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Illinois wide receivers have to catch on

New wide receivers coach Mike Bellamy didn’t call Ryan Lankford No. 1. “We can’t decipher thright now” he said. |

New wide receivers coach Mike Bellamy didn’t call Ryan Lankford a No. 1. “We can’t decipher that right now,” he said. | AP

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Updated: August 5, 2013 11:42PM

CHAMPAIGN — Mike Bellamy printed out head shots of Illinois’ 15 wide receivers Sunday and put them on a wall where those players will see them every day throughout training camp.

When they gathered for the first time since reporting to camp, Bellamy, the Illini’s first-year wide receivers coach, pointed at the photos and delivered a blunt message.

“There’s no David Williams here. There’s no A.J. [Jenkins] here. There’s no Mike Bellamy here,” he told them. “We’ve got 15 guys right now on our roster. That’s all we’ve got.”

There may not be a future star among them. But Bellamy, who starred here as a wideout and kick returner in the late 1980s before a brief NFL career, intends to impress upon his charges that they need to be a whole heck of a lot better in 2013 anyway.

The 47-year-old New York City native won’t necessarily be all that nice about it, either. Warm and fuzzy probably isn’t the way to go after a 2012 season in which the ­Illini ranked 11th in the Big Ten in passing offense (168.8 yards per game) and 119th among all FBS teams in total offense (296.7).

For those of you scoring home, 119th is one spot better than dead last. Thank you, Maryland!

“We deserved those rankings,” Bellamy said.

And the wideouts deserve a fair share of the blame. It’s not all about struggling quarterbacks, an outmanned offensive line and poor game-planning from last season’s co-offensive coordinators, both of whom are gone.

Bellamy got a little overexcited Monday, referring to seniors Ryan Lankford and Spencer Harris as “three-year starters.” As recently as 2011, neither player was a full-time starter. But we won’t nitpick.

Most fans would consider Lankford the team’s No. 1 receiver, but the truth is he played nothing like an alpha wideout as he seemingly fell off the face of the earth last October and November.

“Defenses started rolling to one side and some things just didn’t work out,” Bellamy said, not much of an explanation considering Harris’ numbers also plummeted.

At this point, Bellamy isn’t prepared to call either Lankford or Harris a No. 1.

“We can’t decipher that right now,” he said. “My objective is to make them better than they were last year. That’s my challenge.”

It’s a big one, but the writing — like those photos — is on the wall. One of college football’s basement-dwelling offenses can’t possibly change for the better if the receivers don’t help lead the way.

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