Throughout the Illinois State football season, the receiving game has been a weakness for the Redbirds after year long inconsistent play and injuries.
Despite a poor showing this year the Redbirds could very well have a lethal passing game in the upcoming season. A returning Brady Davis and a still-young receiving corps makes it easy to believe in the passing game’s future.
Youth will be a big theme for the upcoming year -at least from a passing perspective. The Redbirds are set to return sophomores Andrew Edgar, Taylor Grimes and Austin Nagel along with true freshman Kacper Rutkeiwicz and Virginia transfer Cole Blackman.
If the Redbirds are able to keep those four on the field it could cause issues for opposing teams.
But this season Rutkeiwicz has been the only one that has seen consistent playing time.
During week four, not only Grimes sustained a season-ending knee injury but Edgar broke his collar bone which he has yet to return from. Blackman has yet to find his footing as a Redbird catching just one pass.
Losing Edgar and Grimes continues to look like a huge loss for the Redbirds. Both have played in just half of the eight games this season, but rank second and third in receiving yards. And the duo has caught four of Davis’ five touchdown passes this season.
But the injuries do have a small bright spot for the ‘Birds. More looks and more snaps have gone to Rutkeiwicz and Nagel who look they could be key pieces now and in the future.
Rutkeiwicz leads all Redbirds with 355 yards. But the young slot receiver has yet to find the endzone, albeit with a couple of close calls. Nagel has the lone touchdown not caught by Edgar or Grimes.
But next season’s success might weigh on Davis’ shoulders above anyone else. After being named to the Missouri Valley All-Newcomer Team last season, Davis has yet to live up to last year's season
While Davis will likely match -or be near- his 1,935 yards from last season, he will do it in two fewer games and with a worse average per game, down from 190 to 150.
But that is not Davis’ fault, a young and mostly untested receiving group seems to be the clear issue.
The lone game when the Redbirds fielded a full game with Edgar, Grimes, Rutkeiwicz and Nagel was Davis’ best. In route to an MVC Player of the Week Award, Davis threw for 419 yards and two touchdowns in the Northern Arizona game that was Edgar’s and Grimes’ last appearance on the field.
A healthy receiving group would go a long way for the ‘Birds next season. Playing in a historically run-heavy conference, the Redbirds would likely benefit from showing a different look.
There is no better time for the passing game to be a strength for the ‘Birds with the impending departure of power back James Robinson. His replacement, Jeff Proctor's speed and the potential ability to add as a pass target would likely complement a strong aerial attack.
But only time will tell if the Redbirds can flip the narrative of their passing game.