Departure to dearth

Quarterback Tygue Howland dropped back for a pass amid blustery conditions Wednesday morning, planting his foot into the turf and hitting his wide receiver in stride along the sideline.

Quarterback Tygue Howland dropped back for a pass amid blustery conditions Wednesday morning, planting his foot into the turf and hitting his wide receiver in stride along the sideline.

After sustaining a season-ending foot injury in Portland State’s first game a year ago, Howland was an enormous question mark heading into spring practice. However, by all accounts, the junior has performed superbly and appears to be recovering well from a broken bone in his right foot.

Howland said his foot is at about 80 percent, meaning the question mark now lies on those streaking down the sidelines, not the player with the red No. 14 jersey taking snaps under center.

Three statistics shed light on exactly why the doubt has been diverted to the Portland State wide receivers: 2,261 yards receiving, 20 touchdowns and 171 receptions.

These numbers represent the combined production of graduated wide receivers Tremayne Kirkland, Kenneth Mackins and David Lewis, who gained 57 percent of the Vikings’ receiving yards and had almost two-thirds of the team’s touchdown receptions last year.

With the trio’s departure, Portland State appears to have a dearth of experienced playmakers lining up at wide receiver this spring.

“We’ve struggled a little in the spring,” said offensive coordinator Darrell “Mouse” Davis. “That has to be a point of emphasis as we get to the summer and spring-that we have to improve our receiver corps.”

Davis, the architect of the run-and-shoot offense, believes the Vikings’ situation at wide receiver will improve greatly once Portland State has its full complement of pass catchers, as several transfers and high school recruits will join the team in the fall.

Portland State secured a couple of blue-chippers at wide receiver, recruiting high school stars Zach Todd and Cory McCaffery. Both Todd and McCaffery were prolific running backs as preps, but will now face the challenge of converting to wide receiver in college.

Another player high on the offensive mastermind’s list as a difference maker is Deric Davis, a transfer from City College of San Francisco who is a two-time All-NorCal Conference award winner.

While the Vikings are waiting for these talents to arrive, spring practice must go on with the receivers already in the team’s fold-a group Howland is becoming accustomed to on the practice field.

“The offense is light-years ahead of where it was last year,” Howland said. “All the wide outs know exactly what’s going on, and we’re getting the right routes. And if that happens, we’re going to be fine.”

With a season of the run-and-shoot offense under its belt, the Portland State offense appears to be clicking entering the second week of spring practice, unlike a year ago, when players were simply trying to grasp the scheme.

But level of understanding is not the only difference between year one and two. The Vikings’ receiving corps is noticeably smaller in the second year of the Glanville and Davis Era, with seven standing at 5-10 or shorter.

However, Davis is far from worried about their small stature.

“If we’re attacking the defense, size isn’t necessarily an important thing,” Davis said. “Someone once said, ‘The ball is real light; you don’t have to be real big to carry it,’ and they still count seven, no matter what the size of the guy is going across the end zone.”

In the run-and-shoot offense, the Vikings place a premium on speed, quickness and intelligence at the wide receiver position.

The emphasis on speed and quickness derives from the number of short- to medium-length routes the Vikings’ four-receiver sets run, while intelligence is required because the receivers frequently make adjustments based on the defense’s alignment.

Despite the departures, Portland State has speed, quickness and intelligence at wide receiver this spring, though Davis is not yet satisfied with the current group and knows his squad must continue to improve.

“There’s plenty of work to do,” Davis said. “We don’t have to quit practicing.”