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If wide receivers emerge, W&M could contend nationally this fall

FootballCollege of William and MaryColonial Athletic AssociationJimmye LaycockNCAAGisele Bundchen

WILLIAMSBURG — William and Mary's offense is blessed at tailback, solid up front, deep at tight end and experienced at quarterback. The defense boasts all-conference caliber talent along the line, at linebacker and in the secondary.

So what's not to like? Where is the pimple on this Gisele Bundchen of a football team?

Well, there is this: None of the team's receivers has ever started a college game or caught a touchdown pass for the Tribe.

"There's no question about it," coach Jimmye Laycock said Monday. "That's a concern."

Especially for a coach as wedded to the pass as Grover Norquist is to tax cuts.

"That's going to be an interesting part of our preseason practices," Laycock said. "How are we going to utilize (the receivers)? You can draw up a lot of good plays, but if you don't have the guys who can do it, you have to adjust.

"With that said, we've got some backs — we can do some stuff with them — got a couple of tight ends and got a solid offensive line. Maybe a little different look. Maybe a running, control-type of offense."

No doubt, Laycock and offensive coordinator Zbig Kepa have some chess pieces, from tailback Jonathan Grimes to center James Pagliaro, from tight end Alex Gottlieb to quarterback Mike Paulus.

New defensive coordinator Scott Boone is similarly equipped with tackle Harold Robertson II, linebackers Dante Cook and Jake Trantin and cornerback B.W. Webb.

So if Paulus' surgically repaired throwing shoulder holds up, and if some reliable receivers emerge, William and Mary figures to again rank among the nation's best.

"That's what all of us in the receiver group were thinking about this summer," senior Ryan Woolfolk said. "If we can play, (the team) can do big things. It's kind of limitless. It definitely was a motivating factor this summer. We have to push, we have to be the group that steps up so we're not a weak link."

Laycock's top priority is consistency. Acrobatic catches are great, as long as they're not accompanied by dropped passes, whiffed blocks and missed assignments.

"I want to know the guy is going to be where he's supposed to be, and if the ball's there he's going to catch it, and if a guy's there he's going to block him," Laycock said. "If he doesn't have great speed, the breakaway stuff, we'll work around that."

Laycock didn't anticipate this issue after sophomore Ryan Moody exceeded all expectations last year with team-highs of 47 catches and 731 yards. But Moody, a first-team All-CAA selection, injured a knee during spring practice and likely will miss most, if not all, of this season.

Woolfolk and D.J. Mangas top the depth chart entering training camp, and they're collective message to Laycock is: We've got your back.

"We feel we've made a lot of progress," said Mangas, a senior who caught 28 passes last season, tops among returning wideouts. "We know we're going to need some guys stepping up with Moody going down, but we feel like collectively we can do that.

"I'm comfortable in saying somebody can do that, whether it's me, Woolfolk, (Nick) Downey, (Joey) Brady, there's a handful of guys that can play. To some people it's seen as a question mark, I guess. But to us, we're around each other every day, guys know what we're capable of.

" I really don't see it as a question mark. I think we'll produce fine. We all run pretty good routes, have good hands, have knowledge of the playbook. We definitely have the speed to stretch the field. Woolfolk's definitely our fastest receiver. … No one's really seen Nick Downey play, but he's probably the quickest guy we have, and he's deceptively fast."

Mangas and Woolfolk are starting their fifth year with the Tribe. They reached the NCAA playoff semifinals in 2009, won the thorny CAA in 2010 and have higher aspirations in 2011.

"We've been so close," Woolfolk said. "We've been right there scratching. … A lot of people have been talking about complacency, but I feel we're still hungry. The ring isn't the right ring. We want the next one."

David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at dteel@dailypress.com. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/sports/teeltime and follow him at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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FootballCollege of William and MaryColonial Athletic AssociationJimmye LaycockNCAAGisele Bundchen
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