Connor Cook will be replacing his two favorite targets this year with some familiar and new faces. Tony Lippett and Keith Mumphery were a dangerous combo for the Spartans last season, making up over 1,500 yards and 14 touchdowns of Cook's 3,214 passing yards and 24 touchdowns. Doing most of the work on the receiving end was starting WR/CB Tony Lippett who has moved on to playing Sundays for the Miami Dolphins. Lippett had 63 receptions for 1,198 yards and 11 touchdowns last season while being a shut down corner in the Spartan secondary. Lippett was first-team All-Big Ten guy that possessed great leaping ability and saw 86.7% of his catches go for a first down. Playing on the opposite side of Lippett at the Z was Keith Mumphery, who showed team leadership, hard-working ability, and praised highly by players and coaches. Despite Mumphery having fewer than 500 receiving yards (495) and three touchdowns in his 2014 campaign, his presence was felt on the Spartan's offense. Exhibiting great run blocking ability and finding a way to get the ball on broken plays, Mumphery was drafted in the fifth round by the Houston Texans. Mumphery ended his Spartan career with 88 receptions, 1,348 yards, and seven touchdowns in 54 career games (26 career starts). With the combination of talent, experience, and starts the Spartan's receiving unit have some very big shoes to fill.
Senior wide receiver Aaron Burbridge is slated to be the starting outside receiver at X for Cook and the Spartan's offense. Burbridge is definitely a seasoned wide receiver with 10 career starts in 37 games. Aaron is also no stranger to Cook, the two connected last season 29 times for 358 yards and one score. Back in 2012 Burbridge was named to the Big Ten All-Freshman team by ESPN.com and BTN.com, seeing action in 11 games with 364 receiving yards. He will be backed up by fellow senior, AJ Troup, which has been held back for most of his career due to knee injuries. Last year Troup saw limited playing action, hauling in seven passes, 113 yards, and two touchdowns.
At the Flanker position there is plenty of depth and talent with playmaker R.J. Shelton leading the group. Shelton is 5'11 200lb versatile athlete, that has hurt defenses and opposing kick off teams plenty in his career. As a sophomore last season Shelton saw action in all 13 games, and ranked third on the team in all-purpose yards with 1,114. Shelton's ability to zip and escape defenders gave the Spartans plenty of momentum, gaining 793 yards on kick returns, 148 yards rushing, and 173 yards receiving. Shelton finished with five touchdowns on the season, with one in the first quarter against Baylor in the Cotton Bowl. Athlon Sports and Phil Steele also honored Shelton as a Second team All Big-Ten kickoff returner. Also battling for playing time at Flanker will be Matt Macksood, and senior DeAnthony Arnett. Look for productivity throughout the unit as fall camp starts August 7th.
The biggest question in this depth and talented unit is: Who will start and be a go to guy at the Z position? For right now junior wideout Monty Madaris will be the starter going into fall camp. Madaris has been primarily a scout team player that will finally get his opportunity to see some Big Ten action as a starter in this high-powered offense. With only five career catches on his resume, Madaris finally gets an opportunity to showcase his talent that once had him as a highly recruited player coming out of high school. Receivers coach Terrence Samuel has praised Madaris, complimenting the junior about his aggressive route running ability and run blocking. The under the radar receiver will finally get the chance to breakout and show Dantonio and Samuels his ability as a starter. Like Madaris, Trey Kilgore was a big time high school recruit that is waiting for his time to see the field. This can possibly be his year, as he will compete daily with Madaris and company for a permanent role in the rotation.
Do not count out this years incoming freshmen at receiver, as they will immediately battle for playing time. Darrell Stewart of Houston Nimitz, is big and physical at the Z position. Coach Samuels looks at the incoming freshman to replace Keith Mumphery and has a shot at playing as a freshman due to Burbridge and Troup at the X.Stewrt is a versatile athlete, which Dantonio enjoys having in his pocket just to mix it up against defenses. The other freshman is the tall and fast receiver Felton davis of Highland Springs. His body type reminds coaches of Tony Lippett and will be competing at the X position. Davis possesses quick feet, good hips, and good speed as an outside receiver. Despite Burbridge and Troup at the X expect Davis to get some looks in fall camp and show if he has what it takes to see the field this season.
Expect this Michigan State unit to be explosive and step up to the plate. With a great quarterback and creative offensive coordinator, the receivers will find themselves in plenty of opportunities to rise. Burbridge and Shelton will lead a special unit this season and lookout for them to have breakout numbers. There is a lot of talent within this group, but improvement is definitely a must to be successful.