of the receivers so far.
“Well, we got guys out there that it’s their time to step up,” Hopson told the media Tuesday. “At the end of the day, it’s their time and I think guys have done some good things. Korey Robertson had some good plays today, too. Some guys have stepped up and made plays, we just got to keep building. We’re in that state of progress, building up to the season and guys are doing big things.”
Robertson and senior D.J. Thompson are USM's top two returning targets, but redshirt junior Marquise Ricard also returns to the fold after having to sit out 2015 with an injury.
Richard had 30 catches for 417 yards and two scores in 2014. Thompson pulled in 55 catches for 779 yards and six scores in 2015. Robertson had 14 catches for 200 yards and three scores last season.
Jordan Mitchell, a sophomore from Oak Grove, also showed flashes of brilliance last season with seven catches for 105 yards and a score. Tyre'oune Holmes should also provide depth at the slot position after mostly watching from the sideline in 2015.
USM bolstered its receiving corps with a pair of transfers from East Mississippi Community College in 6-foot-4, 195-pound Isaiah Jones and 6-foot-1, 190-pound Allenzae Staggers. Both men should feature heavily in the rotation for the Golden Eagles this season.
Staggers, who worked mostly on the outside at EMCC, is currently running first string in the slot for USM.
“When I was in junior college I played mostly outside receiver, and then when I got here they moved me to the slot,” Staggers said Tuesday. “That was a big leap for me, because I hadn't played it since my first year of high school. I had to adjust to that. I had to make certain cuts and even block linebackers. That's a big step.”
Jones had a bumpy spring game with a handful of drops, but has handled himself well early in fall camp.
“I've been doing well,” Jones said Tuesday. “All the practice has been paying off as we've been connecting on plays. It feels good. We all compete, from the new guys to the old guys. Everyone wants a spot. I feel like that will transfer to the games.”
Ricard, Thompson and Staggers ran with the first team on Tuesday, according to GoldenEaglePride.com. Jones was on the second team.
Both Staggers and Jones appear in the popular Netflix documentary, “Last Chance U,” which has garnered significant attention for the EMCC program and the players on the 2015 community college squad from Scooba.
How are the two handling the extra attention?
“It kind of made us feel like superstars, like we were somebody,” Staggers said. “It boosted our level of people knowing us. You have to carry yourself differently now.”
USM opens the season on Sept. 3 at Kentucky.