One of the most enjoyable aspects of last season was watching the development of true freshman wide receiver Ty Montgomery. Clearly overwhelmed by the transition to college football and hindered by his lack of understanding of the playbook, Montgomery was limited to only brief appearances during the first half of the season. He caught one ball in the opener against San Jose State, but didn't make another catch until six weeks later.
But even as he was struggling to catch up to what the offense was doing, he still managed to make an impact on special teams, as he averaged 25.2 yards per return, an average bolstered by his electric 96-yard touchdown return in Game 6 against Washington State.
Montgomery was a quick learner, however, and in the second half of the season he evolved into one of Andrew Luck's favorite targets. He had five catches for 87 yards in the epic victory at USC, notched his first touchdown reception against Notre Dame, and finished with seven receptions for 120 yards in the Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma State.
During his sophomore campaign Montgomery won't have the benefit of receiving balls from the best quarterback in America, but he's certain to be the focal point of the passing game and should double his production from 2011. Fifty receptions and 700 yards for six or seven touchdowns certainly sounds reasonable.
Question marks abound throughout the rest of the receiving corps, however. Seniors Drew Terrell and Jamal-Rashad Patterson are long on talent and expectations, but so far they've been short on production. Both Terrell and Patterson arrived (along with four-star prospect Jemari Roberts, who switched to tight end this fall) as part of the 2009 recruiting class that was expected to produce the next wave of great Cardinal receivers. But Terrell's three-star ranking and Patterson's four stars haven't translated to on-field success. Over the past three seasons the two have combined for a terribly unimpressive twenty receptions for 198 yards and just a single touchdown. Montgomery easily eclipsed those numbers during his first season.
But hopes are high for these seniors who certainly must be thinking back to Doug Baldwin's breakout 2010 season that translated into an NFL career. Coach David Shaw has said this spring that Patterson has looked like someone who has finally put it together, and Terrell will likely see some action in the Cardinal's few three-receiver sets.
So while Terrell and Patterson are currently next in line behind Montgomery, they certainly must be aware of one of the more interesting developments of summer camp. True freshman Kodi Whitfield, son of Cardinal legend Bob Whitfield, has impressed the coaching staff both with his physical skills and his quick acquisition of the playbook. On a team filled with talented freshmen, Whitfield seems poised to grab the most early playing time. This week Shaw explained as much to the Cardinal Report's Andy Drukarev: "Game one Kodi will be in the rotation. He will play a signficant amount starting with the first game."
With the depth at tight end and the possible insertion of running back Kelsey Young into the passing game, it isn't likely that the wide receiver rotation will go much deeper than this, but the coaches have seen good things from redshirt freshman Devon Cajuste and true freshman Michael Rector, both of whom might have a shot at seeing the field.
There are a few constants on the offensive side of the ball (offensive line, running backs, tight ends), but the two biggest question marks are intertwined. In many ways quarterback Josh Nunes's development will be tied to the growth of Ty Montgomery and Kodi Whitfield and the long-awaited emergence of Drew Terrell and Jamal-Rashad Patterson. If just two of those four players can seize the opportunity in front of them, Nunes and the offense will be just fine.
[Photo Credit: Marcio Sanchez/Associated Press]