'Overshadowed' wide receivers unit poised to surprise this fall
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 SPORTS)-- A year can make a big difference and no one knows this better than the UVA wide receivers unit.
This time last year the buzz about the position group was loud, only to be met by deafening silence due to their underwhelming performance. The group accounted for just 7 touchdowns last season and now face a lot of turnover, returning just two receivers with starting experience. But if last year's unit was over hyped this year's crop can be described as underrated. At least that's according to wide receivers coach Adam Mims. He says his group has been overshadowed, but given all the heat the unit took last year, being in the shadows isn't so bad.
"The ceiling is high for this group," said UVA wide receivers coach Adam Mims, "Again, I kind of don't mind if people are overshadowing us. I kind of like it that way to be quite honest with you, you know so we can surprise some people, because I know what this group can offer and what we can do. It's going to take a lot of work. It's going to take a lot of sweat equity but the potential across the board for these young men is really through the roof."
While last year's group may have not lived up to the hype, they still left big shoes behind to fill. The Cavaliers look to replace third team All ACC receiver Keytaon Thompson, single-season receiving yards record holder Dontayvion Wicks, Billy Kemp and of course the late Lavel Davis Jr. Those next in line include Charlottesville native Malachi Fields. After a promising freshman year injury took Fields out for most of last season. He appeared in what would be UVA's last game against Pitt recording three catches and his first collegiate touchdown. Throughout the spring Fields showed a great deal of promise and could be poised for a breakout.
"We're excited for him," said Mims, "Unfortunately his season was cut short due to injury but the way that he has attacked that, the way that he has rehabbed and gotten himself healthy has been exciting to see. So we're expecting big things for him and I think he's expecting a lot of big things from himself and this team is expecting a lot of big things from him."
Due to turnover the wide receivers room has also welcomed in new faces from the transfer portal as well. Northwestern receiver Malik Washington joins the group with a great deal of excitement around him and for good reason. During his time with the Wildcats Washington totaled 1,272 receiving yards on 109 catches with three touchdowns. Last year Washington finished with a career-high 65 catches for 694 yards and a touchdown.
"I can't say enough about Malik Washington who came here and joined us as well," said Offensive Coordinator Des Kitchings, "You know very high character young man, great work ethic. I've seen growth in Demick Starling, I've seen growth in JR Wilson right, and we're going to keep pushing these guys to even take the next step."
JR Wilson and Demick Starling were also at the top of their coaches list in terms of players they expect to see step up. Both receivers started the last two games of the season, bringing valuable experience to an otherwise young unit. UVA begins fall camp on Wednesday ahead of their season opener against Tennessee on Labor Day weekend.