Last year, the Fort Lewis College passing game was best described as The Justin Johnson Show, as the senior receiver accounted for 1,242 of the Skyhawks collective 2,807 receiving yards.
This year, there isnt the same type of go-to guy, per se, but rather a committee of pass catchers in a more timing-based, quick-release attack. At times, the timing has been picture perfect; other times, not so much. But with more reps has come a greater sense of timing, one the Skyhawks will look to perfect today against No. 8 Nebraska-Kearney, which allows just 15.11 points per game, fifth best nationally.
Jonathan Price has emerged as the new deep threat of the bunch, leading the way with 536 yards on 39 catches, an average of 13.7 yards per catch.
Fort Lewis has been hit-and-miss at times this season in the vertical passing game, with head coach Cesar Rivas lamenting a handful of drops on potentially big plays in the loss to Adams State two weeks ago.
Weve had our share of vertical drops, he said. But what we need to do is we need to have a very short memory. ... Were going to have that opportunity. We just need to make the most out of those opportunities.
When the vertical game is firing correctly, however, FLCs offense is at its most explosive. When the Skyhawks do take the lid off the defense, opponents cant load the box to stymie the quick-hitting passes over the middle and stack up against the FLC running game.
So when Doyle Bode sees Price go long with success, he knows his opportunities increase multifold, making the sophomore a very happy receiver.
When I see Price going downfield making a big grab, for me, thats good news for me because thats going to leave a couple underneath routes open for me, Bode said.
The biggest obstacle for the Skyhawks to climb this season through the air has been a lack of rapport with quarterback Tim Jenkins. Entering the season, the only receivers still on the roster who caught more than 20 passes the season before were Bode and Justin Garman.
Price, a junior transfer from El Camino Junior College, said that at this point, the rapport is there after weeks and weeks of extra repetitions and sessions with Jenkins.
It was difficult at first because I was a new guy ... but me and Doyle, we take pride in getting better. In between classes and before practice, we catch balls ... because we know how vital timing is in this offense, Price said.
Another area thats had to be sorted out is who goes where.
Bode and Price each have played both the X and Z receiver positions, and several other players have bounced from spot to spot in an attack that boasts five players with 20 or more catches.
But to hear Bode tell it, its not that dramatic of a switch to go from one to the other.
I got a pretty good grasp on it, so when they moved me from Z to X, it really wasnt that big of a transition for me. ... A lot of the route concepts are the exact same, Bode said.
Rivas admitted the timing and the performances havent always been to his liking. But the second-year head coach said the Skyhawks receiving corps is close to turning the corner, adding that when they do, theyll be dangerous.
When the light bulb does go off for that group, its going to be a pretty dynamic group, Rivas said.