2012 Memphis Preview – Offense
Memphis WR Kevin Wright
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Memphis Tiger Offense
Preview 2012 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: From the moment he arrived from TCU, head coach Justin Fuente made his offensively philosophy crystal clear—he wants to run the ball to win, and throw the ball to score. Neither pursuit will be especially easy in his first year at Memphis. A parallel for the entire program, the Tigers have a dearth of sure-things on this side of the ball, returning zero all-stars from a unit that ranked 116th in total offense and 115th in scoring in 2011. The coach’s first quarterback appears to be Jacob Karam, the heady transfer from Texas Tech who won a war of attrition during the spring. The junior will have complements, such as RB Jerrell Rhodes and receivers Kevin Wright and Marcus Rucker, but his contingency of blockers is questionable. If Memphis can begin moving the line with more success, the points will follow. If not, the Tigers will again be one of Conference USA’s most impotent attacks.
Star of the offense: Junior RB Jerrell Rhodes
Rushing: Artaves Gibson
104 carries, 316 yds, 0 TDs
Receiving: Kevin Wright
36 catches, 398 yds, 1 TD
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior QB Jacob Karam
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore WR Kevin Wright
Best pro prospect: Rhodes
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Wright, 2) Senior OT Jordan Devey, 3) Rhodes
Strength of the offense: Karam’s potential, the receivers, protecting the ball, the tackles
Weakness of the offense: Inexperience at quarterback, lack of big plays, blocking, red zone scoring, converting on third downs
The quarterback situation took an unexpected turn in the spring. Taylor Reed, who started as a rookie and appeared to be the future under center, decided to leave the program after getting beat out by Texas Tech transfer Jacob Karam. So, for the second year in a row, a promising true freshman has bolted The River City. Karam hopes to take advantage of the opportunity. He playing briefly in Lubbock, but did earn a degree in under three years, allowing him to play immediately in 2012. While only 6-0 and 205 pounds, he gets good zip on his throws, shows solid footwork and made good decisions in March. Karam is the type of quarterback who can improvise, making something from nothing.
Behind Karam, but not much of a threat is 6-1, 190-pound junior Will Gilchrist, a journeyman up to this point of his career. Heck, he was making the switch to wide receiver in the spring until Reed’s exit created a need for more depth behind center.
Watch Out For … a one of the rookies to unseat Gilchrist for the No. 2 job. Head coach Justin Fuente signed a pair of exciting quarterback in February, William Gross and Paxton Lynch. Gross in an intriguing dual-threat who had numerous offers to play in the SEC.
Strength: Karam. It remains to be seen whether he’s an upgrade from Reed, but he sure did stop the bleeding in the spring. He’s heady and mature, and plays with just enough moxie and intensity to be considered an asset in the huddle.
Weakness: Depth. It’s quite possible that the Tigers have the thinnest quarterback situation in America heading into 2012. That’s bound to happen when four players at the position transfer out of the program in the span of 13 months. Karam took a handful of snaps for the Red Raiders, which is a handful more than anyone else on the roster.
Outlook: Karam will perform without a net, or anyone looking over his shoulder. If nothing else, he’ll be fun to watch, improvising his way to the occasional big play downfield. His role will be to help bring an identity and some consistency to an offense that’s been rudderless for years. It’ll be interesting to see whether Fuente, who had so much success with Andy Dalton at TCU, redshirts Gross or attempts to get him some snaps.
Unit Rating: 4.5
The only way is up for a Memphis ground game that’s ranked no higher than 116th over the past two seasons. Last year’s team normed just 84 yards a game and 2.7 yards a carry. The favorite to carry the load this fall will be junior Jerrell Rhodes who originally commit to playing for North Carolina. The 5-10, 215-pounder is one of those players who is actually better than his numbers. Injury-prone a year ago, he ran just 30 times for 152 yards and two scores. However, when he’s healthy and getting line support, he’s an ACC-caliber back, with excellent quickness in the open field.
Backing up Rhodes will be 6-1, 220-pound Artaves Gibson. Injuries forced him into action as a rookie, resulting in 316 yards on 104 carries. While he’s the biggest and the strongest of the backs in the stable, he’ll have a difficult time earning touches if he continues to have fumbling problems.
Watch Out For … Rhodes to become a productive option on the ground. He was limited to just three games in 2011, a lost season for all intents and purposes. However, No. 22 is a quality all-around back who’s capable of becoming Memphis’ best back since Curtis Steele was vexing Conference USA defenses three years ago.
Strength: Depth. The upshot of Rhodes’ injuries last year is that they opened the door for Gibson to start a pair of games, and earn snaps that otherwise appeared off limits. The Tigers now house two runners with relevant game experience and feature back qualities.
Weakness: Big plays. Memphis ran the ball 378 times last season—not one went for more than 31 yards. Not only do the backs lack explosiveness, but the offensive line does a poor job of holding its blocks and creating running room for its more skilled teammates.
Outlook: While it promises to be another very difficult year for the Tigers ground game, there is reason for optimism surrounding Rhodes. He’s the kind of back who wouldn’t be saddled with so much anonymity if he was playing for a more prominent program. As long as he’s healthy, he’ll give Memphis a better weapon out of the backfield than it had last fall.
Unit Rating: 5
While two of last year’s top three receivers have graduated, the Tigers still feel as if they’ll give QB Jacob Karam some quality targets with which to connect. The best of the ensemble will be sophomore Kevin Wright who blossomed into a pleasant surprise in his first season. The lanky 6-4, 215-pounder finished second on the team with 36 receptions for 398 yards and a touchdown, laying a nice foundation for the future. The one-time dual-threat high school quarterback flashed big-play potential throughout the spring, using his size advantage, speed and leaping ability to create mismatches.
Caddying for Wright on the outside will be sophomore Reggie Travis. The 6-2, 190-pounder from Louisiana got his feet wet as a rookie by catching 18 passes for 146 yards coming off the bench.
One of the more intriguing candidates to start is 6-1, 215-pound junior Jamere Valentine. He was impressing the coaches last spring before suffering a knee injury that forced him to sit out the year. The former transfer from Butte (Calif.) College adjusts well to balls in the air, and has the light feet and soft hips to make defenders miss.
Valentine has been so good that he’s relegated former star Marcus Rucker to a backup role for now. The 6-4, 195-pound senior suffered through an injury-filled 2010, and was unable to build on his breakout sophomore year. He caught just 20 passes for 195 yards and a touchdown, way down from his team-high 41 receptions for 704 yards and eight scores two years ago. Rucker still appeared a little tentative in the spring, raising concerns about his ability to bounce back this year.
Senior Curtis Johnson provides veteran depth and a deep-ball presence on the outside. The 6-0, 195-pound flyer is one of the fastest Tigers, but never was able to get out of the starting blocks after missing the first half of the year to a foot injury.
Watch Out For … the whereabouts of Keiwone Malone. The sophomore has talent, but there are growing concerns over his future in Memphis. The transfer from Alabama was suspended by Nick Saban in June of 2011, and was suspended again by Justin Fuente in March. The one-time three-star recruit is on the verge of running out of second chances.
Strength: Can’t-miss targets. The Memphis quarterbacks should have no problems locating their receivers, a collection of rangy pass-catchers with good hops. The Tigers are going to be athletic and at times explosive on the outside, housing the playmakers needed to create mismatches in the passing game.
Weakness: Consistency. Yeah, the wide receivers certainly have raw tools for success, but they also have ample room for growth with the little things associated with the position. The new coaching staff is looking for better routes, fewer dropped balls, and more mental toughness out of this group.
Outlook: The parts are in place for the pass-catchers to be the strength of the offense heading into 2012. Wright and Valentine will be looking to fulfill yet-to-be-tapped potential, while Rucker is still searching for his sophomore form. If Malone happens to get his act together between now and the opener, Memphis could boast one of Conference USA more dangerous wide receiver corps.
Unit Rating: 5.5
The Memphis front that got abused throughout 2011 will no longer have Second Team All-Conference USA LT Ronald Leary to lean up. Yup, the unit will have its hands full again this fall. The new left tackle—and leader of the group—will be senior Jordan Devey, the second-year transfer from Snow College in Utah. Because of a knee disease, he was a member of the high school band and not the football team, but he has gotten healthy enough to make an improbable transition. At 6-7 and 315 pounds, with good reach and footwork, he’s a natural to protect the quarterback’s backside.
Over at right tackle will be 6-5, 295-pound sophomore Al Bond, a versatile blocker coming off his first letter with the program. Very athletic for his size, he started the final half of the 2011 season for the Tigers, and is ready to hit the tarmac in the maturation process.
Next to Bond at right guard will be one of the program’s newcomers, Antonio Foster. The 6-4, 300-pound import from Northeast Mississippi Community College actually began his career at Georgia Tech, where he was hotly pursued for his tenacity and assertiveness as a north-south run blocker.
Lining up at left guard will be 6-5, 320-pound junior Nick Chartain, an interior blocker with the frame and long arms of a tackle. Another of the Memphis junior-college transfers, he earned a full season in the starting lineup in his debut with the program.
The Tigers boast their best depth at center. Juniors A.J. Antonescu and Chris Schuetz both started games last season. The 6-3, 285-pound Antonescu came to Memphis via Holmes (Miss.) Community College, and is the projected starter. Schuetz goes 6-3 and 275 pounds, and has steadily worked his way into the rotation over the last two years.
Watch Out For … Foster’s development. There was a time not long ago that he was considered a key recruit for the Yellow Jackets. While things didn’t work out on the Flats, he’s regrouped, and still has two seasons of eligibility remaining to carve out a productive college career.
Strength: The tackles. The Tigers were better in pass protection than run blocking a year ago, a trend that’s expected to continue in 2012. Bond and Devey are around to make sure of it. The latter is Memphis most complete all-around blocker, while the former has a ceiling that could reach the All-Conference USA team before he’s through.
Weakness: Winning the line of scrimmage. Beyond just the numbers, which include a measly 2.7 yards per carry in 2011, the Tigers don’t do particularly well on film either. Too often, this group gets trucked by opposing linemen, failing to protect the pocket or create space for the backs. Memphis lacks the physicality that coaches look for in their blockers.
Outlook: Although Memphis could be better at the point of attack than a year ago, it might not always show up in the box score. Devey and Bond are nice players, and Foster has intriguing potential, but the Tigers just don’t harbor enough anchors or reliable depth to thrive at the line of scrimmage throughout a 12-game schedule. The line will once again do more harm than good for the team’s skill position players.
Unit Rating: 4
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2012 Memphis Defense |
Memphis Depth Chart