With Juron Criner, David Douglas and Gino Crump no longer in Tucson, Arizona is waiting for someone to step into the limelight at the receiver position.
Tyler Slavin put in his application on Saturday at Arizona’s spring game.
The redshirt sophomore caught five balls for 51 yards and a team-high three touchdowns. Although he didn’t sneak behind the secondary for any big plays, the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Corona, Calif., native showcased his combination of quickness, solid route running and reliable hands on his way to a big day at Kino Stadium.
“I feel like he’s probably a top-three wide receiver we have. The dude is overall just good,” receiver and backup quarterback Richard Morrison said. “He’s got the speed, he’s got the body type, the hands. Everything you want in a wide receiver, that’s pretty much Tyler.”
The Roosevelt High School product is no stranger to big spring game performances. Slavin caught five passes for 57 yards in Arizona’s scrimmage in Glendale, Ariz., on March 24 and had a 50-yard touchdown catch from quarterback Matt Scott called back due to a penalty.
As a redshirt freshman in last year’s spring game, Slavin caught two passes for 30 yards and a score. He also scored a touchdown as an unknown true freshman in Arizona’s 2010 spring game.
“It’s always a big day for Slavin,” Scott said, referring to the receiver’s performances in scrimmages. “He’s going to be a great player. I mean, he has to figure out some of the other things that go along with being on the team, a little bit of discipline. I think he’s going be a great player this year, though. Great athlete.”
For the past two seasons, Slavin’s been one of Arizona’s best-kept secrets. He redshirted his freshman season in 2010 and played in only five games last season, mostly on special teams. He’s yet to record a catch in a game, but that’s because he hasn’t seen the field due to Arizona’s usually deep and talented receiving corps.
“When he first came in he probably could’ve played his freshman year,” Morrison said. “From there to now he’s made big progress. He’s learning every day. He’s a big part of this offense.”
With Arizona missing a combined 205 catches, 2,232 yards and 17 touchdowns from Criner, Douglas and Crump, Slavin is expected to see the field consistently for the first time in his career.
UA head coach Rich Rodriguez has emphasized that Arizona won’t have a depth chart until probably two weeks into fall camp, but Rodriguez likes what he sees in Slavin so far.
“He’s been pretty good. He’s a competitive guy,” Rodriguez said of Slavin halfway through spring ball. “Once he commits to being in shape, which he’ll hopefully do over the summer, I think he’s got a chance to help us a lot. He’s got a lot of skills, he’s a talented guy and I know it’s important to him, he’s got to get to the point where he’s more consistent.”
Slavin, who was a high school teammate of UA receiver Austin Hill, expects that consistency to come with more time on the field.
“I think it just goes with being stronger and faster and working hard in the weight room. That always makes you a better football player,” Slavin said. “I’ve been catching more balls and a lot less balls are on the ground so that’s a plus.”
Slavin showed his improvement on Saturday, and despite the presence of Dan Buckner, Hill, Garic Wharton and walk-on Johnny Jackson, it will be hard for Rodriguez to keep Slavin off the field. With Slavin’s steady improvement and newfound opportunity combined with his rapport with fellow Corona native Matt Scott, the former three-star recruit should be able to transfer his spring performances into the regular season.
“He (Scott) knows where I’m at and he knows when I’m breaking to the ball,” Slavin said. “He knows what I’m going to do. Hopefully that will carry into next season.”