April 9, 2010
RUSTON, La. - As the Louisiana Tech football team works through its first spring practice season with new head coach Sonny Dykes, LATechSports.com will be taking a look at the progress of various positions on the team. Ninth in this series of installments is a look at the wide receivers with assistant head coach and receivers coach Rob Likens.
Like most of his players, Likens is new to Louisiana Tech this year and is coaching a very young group of players. Of the four top wide receivers, none of them have played a down of collegiate football. Having so much youth in one personnel group, especially at a skill position, can yield as many mistakes and anything else when having little to no experience on the field.
"The biggest thing we have to overcome is we have guys that don't have a lot of reps under their belt, so they are young," Likens said. "It is has been a process, kind of like two steps forward and then one step back. It is going to take a little while to get them game ready."
That youth on the field has led to an up-and-down spring practice for a group that has struggled to find consistency over a length of time.
"We had a good day on Wednesday after, I feel, going backwards for two days," explained Likens. "Ahmad Paige did well on Wednesday and made some good plays, as did Tim Molton. It was unfortunate we lost Jacarri Jackson to a hamstring injury but he had been doing pretty good at the "X" and was coming along pretty well. D.J. St. Julien had a pretty good first scrimmage but has plateaued out since then, which is what young guys do. It's a process."
Tim Molton, a transfer from LSU who is recovering from a knee injury, has stood out among the receivers for his speed and raw talent. Challenging Molton for a starting spot is Tennessee transfer Ahmad Paige who, like Molton, has speed and raw talent but no game experience. Both Molton and Paige are vying for a starting spot at the same position with Cornelius Nickelson, who saw action throughout most of the latter half of the 2009 season.
"Tim Molton has been limited in reps this spring because of his knee and competition brings out the best in everybody," said Likens. "One thing we've noticed out there is when Tim and Ahmad Paige practice out there on the same days and at the same time; it seems to pick practice up a little more because they are both competing for that starting job. I think it helps both of them to compete at a higher level."
"We're excited about both of those guys but they need to grow up in a hurry," said Likens. "Neither one of them have played in a game. As a matter of fact, all four guys we are looking at as possible starters out there have never played a collegiate game. It is going to be interesting but they have the talent to be good players."
At the other wide receiver position, pair of freshmen in Jacarri Jackson and D.J. St. Julien are battling for a starting spot. Jackson was redshirted last season while St. Julien was grayshirted and did not arrive until the winter quarter.
"Jacarri Jackson and D.J. St. Julien are two young guys that are hungry, that are very green and they make a lot of mistakes," said Likens. "Most of the time, especially Jacarri, they make those mistakes full speed. So it shows that at least he cares. He practices hard all the time and he is going to be a good player. D.J. St. Julien is just a little bit farther behind than Jacarri, but if they have talent then that is a good starting place. I'd rather have guys that have talent but not a lot of game experience than guys that aren't talented but have played a lot."
The main theme among the wide receivers this spring has been speed and raw talent. With a tremendous amount of speed at wide receiver, along with a tremendous amount of speed at inside receiver, Tech's offense will have a high octane mentality this fall.
"Guys that don't respect our receivers and want to play short, like on quick game and screens, are going to get beat because we have players that are going to be able to run by people," Likens said. "It is just going to be whether we can make the catch and make the big play. We have some dudes that are going to line up inside that are going to be pretty fast too, like Richie Casey, Phillip Livas and some others. When we get our starters out there, we're going to have a fast team. We probably won't have that all figured out until a couple weeks into the fall, but we're going to have a fast team."
The key for the receivers this season will be to quickly learn from mistakes in order to put the best combination of players on the field. Any coach would be nervous to have a group of players that have never played a game before.
"There is no doubt that I will be nervous," laughed Likens. "I have coached for over 20 years and have been around long enough to know that it is not going to be perfect early. It is going to be a process and the key is how much they can learn early and how fast they can learn it in those first games that we play. What will probably determine the success of later in the season will be those first few games and how quickly they can learn. We're going to make a lot of mistakes early, there is no doubt. We just want them to make those mistakes at full speed and to play really hard and that will overcome some of the mistakes."
That lack of experience will change very quickly starting in September as Louisiana Tech will open the season with four teams that all play a very unique style of football.
"Any competitor will say you want to be perfect every single snap and those mistakes will drive me crazy," explained Likens. "It drives me crazy today to watch them make mistakes and I even know they are still learning the system. It is going to be a tough process but it will be one that just knowing going in that we will have to be patient with them for a bit. But there will come a time where we are going to have to put the guys out there that make the least amount of mistakes and play the fastest early. Those will be the guys that start."
For the most comprehensive coverage of Louisiana Tech's spring football practices, check out Spring Football Central at LATechSports.com. For complete coverage of Bulldog Football, please visit the official home of Louisiana Tech Athletics at LATechSports.com.