2011 UAB Preview - Offense
UAB RB Pat Shed
CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - UAB Blazer Offense
Preview 2011 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: Life after star QB Joe Webb was ... unexpectedly productive. Pegged as a rebuilding year, 2010 wound up being surprisingly prolific for UAB, which was balanced and ranked 30th nationally in total offense. The key was supplied by QB Bryan Ellis, who took over in September and went on to throw for almost 3,000 yards and 25 touchdown passes. He's back, as is all-purpose RB Pat Shed and nearly all of the components of one of Conference USA's best lines. In other words, the Blazers are going to score, a must when the defense figures to be suspect. The only question mark exists in a receiving corps that lost some of last season's top performers. Not only do more hands need to be cultivated, but a pass-catching tight end will be necessary to work the middle of the field.
Star of the offense: Senior LT Matt McCants
Passing: Bryan Ellis
231-411, 2,940 yds, 25 TDs, 12 INTs
Rushing: Pat Shed
157 carries, 847 yds, 3 TDs
Receiving: Pat Shed
47 catches, 471 yds, 4 TDs
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior WR Nick Adams
Unsung star on the rise: Junior WR Patrick Hearn
Best pro prospect: McCants
Top three all-star candidates: 1) McCants, 2) Senior QB Bryan Ellis, 3) Hearn
Strength of the offense: The backfield, the offensive line, pass protection
Weakness of the offense: Tight end, depth, turnovers, finishing drives
State of the Unit: A year ago, this was the single greatest need area in Birmingham. MVP Joe Webb had graduated, leaving an enormous void on offense. David Isabelle was supposed to be the answer, but couldn't hold the job and eventually transferred to Alabama A&M. The Blazers were sunk, right? Uh-uh. They still had a trick up their sleeve.
At times in sports, solutions can come from the strangest places. Witness 6-2, 200-pound senior Bryan Ellis, for instance. A career backup until the fourth game of last season, he took off after taking over for Isabelle. A deft passer and clutch leader, he gave the UAB offense a much-needed spark, going 231-of-411 for 2,940 yards, 25 touchdowns, and a dozen interceptions. Injury-prone throughout his career, he's gotten bigger and stronger in an attempt to better withstand the punishment.
With Isabelle gone, the battle to back him up will be between 6-2, 195-pound sophomore Jonathan Perry and 6-1, 180-pound junior Joe Bento. While Bento has an additional year in the system, Perry is the far better athlete with the higher ceiling.
Watch Out For … Ellis to be even better in 2011. Last offseason, he was fighting an uphill climb, constantly trying to narrow Isabelle's lead. Now, he's the man on offense, and appears far more confident and at ease in the system without having to look over his shoulder.
Strength: Ellis. Who saw this coming? He's a fifth-year senior—with two years of eligibility remaining—who has earned the respect of his teammates and the confidence of his coaches. Poised in the pocket and accurate with his throws, he gives UAB one of the better returning quarterbacks in Conference USA.
Weakness: The backups. Ellis' history of going under the knife for shoulder problems has never been a bigger issue than right now. The departure of Isabelle means that one vicious hit or awkward fall could mean it's showtime for one of two quarterbacks, who've combined for two career passes.
Outlook: What a difference a year can make. No, Ellis isn't Webb, but he gives UAB a competent passer, who'll deal with accuracy and lead with composure late in close games. He's been a revelation for a program that was concerned that it might have taken years to develop another playmaker behind center.
Unit Rating: 6
State of the Unit: The Blazers are coming off one of their best rushers seasons in school history, amassing 1,870 yards and 4.5 yards a carry. And for a change, the production was provided by someone other than the quarterback. The program went hunting through the JUCO ranks a year ago and came back with someone to build around on offense.
In his first season out of East Mississippi Community College, 5-9, 175-pound senior Pat Shed was a very busy man. Not only did he have a team-high 157 carries for 847 yards and three scores, but he also caught a team-high 47 passes for 471 yards and four more touchdowns. He has soft hands as a receiver, good moves in the open field, and is tougher and more durable than his size might indicate.
While graduation has taken a bite out of the backfield's depth, one high-profile transfer is capable of putting some meat back on the bone. After sitting out last season, 5-10, 205-pound junior Dontavious Jackson arrives from Georgia with lofty expectations. Suspended form the Bulldogs following an arrest, he was one of the nation's top-rated backs of 2008.
Watch Out For …for Jackson to hit the ground running in his debut. Yeah, he's had off-field problems and never got many touches in Athens, but this is still an SEC talent about to face Conference USA defenses. Shed is the starter, but Jackson's vision and cutback ability will make it hard to keep him off the field.
Strength: Multiple options at feature back. For the first time in years, the Blazers have a returning back, Shed, worthy of getting all-star consideration. Plus, Jackson has the talent to ensure that there'll be no drop-off when he gets on the field. It's a one-two punch that should have the coaching staff excited about the possibilities.
Weakness: A short-yardage runner. Jackson might be that guy, but then again no one has seen much of him over the last few years. And although Shed can get the tough yards on occasion, just how often can you direct a 175-pounder into a scrum filled with much bigger defenders?
Outlook: By UAB standards, this is about as good as it gets at the running back position. Shed has already proven that he can be a valuable weapon, by ground or by air. Jackson provides some much-needed depth and competition, an exciting wild card being thrust into the mix.
Unit Rating: 5.5
State of the Unit: By far, the biggest concern on offense this offseason will be right here, a once-deep receiving corps that was impacted by graduation. Four of the seven players who caught at least 10 passes in 2010 will no longer be at QB Bryan Ellis' disposal. The leading returning receiver? RB Pat Shed. The Blazers need to develop more targets and flesh out a depth chart before the Sept. 10 trip to Gainesville.
In his second year of action, 6-1, 180-pound junior Patrick Hearn was a breakout performer from "H" receiver, catching 35 passes for 536 yards and four touchdowns. A big-play receiver, he has a long stride that allows him to get behind the secondary. His future is bright, especially after having spent a full season playing catch with Ellis and getting a better grasp of the offense.
The Blazers are banking on the healthy return of 6-2, 195-pound senior Nick Adams, who missed all of 2010 with an injury. A former transfer from Fort Scott (Kans.) Community College, he's a legit long-ball threat, combining good size with some of the best wheels on the team. One of last year's pleasant surprises at wide receiver was 5-11, 185-pound sophomore Jackie Williams, who produced as a backup at "Z" receiver. Sixth on the team in receptions, he caught 30 balls for 327 yards and three touchdowns. The staff is optimistic about the futures of sophomores Nolen Smith and Freddie Moore . Tall and athletic, both players moved up to the second team by November. UAB will be doing an exhaustive search for Jeffrey Anderson's successor at tight end. Getting first dibs will be 6-1, 240-pound junior Sam Accursio, a former walk-on who earned a scholarship last August and the No. 2 spot because of his blocking skills.
Watch Out For …Adams. Now that he's healthy again and there's less of a logjam at wide receiver, he's liable to capitalize with the kind of finale that interests NFL scouts. His length, speed, and playmaking ability aren't going to be lost on Ellis either.
Strength: Yards after the catch. With Hearn, Adams, and Williams, the Blazers will be able to stretch the field and make defenses respect their speed. All three are big-play guys, who'll help create more space for Blazers working the underneath stuff.
Weakness: Consistency. While the raw ability is obvious, UAB needs to improve on the more mundane areas of pass-catching , like running tighter routes, blocking on running plays, and reducing the number of dropped passes. Only then will the receivers elevate to a new level of productivity.
Outlook: The Blazers took some hits in the receiving corps, yet still feel as if they'll be dangerous on the outside. The return of Adams, coupled with the presence of Hearn and Williams, should give Ellis enough viable targets. If the young kids, like Smith and Moore, can contribute a handful of catches, the UAB will be both deep and talented.
Unit Rating: 5
State of the Unit: Any discussion about the most underrated unit in Conference USA must include the UAB offensive line. Quietly effective in 2010, the front wall paved the way for 4.5 yards per carry and yielded a league-low dozen sacks. Best of all, four starters and seven letterwinners return from that group, meaning a similar level of effectiveness will be expected during the upcoming season.
Protecting QB Bryan Ellis' blindside will again be 6-7, 295-pound senior Matt McCants, who's coming off an All-Conference USA First Team campaign. Ideally built for the position, he has the long reach and light feet to wall off some of the league's quicker pass rushers. Without a lot of attention away from the campus, he's being looked at as a possible NFL Draft choice in the spring of 2012.
By midway through last season, 6-3, 300-pound senior Greg Calhoun had taken over at right tackle, a position he held for seven games. A versatile veteran of 24 career starts, he's one of the line's strongest players. When Calhoun rose up the ladder at tackle, it bumped 6-3, 295-pound senior Terence Edge to right guard, a more natural position for him. He went on to start all 12 games, bouncing back nicely after missing all of 2009 due to academic issues. Fingers are crossed that 6-3, 290-pound senior Caleb Thomas will be at full strength and in a position to compete for the other guard spot. He had hernia surgery before the start of 2010, and was limited to just four starts.
Last year's biggest surprise was 6-2, 280-pound senior Darion Smith, a transfer from Copiah-Lincoln (Kans.) Junior College, who did a nice job of replacing all-star Jake Seitz at center. A quality athlete, he gets out of his stance quickly and was clean with his snaps. Giving Calhoun all he can handle at right tackle is 6-3, 270-pound junior Chris Hubbard. An agile blocker who has lettered in each of the last two seasons, he started four games at right guard before losing the job to Edge.
Watch Out For … Thomas' health. While it's not as if Hubbard can't handle the job, Thomas is the preferred choice at guard when he's playing at 100%. Plus, his availability gives the Blazers a deeper rotation of linemen on a unit that's going to be green on the second team.
Strength: Pass protection. Blocking for a relatively immobile quarterback, the Blazers still allowed just a dozen sacks on a team that threw the ball 465 times. Heck, Tennessee couldn't get to Bryan Ellis last September. Quick and athletic, the tackles do a nice job of keeping the pocket clean.
Weakness: Drive blocking. It's a relative knock on a unit that did a nice job of opening holes last season. Still, it's a light unit that averages below 300 pounds and could struggle against more physical opponents on north-south running plays.
Outlook: The Blazers are reaping the benefits of using so many underclassmen over the past few seasons, cobbling together one of the league's best ensemble of blockers. Provided health doesn't become an issue, UAB has a front line rotation that'll consistently protect the pocket and create space for the backs.
Unit Rating: 6
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