Thursday, August 6, 2009

Moral Victory! offensive preview: Only one way to go

OK, we promised you a preview before preseason practice. Here, position by position, is where the Commodore offense stands now, where they could end up, and what needs to happen for them to get there.

Here's the rating system:
1. BCS Bowl
2. Cotton Bowl
3. Music City Bowl
4. Independence Bowl
5. Living Room

Oh, and just because we won the Music City Bowl last year doesn't mean every position gets a Music City Bowl rating. For example, our Music City Bowl championship team exhibited a Cotton Bowl defense, BCS Bowl special teams and an offense that was decidedly Living Room (as in not worthy of a bowl game, get it?).

Current rating: Living Room
Potential: Cotton Bowl
What must happen: Larry Smith's got to win the starting job, stay healthy all year, and show poise and leadership in November, when the Dores traditionally fall apart. If all that happens, the offense could be vastly improved and the team could reach new heights. I expect him to start for the next three seasons and to be a star. This new spread offense is built for Larry. But if Mackenzi Adams or Jared Funk is in the starting lineup at all this season, it'll be a sign of trouble.

Current rating: Living Room
Potential: Music City Bowl
What must happen: Jared Hawkins has to be fully recovered from his foot injury and bouncing like a pinball through and around the line like he did early last season. And if one of the freshmen, probably either Wesley Tate or Zac Stacy, can emerge ahead of the rest of the pack as an every down back, then Hawkins can be freed to be the inside/outside/pass-catching utility back he really is. JHawk is really the key here. Don't expect the freshmen running backs to take the SEC by storm right away, but expect them to show a spark here and there and do what the veteran backs like Reeves and Miller can't.

Current rating: Living room
Potential: Music City Bowl
What must happen: We'll know shortly whether Terence Jeffers-Harris will be eligible. If so, look for a vastly improved receiving corps. With him, the Dores would have a nice second option in John Cole and some interesting pieces in senior Alex Washington, sophomore Udom Umoh, transfer Tray Herndon, raw but athletic Akeem Dunham and especially the tall true freshman Brady Brown. And another true frosh, Collin Ashley. Without J-H, though, things get really dicey. Everybody got excited about fifth-year senior Washington in the spring, but he's got maybe 10 receptions after four years on campus. He can contribute, but a go-to guy he's not.

Current rating: Music City Bowl
Potential: BCS Bowl
What must happen: Brandon Barden is a beast and should continue to be so. He stepped up big early in the season and seemed to thrive when the game was on the line, making huge TD catches against SC and Auburn. Now he's got Austin Monahan, who was the starter before an early injury and at a sturdy 6-7 makes for a huge target. If Monahan's healed up, Barden's on his game and either Justin Green gets mad and starts showing some aggressiveness or true freshman Mason Johnston turns heads and cracks the gameday roster, then the Dores could have a tight end corps second to none.

Current rating: Independence Bowl
Potential: Music City Bowl
What must happen: Sure, the Dores return all five starters, but O-Line coach Robbie Caldwell is still searching for answers. Only center Bradley Vierling and tackle Thomas Welch can be written in the lineup in ink. Left tackle Reilly Lauer is athletic but awfully light at 275 and has problems run blocking, so Welch may slide from the right side to the left, and redshirt frosh Ryan Seymour is getting a look there too. The 322-pound right guard Eric Hensley is the closest thing the Dores have to an SEC-caliber run blocker but he has trouble pass blocking. Left guard Kyle Fischer, an All-SEC freshman selection last year, could slide over to right tackle if Welch goes to the left, but he's battling massive sophomore Jamie Williams, who made a move in the spring, and if he stays at right guard he could lose that job to fifth year senior Ryan Custer, who's making a last stand. Consider all this tinkering to be a good sign. Caldwell's not satisfied that he's got five returning starters — he actually wants them to get a first down on third and one, something they failed to do five times in the Music City Bowl. If he strike upon the right combination early and that unit can gel quickly and adapt to the new offense, then the entire offense will benefit.

Current rating: Living Room
Potential: Music City Bowl
Summary: This doesn't mean the Dores are headed to the Music City Bowl again. It means that if Larry Smith takes the reins, the receiving corps steps up and the line gels, then we'll have an offense capable of scoring enough points to get us to a second-tier bowl like the Music City, even without all the improbable breaks we got last season.

We'll have the defensive preview later today or early tomorrow. Have a good weekend.

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