Wide receiver was arguably the major question mark entering fall camp at the University of Wisconsin. In less than two weeks, some of those concerns have started to ease thanks to a trio of confident freshmen – Natrell Jamerson, George Rushing and Krenwick Sanders - who have stepped right into the mix.
“The athleticism is exactly what we thought it would be,” Wide receivers coach Chris Beatty said of the group. “Maybe even a little better than what I thought. Those were things I was hoping to see. In recruiting, everyone says they love their recruiting class. Until they get on campus and to the facility, you don’t know exactly what you have, so it’s good to be able to see the ability you thought you saw.”
In the portions of practice open to the media, Rushing has been the most consistent of the three, showing he can consistently catch the football along with showing the ability to get open. Although Jamerson and Sanders have shown they can contribute this year, they are still trying to figure out how they can become more consistent during each practice.
“The first week of fall camp I have been trying to find that consistency,” Jamerson said. “I’ve played well at times but I know if I want to play I need to be more consistent in practice.”
Jamerson in particular has been able to show off his speed in practice, so much so that Beatty has gone as far as saying he believes Jamerson is the fastest player on the team. The one area where the 5-11, 180-pound Jamerson can help Wisconsin this year is by stretching the field if he can demonstrate to the coaches that he’s comfortable in the offense.
“You have to study if you want to have a chance to compete and play,” Jamerson said. “There’s always something that I need to learn from my playbook, so I’ve been consistently studying or looking at film.”
“I can’t really speak for myself on what the coaches think I can bring to the table or to the team for this year,” he added. “No matter how good or bad I do in a practice, it is the coaches’ decision on how they want to use me.”
It was clear that having the split practices for the first four days was beneficial to all of the young players, especially the trio as they learn the playbook and become comfortable in the offense.
“It helped me out a lot because I was able to practice with some older guys,” said Rushing. “Getting a chance to watch them go through drills, watch them run plays, learning from their mistakes and the good things that they do, it helped me in my game in what to do and what not to do. It just helped me a lot as a player.”
“The split practice gave me more reps not only physically but mentally,” Sanders added. “The split practices gave me a chance to actually see the things going on and at the same time do them as well.”
Sanders said that Beatty’s expectations of the trio are for them to get the playbook down in order for them to compete and improve every day. Although all three are competing for a chance to see the field, they are making sure that they’re helping each other out a long the way.
“We live together and we see each other ever day so we get to know each other more each day,” Rushing said. “On the field we compete with one another while pushing us to make sure we get better every day.”
Even with Rushing off to a strong start to camp, the 6-1, 190-pound receiver is not satisfied where he is, especially with the opener against LSU a little more than two weeks away.
“I think I’ve been doing pretty well so far, and I’ve been getting in and watching film trying to see where I need to make corrections,” Rushing said. “But I know I need to keep working so I can keep getting better.”
Although Sanders has admitted he didn’t catch the ball consistently during the first week of camp, the 6-1, 193-pound has started to show his strong hands, which helped him catch 65 passes as a senior.
With a group of returning wide receivers, in particular Kenzel Doe, Alex Erickson, Reggie Love, Jazz Peavy and Rob Wheelwright, having made strides through the first week of camp, Sanders has plenty of role models to look up to.
“I don’t look up to one person in particular (because) I look up to everyone,” he said. “They know the stuff, and I don’t. I’m still trying to learn it so I’m looking up to all of them.”
The roles of Jamerson, Rushing and Sanders still need to be defined. All three have rotated in with the first- and second-team offenses while Jamerson and Rushing have also worked returning kicks, signaling the coaching staff will give them multiple opportunities to make an impact.
During the Big Ten preseason meetings in Chicago, head coach Gary Andersen said he wanted at least two of his freshman receivers to be on the travel roster. If the trio continues to progress like they have so far in camp, all three should be able to make the trip and have an impact for Wisconsin.
“I feel like I can bring a lot to the table, but I also think the other receivers can as well,” Rushing said. “It’s all about us competing together and getting each other better each day so we can bring the best out of each other.”