2011 Memphis Preview – Offense
Memphis WR Marcus Rucker
CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Memphis Tiger Offense
Preview 2011 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: The only direction is up for the Memphis offense ... at least statistically. The Tigers were among the nation's feeblest attacks, ranking 119th nationally in scoring and 117th in total offense. In an attempt to address myriad issues, the staff is moving from a pro-style approach to more of a spread system. Apparently, it didn't meet the approval of starting QB Ryan Williams, who has decided to transfer, leaving the school with unproven Andy Summerlin and Will Gilchrist to compete for the job. Whoever gets the ball will try to get it in the hands of RB Jerrell Rhodes and WR Marcus Rucker, Memphis' two best threats, as often as possible. Even more than the uncertainty behind center, the Tigers need to address an offensive line that got trucked regularly in 2010 and returns few familiar faces. While there's speed and upside potential at the skill positions, it'll get lost in the mix if the front wall can't do a much better job of controlling the line of scrimmage.
Star of the offense: Junior WR Marcus Rucker
Passing: Cannon Smith
22-43, 246 yds, 1 TD, 3 INTs
Rushing: Jerrell Rhodes
116 carries, 469 yds, 1 TD
Receiving: Marcus Rucker
41 catches, 704 yds, 8 TDs
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore QB Andy Summerlin
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore RB Jerrell Rhodes
Best pro prospect: Rucker
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Rucker, 2) Senior T Ronald Leary, 3) Rhodes
Strength of the offense: Skill positions
Weakness of the offense: Inexperience at quarterback, the offensive line, turnovers, red zone scoring, converting on third downs
State of the Unit: A new regime meant a new quarterback in Memphis in 2010, as Larry Porter went with youth behind center. Unfortunately, that decision seemed to backfire when Ryan Williams sought a transfer just before the start of spring practice. Now reeling and painfully thin after veteran backup Tyler Bass also left for Florida A&M, the staff is trying to recover and get its hurlers up to speed before the opener.
The sudden departure of Williams means the starting job is wide-open, but there aren't a lot of options. It's a good thing that 6-5, 220-pound sophomore Andy Summerlin is on the mend after missing all of 2010 with a shoulder injury. A former transfer from Coffeyville Community College, he threw for a school-record 2,302 yards in his only season. Despite being a less than ideal fit for the spread, he gives the Tigers their best chance to move the ball through the air. Keeping Summerlin honest will be 6-1, 190-pound sophomore Will Gilchrist , a company man and the best all-around athlete at the position. He can make things happen with his feet, but won't get the nod unless he improves as a passer.
Watch Out For … a Cannon Smith sighting. Remember Smith? He was the team's starting quarterback for the first two games of the 2010 season before getting bench for ineffectiveness. Officially a safety after switching sides of the ball, he should be available in an emergency role in order to keep the rookies from burning a redshirt year.
Strength: Versatility. Summerlin is the thrower. Gilchrist is the dual-threat. Together, they give Memphis the ability to expand the playbook and attack opposing defenses with different looks and styles.
Weakness: Proven passers. When the only quarterback to throw a pass at this level is now playing defense, there's going to be a big problem with depth and consistency. Making matters worse, Summerlin, the favorite, had shoulder surgery last year and still has some rust that needs to be shaken off.
Outlook: The unexpected transfer of Williams in March was like a punch in the gut to Porter, who'd thought he had his quarterback of the future. It's back to the drawing board for the Tigers, who'll hold their breath about Summerlin and begin developing true freshmen Domonique Harris and Taylor Reed .
Unit Rating: 4
State of the Unit: Memphis runners struggled to get out of the blocks last fall, ranking 116th on the ground and averaging a mere 2.8 yards per carry. However, those numbers were unfairly devalued by the number of sacks allowed by the offensive line. When given some help, the team's main backs both averaged more than four yards a touch. Leading rusher Gregory Ray has graduated, but his caddy returns with an eye on a breakout season.
It didn't take sophomore Jerrell Rhodes too long to show why he was such a coveted recruit for the program. Originally committed to North Carolina, he was unable to clear admissions because of conduct violations, a boon to Memphis. A 5-10, 215-pound ACC-caliber back playing against Conference USA defenses, he went for 469 yards and a score on 116 carries. While he has the moves and quickness to squirt through defenses, he's added the weight needed to be more effective between the tackles.
It's a good thing Rhodes has bulked up because he's going to take a pounding this year. There isn't another back on the roster with experience, leaving the Tigers dangerously thin. One option has been to move mid-year transfer Jamere Valentine from wide receiver to running back. The 6-1, 215-pounder worked there in the spring, showing pop and burst through the line.
Watch Out For … Valentine to not be the only moonlighter. Billy Foster , who projects as a starting "A" receiver, was playing both position in the spring. A quality all-around athlete, he played running back in high school and at College of the Sequoias, and will do whatever is necessary to help this squad.
Strength: Rhodes. He's the new face of the Tiger backfield … and not just by default. There's a reason why he was getting so many offers coming out of high school, falling into the Memphis lap like a gift. With proper support from up front, he has the tools to become a 1,000-yard rusher and a league all-star.
Weakness: Depth behind Rhodes. Porter might need to call for tryouts from the student body just to give Rhodes some breathers. Okay, so the situation isn't that dire, but when multiple wide receivers are being forced to change positions in the offseason, it's a cry for help.
Outlook: Memphis is going to play with fire this season. In Rhodes, it has a terrific young back that the offense can be built around. However, if he's forced to become a solo act, he's liable to burn out long before the end of the season. He'll be good for more than 200 carries and possibly 1,000 yards, but needs capable backups who can step in and allow him to catch his breath.
Unit Rating: 5
State of the Unit: The new quarterback will sleep a little easier during the offseason, knowing he'll be throwing to a solid collection of wide receivers and tight ends. Arguably, the deepest unit on offense, the Tigers return a gaggle of letterwinners and six of last season's top nine pass-catchers. While better consistency remains a target, the raw talent is such that Memphis should continue to get better in this area.
On the outside, at "X" receiver, the Tigers boast a budding star in 6-4, 180-pound junior Marcus Rucker. After scratching the surface of his potential as a rookie, he bloomed in 2010, catching a team-high 41 balls for 704 yards and eight touchdowns. A long and lean glider, he's able to coast behind the secondary and sky above defensive backs. Never one to get physical, he's at his best when he's able to get out into space.
Rucker will be surrounded by a bunch of experienced pass-catchers who've played a lot of football at this level. At "A" receiver, 5-10, 185-pound senior Billy Foster is a versatile playmaker in the Dexter McCluster mold, who also spent some time playing running back in the spring. He caught 14 passes for 175 yards, and ran nine times for 41 yards in a prelude of what's to come this fall. Lining up at "Z" receiver is 6-0, 185-pound junior Curtis Johnson , one of the team's fastest players. A deep-ball threat, he caught a career-high 22 passes for 230 yards. Joining Johnson at the "Z" is 6-1, 175-pound senior Tannar Rehrer , a letterman in his first year out of Mesa (Ariz.) Community College. A crafty, blue-collar family with three children, he got his hands on 23 balls for 284 yards in 2010. If Foster begins getting more carries, the Tigers can turn to 6-0, 165-pound senior Cam Baker, a cagey veteran of three letters. Diminutive but blazing fast, the only thing that's been holding him back is injuries.
The Tigers harbor three tight ends who've earned letters during their careers. The best pass-catcher of the bunch is 6-4, 225-pound sophomore Brooks Johnson , who had six receptions for 61 yards. He missed the spring to rehab an injury, but is expected back in time for August camp.
Watch Out For … Foster to emerge as one of the Tigers' more valuable offensive weapons. He possesses that unique ability to make things happen, which is why the staff plans to work overtime to find new ways to get the ball in his hands.
Strength: Speed and athletic ability. Strictly in terms of athleticism and explosiveness, Memphis has an exciting set of receivers and tight ends for the quarterback to employ. As a group, they've got good size from Rucker and the wheels to make plays behind the secondary.
Weakness: Consistency. Sure, the receivers have raw tools, but they also have plenty of room for growth with the little things associated with the position. The staff is looking for better routes, fewer dropped balls, and more mental toughness out of this group.
Outlook: Memphis will have big playmaker in the passing game and a veteran supporting cast surrounding him. Rucker figures to be the go-to guy and a probable all-star candidate if the new quarterback cooperates. It's about time for the others, like Baker and Johnson, to rise up and take some heat off the program's most magnetic receiver.
Unit Rating: 5
State of the Unit: In every facet of the position, the Tigers got whipped up front in 2010, a key reason why the offense stalled so frequently. There's an obvious dearth of talent in the trenches in Memphis, which has become a top priority for the second-year coaching staff. Making matters worse, most of last season's regulars, including all-conference G Dominik Riley, need to be replaced during the offseason.
The anchor will be 6-3, 315-pound senior LT Ronald Leary, last season's Offensive Lineman of the Year. A third-year starter and the team's best pass protector, he lacks ideal size for the position, but moves well and has the experience needed for such a youthful group. He possesses good footwork and the leverage needed to get underneath his man.
Over at right tackle, the staff is counting on the arrival of 6-7, 345-pound newcomer Jordan Devey , who comes by way of Snow College in Utah. A member of the band and not the football team in high school, he's raw, but has the sheer size to be an effective blocker.
The Tigers feel far more settled at left guard, where 6-3, 290-pound senior Michael Antonescu returns as a veteran of three letters. A backup for most of his career, he has the know-how and work-ethic to make a smooth transition to being a regular at left guard. Next to him at center will be a familiar face, younger brother A.J. Antonescu. A 6-3, 275-pound athlete, he redshirted last season after transferring from Holmes (Miss.) Community College. At right guard, senior D'Angelo McCray is a road grader, a 6-4, 325-pound beast possessing tremendous upper body strength. An import from the D-line, he'll spend the offseason learning new assignments. Sophomore Ricky Hart lettered as a backup on the right side in 2010, and has the 6-2, 325-pound frame to be an effective run blocker. Plenty is expected of 6-5, 290-pound redshirt freshman Al Bond , who's built like a tackle yet could wind up being the starting left guard. A terrific athlete, he's already shown he can play multiple positions on the line.
Watch Out For … Bond. The Tigers think he's special, under the helmet and when the pads are on. He's the prototype of what the coaching staff is seeking in its linemen, a quality athlete who can get out of the blocks and bury defenders downfield.
Strength: The left side. Relatively speaking, the Tigers will be tougher to penetrate from the left of center. Leary is the team's best all-around blocker and if Bond wins the guard job, he'll Memphis a potential rising star on the inside.
Weakness: Establishing the line of scrimmage. It's too basic to suggest run blocking or pass protection because the Tigers are equally inept in both areas. At a base level, the program needs to get more physical, pushing defenders back and allowing the skill position players to make things happen.
Outlook: Not only is Memphis coming off a brutal year here, but things could actually get worse before they get better. There's not a lot of all-star type talent, and it could take all year before the reshuffled group gels. In the short term, the goals will be to improve gradually and begin developing the younger blockers for 2012 and beyond.
Unit Rating: 4
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