On the surface, the wide receiver position would seem to be an area of concern for the Navy football team since the Midshipmen graduated their top three performers from last season.
The three seniors -- Matt Aiken, Casey Bolena and Shawn Lynch -- received the majority of game repetitions in 2013 with starters Aiken and Bolena combining for 314 receiving yards on 21 catches.
What the current wide receivers lack in experience, they more than make up for with talent and athleticism, according to the Navy coach staff. Across the board, this year's receiving corps features the type of height and length never before seen at Navy with sophomore Jamir Tillman leading an impressive group of youngsters.
Tillman was the talk of spring camp and received the Admiral Mack Award as Navy's most improved player. The 6-foot-4, 206-pounder ran solid routes and displayed sure hands in seizing one of the open starting spots.
"Jamir has a chance to be really, really special here. As long as he continues to grind and does what we tell him, he's going to be special," wide receivers coach Mick Yokitis said.
Tillman's father played six seasons in the NFL for the Denver Broncos and Jacksonville Jaguars. Cedric Tillman coached his son throughout youth level ball and at Bishop Gorman High in Las Vegas.
Tillman caught just two passes for 12 yards as a freshman last season and has not proven he can be a consistent blocker. Yokitis nodded in agreement when told head coach Ken Niumatalolo said Tillman has not accomplished anything yet.
"We tell him that every day. We challenge Jamir and the great thing is that he challenges himself," Yokitis said. "I like the way Jamir is working. He's got a long way to go, but I like where he is right now."
Senior Brendan Dudeck, the only returning receiver that was part of the game rotation, has assumed the leadership mantel.
"Dudeck is in charge of the room right now. He's our leader and everybody knows it," Yokitis said. "Brendan works the hardest every day in practice and it's really, really good for our younger guys to see the way he works every single day."
Yokitis said Dudeck, a 6-foot, 202-pound New Jersey native, sets the "tempo" for the unit in practice, showing the youngsters the effort and energy that is required.
"The best way is to lead by example and that's what I try to do," Dudeck said. "Playing receiver here is about being tough as nails, pushing hard and giving it all you've got on every play. No matter what the obstacle is, we're getting through it."
Wide receivers are asked to do a lot of dirty work in Navy's triple-option offense, blocking on the majority of plays. Those blocks can be critical as the receivers must cut outside linebackers on the backside and stalk cornerbacks to the play side.
"That's preached immediately by Coach Yokitis from the minute you get into the room. Everything is about not only catching the ball, but absolutely blocking as best you can," Dudeck said. "You never know which block will spring the 30-yard run or the big touchdown."
Yokitis said junior Thomas Wilson is the team's third-best wide receiver at this point. The 6-foot-1, 196-pound Kentucky native played in all 13 games last season, primarily on special teams.
"Thomas is a lot like Brendan. You know what you're going to get out of Thomas every day," Yokitis said. "He's going to work his butt off and he's by far the smartest guy in our room. They call him the brainiac, the genius. If anybody needs help, they're going to Thomas."
Sophomore Julian Turner (6-2, 190) is another good-looking prospect while the crop of freshmen receivers boasts eye-popping size and athleticism. Brandon Colon has already found a place on the depth chart while Chad Lewellyn and Craig Scott are pushing to make the travel squad for the season opener against Ohio State.
"It's the tallest group of receivers I've ever played with," said Navy starting quarterback Keenan Reynolds, referring to the fact Tillman, Colon, Lewellyn and freshman Tyler Carmona all check in at 6-foot-4. Yokitis said the large crop of sophomores and freshmen are still learning the plays, signals and techniques required of the positon.
Colon, largely overlooked coming out of Los Fresnos High in Brownsville, Texas, after moving to the area prior to his junior year, has turned some heads so far during August drills.
"Brandon has done a lot of good things, but he's still learning how to play Navy football," Yokitis said of the high school track and basketball standout. "He has to learn the effort we expect and our culture. He listens and learns every day and gets better."
Navy will likely have six wide-outs on the travel squad and Yokitis said the last three spots are wide open. Only four will be part of the regular rotation going in and out of games and Yokitis said it's is job to identify which youngster will join Dudeck, Tillman and Wilson.
NAVY VS. OHIO STATE
Aug. 30, noon, M&T Bank Stadium
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