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Michigan freshmen wide receivers have ‘stepped up’ in wake of injuries during camp

With injuries plaguing the WR room for a lot of the offseason, Ron Bellamy turned to the freshmen to step up.

Michigan Spring Football Game Photo by Jaime Crawford/Getty Images

Head coach Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan Wolverines coaching staff are notorious for developing wide receivers by taking their time and not rushing them into game action as true freshmen.

We saw that with Ronnie Bell in 2018, going from eight receptions his freshman year to 48 by his sophomore year. Donovan Peoples-Jones went from 22 receptions his freshman year to 47 his sophomore year. Even fifth-year senior Cornelius Johnson had four receptions his freshman year compared to the 40 catches he had by his junior year.

But this year, Michigan may have something different on its hands.

Semaj Morgan, Karmello English and Fredrick Moore are true freshmen receivers who have generated a lot of buzz this offseason. While the starting three receivers are projected to be Johnson, Roman Wilson and Tyler Morris, there are plenty of opportunities for the freshman to climb the depth chart and make an immediate impact, especially with some injuries to some other receivers this fall.

“The freshmen. Semaj Morgan, Karmello English, Fredrick Moore. Those guys have had a really good camp,” wide receivers coach Ron Bellamy told the media on Wednesday. “Tyler (Morris), Darrius (Clemons), Peyton (O’Leary), everyone stepped up and I’m excited. I’m excited for those guys to get an opportunity on Saturday to showcase what they’ve done on campus.”

Morgan is a multi-talented football player who played all over the field at West Bloomfield High School. As a three-star prospect, Morgan caught 43 passes for 733 yards with 14 touchdowns his senior year.

English was a four-star out of high school with many accomplishments. He not only helped Phenix City reach the Class 7A Championship game his junior season with a 13-1 record, but he set single-season school records for receptions (75), yards (1,059) and touchdowns (18). He finished his senior year with 75 catches for 850 yards and 11 touchdowns.

“(English) is a lengthier guy, long strides, gets out of breaks well, highpoints the ball well. He is playmaker, and things like that. He actually picks up information really well and it translates really fast. All three of (English, Moore and Morgan) are very advanced, professional receivers,” Bellamy said.

Moore may have the best chance at getting some real playing time early. At 6-foot-1, he has a broader reach and a versatile skillset. He has already shown strong route-running ability and quickness, contributing to a few nice plays in Michigan’s spring game.

In high school, Moore totaled 28 touchdowns his senior year, including 24 receiving touchdowns on 67 receptions for 1,504 yards. Most notably in the Missouri State Championship, he caught eight passes for 157 yards with two touchdowns and added an interception on defense.

With Moore’s size, ability to play special teams, and his nose for big moments, it’s possible Michigan fans see him hit the field first as early as Week 1.

“What I love about (the freshmen receivers) is they love football, and I love their approach and the way they attack football every day,” said Bellamy. “All three of them came from great high school football programs. Those guys understand the commitment to success. They understand to show up every day, to learn, and to try to learn from the mistakes that you’ve made. And every day, you see growth, and that’s what is super encouraging as a coach. They got the trust of the coaches and the players, so just keep growing. They’re still young, but every week, every day, every opportunity you have, just keep building their confidence up and let it roll.”

One more player new to Michigan is Kendrick Bell. His last name might ring a bell and that would be because he is the younger brother of former Michigan receiver and current San Francisco 49er Ronnie Bell.

Kendrick was a quarterback in high school, so he is still transitioning to wide receiver. The 6-foot-2, 180-pounder from Missouri set school records in passing yards, completions and completion percentage his senior year.

In addition to football, Bell lettered in track and field, where he was a state-qualifying jumper, and earned letters in basketball at Park Hill, where he was an all-district selection. His versatility may help him down the road.

“(Kendrick) is a freak athlete,” said Bellamy. “He has some of the same qualities that Ronnie does. You watch their mom as a state champ high jumper — he averaged like 15 points a game in basketball, and his twin brother (plays basketball) at Southeast Missouri. So it’s the Bell genes. It’s just a matter of him learning the position. He’s been a quarterback primarily his entire life, so learning the position, you could tell that he has a bright future. If he does want to stick at receiver, and obviously, we welcome him with open arms, he’s done some exciting things like ‘oh, he’s a Bell.”

All these freshmen came in with accolades and high reputations in their hometowns, and they have already translated their skills to the football field in Ann Arbor. With some injuries during the offseason and into fall camp, the freshmen took on a bigger role.

“We did have some guys down, and (the freshmen) took it upon themselves to (step up),” said Bellamy. “We’re not saying ‘oh, these are freshmen,’ like no, they went out there and they executed things and it’s been great, man. Great to watch those guys.”

Obviously, growing pains are going to happen with such young players, but if these guys can show sparks of what they are capable of this season, the sky is the limit for the young receiving core.