2012 UAB Preview - Offense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - UAB Blazer Offense
Preview 2012 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: Fresh off successful stints coordinating the offenses at Northwestern and Arkansas, first-year head coach Garrick McGee is looking to fashion a balanced, pro-style attack in Birmingham. While running the ball might be an epic challenge for the new staff, there is an interesting mix of ingredients for the passing game to click. QB Jonathan Perry has experience to go along with a diverse skill set. McGee's offseason objective will be to get his junior accustomed to being a little more stationary in the pocket than he had been in the past. If successful, Perry will revel in the opportunity to play catch with an ensemble of receivers that includes all but one of last year's top pass-catchers. The ground game, on the other hand, might be, well, grounded. It's not so much that RB Greg Franklin or his cadre of backups don't have the ability to navigate running lanes, but just how much space are the backs going to get this season? Four starters have departed from a unit that was far better in recent seasons at protecting the pocket than opening holes. The new leader—and lone returning regular—is senior Chris Hubbard, who's making the move from right tackle to left tackle to fill the sizable shoes of perennial all-star Matt McCants.
Star of the offense: Senior OT Chris Hubbard
Passing: Jonathan Perry
174-300, 2,042 yds, 10 TDs, 8 INTs
Rushing: Greg Franklin
84 carries, 430 yds, 2 TDs
Receiving: Jackie Williams
58 catches, 607 yds, 0 TDs
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior RB Greg Franklin
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore WR Jamarcus Nelson
Best pro prospect: Hubbard
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Hubbard, 2) Junior WR Jackie Williams, 3) Franklin
Strength of the offense: Dual-threat quarterback, wide receivers
Weakness of the offense: Consistency in the passing game, rebuilt O-line, red-zone scoring
Head coach Garrick McGee's first offense in Birmingham will likely be run by junior Jonathan Perry who took the majority of the snaps in 2011. Pressed into action because of injuries he wound up appearing in all 12 games, going 174-of-300 for 2,042 yards, 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions. The Baltimore native also flashed his athletic ability by rushing for 294 yards and three scores on 92 carries. At 6-2 and 210 pounds, he has the size and athleticism to be a true dual-threat for the Blazers.
The backup job will go to one of two rookies, either 6-4, 215-pound redshirt freshman Josh Greer or 6-1, 208-pound redshirt freshman Austin Brown. Greer is a two-star hurler coming off a record-breaking career through the air in the state of Texas. Brown has an edge in experience at this level, but wasn't as highly regarded out of high school, and lacks Greer's upside as a pocket passer.
Watch Out For … McGee to have a very positive impact on the development of his impressionable quarterbacks. The new coach has had a track of success with young passers, most recently at Northwestern and Arkansas, and has inherited three players eager to be molded by him.
Strength: The run-pass option. While the Blazers certainly won't be running the triple-option, they will want to leverage the athletic ability of Perry. He's a strong and nimble runner outside of the pocket, which will entice the staff to use him on designed runs. With the quarterback's ability to tuck it and take off, it'll give opponents one more thing to worry about on D.
Weakness: Consistency in the passing game. UAB threw more interceptions than touchdown passes a year ago, and ranked 102nd nationally in passing efficiency. Now, Perry figures to be improved, but he's still raw as a distributor, and both of his backups have yet to take a snap at this level.
Outlook: The hope within the program is that Perry is prepared to pick up where he left off last November, throwing seven touchdown passes and just one interception over the final three games. He has an exciting physical skill set that McGee will attempt to cultivate in the fall. Perry will scramble liberally, but needs to stay healthy now that's backed up by two freshmen.
Unit Rating: 5
UAB ranked 84th nationally on the ground, but does welcome back last season's three most productive rushers. Junior Greg Franklin is the early leader in a crowded battle for playing time. The 5-11, 197-pounder has quick feet to go along with the versatility to serve numerous roles for the Blazers. He averaged a healthy 5.1 yards in 2011, turning 84 carries into 430 yards and two touchdowns. Franklin also caught 21 passes for 284 yards, showing soft hands as a receiver.
Bucking for touches behind Franklin will be 5-11, 212-pound redshirt freshman Bashr Coles, 5-10, 214-pound senior Dontavius Jackson and 5-10, 210-pound Darrin Reaves. Coles is a physical, no-nonsense runner coming off a solid spring. Jackson is a former top-rated recruit from Georgia, who was suspended by the Bulldogs following an arrest. While he had a hard time earning catches, he does have every-down back qualities. Reaves missed time in the spring to rehab a surgery, but was second on last year's team with 372 yards and two scores on 79 carries.
Watch Out For …a committee to once again be employed by the coaching staff. The Blazers feature a lot of similar parts, and no one stud to spearhead the running game. In a pro-style offense that aims to soften opposing defenses on the ground, look for at least three of the primary backs to earn at least 75 carries in the fall.
Strength: Power runners. Yeah, Franklin, the main threat on the ground, is more of a shifty operator, but behind him are three very physical Blazers, who can all keep drives alive on short-yardage plunges. Coles, Jackson and Reaves each tip the scales at no less than 210 pounds, good news for an attack that has had recent problems on third downs.
Weakness: A bona fide feature back. Who on this roster can be ridden 20-25 times a game? Is it Franklin who has never toted the ball more than 17 times in a contest? How about Reaves, who is still rehabbing an injury? Even in a shared backfield, UAB needs to determine who can be leaned on, week-in and week-out.
Outlook: It's not the Crimson Tide backfield, but UAB is rather pleased with the mix of talent in the backfield. Franklin will be the big-play producer on the ground, while Coles, Jackson or Reaves can be deployed to hammer the other team. The backs should be fresh throughout the season, producing decent aggregate numbers, but no individual stars.
Unit Rating: 5
After being forced to regroup and rebuild in 2011, the UAB receivers feel as if they're on more solid footing now that last year's top three pass-catchers return. The program is especially excited about its situation at "Z". Junior Jackie Williams led last year's squad with 58 receptions for 607 yards. However, his only three scores came on fly sweeps, along with 81 yards on 13 carries. The 5-11, 190-pounder is a quality all-around athlete, with good wheels, but needs to raise the bar in order to keep his job.
Breathing heavy down Williams' neck is 5-11, 160-pound sophomore Jamarcus Nelson. On his way to becoming the most electrifying playmaker on the roster, he gets to top gear in a hurry. Despite being raw and unfamiliar with his surroundings in 2011, he still managed to parlay 17 catches into 358 yards and four scores, adding a fifth touchdown on the ground. Nelson will be difficult to keep on the sidelines in the fall.
The competition at "X" will be equally interesting and tough to call. In one corner is 6-1, 203-pound senior Patrick Hearn who has been productive over the last two seasons. However, his output did drop to 31 catches for 364 yards and two touchdowns in 2011. And, more important, his number of big plays was way down as well. Hearn needs to locate that groove and knack for getting behind the secondary for the good of his team and the sake of his career.
Going neck-and-neck with Hearn at "X" is 6-2, 205-pound senior Nick Adams, who is still looking to find his groove. The former transfer from Fort Scott (Kans.) Community College has a high ceiling and one of the best size-speed combos on the roster, but has been stunted by injuries. A year ago, he did finish third on the team with 29 grabs for 390 yards and a touchdown.
In the slot, or "W" receiver, junior Jay Daviswill be UAB's choice to make things happen on quick-hitters in the seams. Long, lean and athletic at 6-1 and 194 pounds, he only caught 18 passes for 174 yards and a touchdown, but hopes to be more gainfully employed this season.
The Blazers' version of a tight end will be "T" receiver Nolen Smith. The 6-3, 205-pound senior is essentially an H-back, a big, sure-handed receiver who can find the soft spots in a defense. He got on the field a year ago for his pass-catching, not his blocking, making 19 receptions for 273 yards and two touchdowns.
Watch Out For … the outcome of the key competitions at "X" and "Z". Hey, all four of the main contenders will get on the field in the fall, but what happens in August will dictate the rotation and the distribution of reps. The hope inside the coach's offices is that by not naming a starter, the indecision will bring out the best in all of the receivers.
Strength: Overall depth. UAB is about to peak in the receiving corps, with a collection of veteran athletes who have played a lot of football in Birmingham. Collectively, the wide receivers and tight ends are well-sized, improving in their fundamentals and capable of picking up yards after the catch.
Weakness: Consistency. This has been an issue for the past few years. While the raw ability is plain to see, UAB needs to improve on the more mundane areas of pass-catching , such as running tighter routes, blocking on running downs and reducing the number of dropped balls. Only then will the receivers elevate to a higher level of productivity.
Outlook: If UAB is going to hit the high note on the outside, this would be the year to do it. While still a work in progress, the wide receivers and tight ends have the requisite physical ability and experience to really mesh with Jonathan Perry at quarterback. Like the running backs, the receivers could be employed in a committee type approach that sees as many as four different players catch at least 30 balls.
Unit Rating: 5.5
Four starters are gone from a UAB offensive line that has quietly played very well in recent seasons. The biggest void comes from LT Matt McCants, who earned All-Conference USA First Team. In his place will step 6-4, 285-pound senior Chris Hubbard, who'll be making the shift from the right side to the left side, now known as quick tackle. He arrived in Birmingham as a 240-pound athlete, gradually adding muscle without sacrificing his trademark agility and light feet. An honorable mention all-league selection in 2011, Hubbard is a natural choice to help keep the pocket clean this fall.
Taking Hubbard old job on the right side, now known as strong tackle, will be 6-5, 293-pound senior Kaycee Ike. A journeyman and career backup, with two letters to his name, he's about to undergo a baptism by fire in his final year of eligibility.
At the pivot will be 6-2, 275-pound sophomore John Hix. Quick, athletic and heady, he's ideally suited to take over at center. However, like most of his teammates, he's played sparingly since arriving, and will be facing a steep learning curve.
To the left of Hix at quick guard will be 6-6, 275-pound senior Cody Payne, a third-year transfer from Butler County (Kans.) Junior College. The former tight end has played some tackle during his career, but the staff feels he's better suited to operate on the interior.
The Blazers' new strong guard appears as if it'll be sophomore Brian O'Leary. The 6-2, 290-pounder lettered from off the bench in 2011, showing signs of being an effective run blocker, with the strong base and pad level to remain in the lineup for the next three years.
Watch Out For … the line to struggle badly in the early going. Forgetting for a moment that the Blazers will be dangerously light on experience, this group also has no chemistry at this stage of their time together. With South Carolina and Ohio State on the September schedule, the line's spirit could be broken long before the season kicks into gear.
Strength: Pass protection. While a decline is inevitable, this is an area that UAB has excelled at in recent seasons. Plus, with Hubbard at quick tackle, the front wall has an all-star-caliber anchor to keep Perry from having to scramble unless it's a designed run.
Weakness: Talent. Hubbard is the headliner, the kind of blocker a line could be built around. However, after him, the talent, depth and experience drop off a cliff in a hurry. UAB will not only be young and vulnerable on the starting unit, but the backups are largely comprised of rookies with even less time on the field.
Outlook: A year after boasting its best collection of talent up front in some time, it's back to the drawing board for the UAB offensive line. The Blazers will struggle badly at the point of attack, often getting bullied into the backfield by opposing D-lines and linebackers. Even if progress is made, it might be unrealistic for the unit to be an asset to the skill position players until at least 2013.
Unit Rating: 4.5
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