Much of the talk regarding the UC Davis football team during fall camp was about how it would deal with the loss of quarterback Greg Denham.
Denham, remember, would have been a senior and was set to enter his third year as the Aggies starting quarterback but left the team in June to pursue a career in the ministry.
Despite playing only two years, Denham already ranked in the top five in career completions, attempts, passing yards and passing touchdowns, and would have ranked in the top two in each barring an injury during his senior year. He also held the second-best completion percentage and the lowest interception rate.
DenhamÕs early retirement certainly hurt, especially because it meant the Aggies were going to have to rely on either sophomore Austin Heyworth or redshirt freshman Randy Wright to take over the quarterbacking duties.
But Denham wasnÕt the biggest loss the Aggies had to deal with.
Actually, the most important pieces UCD had to replace were two players the team knew it was going to be without in 2010.
The two in question are wide receivers Chris Carter and Bakari Grant, who departed due to graduation.
The quarterback-receiver relationship is always a chicken-and-the-egg sort of thing. Is it the quarterback who makes the receivers look good or the other way around? Generally, itÕs a little bit of both.
Denham was obviously a quality quarterback, as the numbers he put up in two years prove. But Carter and Grant were no slouches themselves. In fact, they were two of the best pass-catchers the Aggie program has ever had.
Carter set records for most catches in a game and a career, and also has two of the top five marks for receptions in a season. Both are in the top 10 in career receiving yards, while Grant has the seventh-most catches and is tied for ninth in touchdown grabs.
Something has been off in the Aggie passing game in 2010 and both Wright Ñ who beat out Heyworth in fall camp to start at QB Ñ and his receivers are to blame. Things would definitely be better had Denham stuck around, but I think WrightÕs numbers would be more impressive if he was throwing to Grant and Carter.
IÕm not dismissing the ability of guys like Anthony Soto and Stephen Dunstan, but itÕs telling that two of the top three receiving leaders so far this year, both in catches and yards, are tight end Dean Rogers and running back Josh Reese. Carter, Grant and Sean Creadick Ñ the top receiver so far Ñ were DenhamÕs three favorite targets last year.
The bottom line is that Carter and Grant were NFL-caliber pass catchers. Carter might have been drafted had he not suffered a knee injury late in the 2009 season and surely would have joined Grant, who caught on with the 49ers, in an NFL training camp if he wasnÕt selected.
ItÕs hard enough to replace one receiver of that quality, let alone two of them at once, at the Football Championship Subdivision level. Wideouts like that might grow on trees for Pacific-10 schools, but they definitely donÕt for Great West teams.
Carter and Grant are good enough to turn slight overthrows Ñ which Wright has made plenty of so far this year Ñ into complete passes due to better route running and being quicker off the line of scrimmage, things that also help receivers get open more frequently. Better hands mean fewer drops and turning slightly off throws into receptions.
None of this means that if Denham had stayed, the Aggies would automatically be 2-2 or 3-1 this year. While the passing game may have a been a bit crisper, UCD also has other problems right now and could easily have been 1-3 at this point even with Denham at the helm.
Ñ Conor Tekautz covers UCD football for The Davis Enterprise. Reach him at [email protected] or (530) 747-8049. Comment on this column at www.davisenterprise.com