2012 Houston Preview – Offense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Houston Cougar Offense
Preview 2012 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: The faces have changed, including on the staff. The system remains virtually the same. Houston will be without record-breaking triggerman Case Keenum and most of his favorite weapons, but the Cougars still plan to air it with the same bravado as they did when Art Briles and Kevin Sumlin were the head coaches. While it's going to be a transition year, there are still plenty of reasons to be optimistic. Keenum's probable successor under center is David Piland, who redshirted in 2011, but threw 24 touchdown passes when pressed into action as a rookie two years ago. He's no stranger to the offensive blueprint. His backfield mate will be first-team all-star Charles Sims, who's ready to shed some anonymity. As a sophomore, he averaged 7.5 yards a carry, caught 51 passes and scored 13 times. The receiving corps is being stripped to the studs, which is why newcomers, like mega-recruit Deontay Greenberry, will be given every chance to scale the depth chart in the summer. Ronnie Williams is the veteran if 20 career receptions qualify a guy to be a veteran. The best news of all on offense is that four starting linemen are back, led by all-league T Jacolby Ashworth and underrated C Kevin Forsch. If the blockers can exceed their potential, the learning curve for the offense as a whole won't be nearly as steep.
Star of the offense: Junior RB Charles Sims
Passing: Crawford Jones
1-2, 18 yds, 0 TDs, 0 INTs
Rushing: Charles Sims
110 carries, 821 yds, 9 TDs
Receiving: Charles Sims
51 catches, 575 yds, 4TDs
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior WR Ronnie Williams
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore RT Rowdy Harper
Best pro prospect: Sims
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Sims, 2) Senior LT Jacolby Ashworth, 3) Sophomore QB David Piland
Strength of the offense: The passing attack, the O-line, running back
Weakness of the offense: Rebuilt receiving corps, youth behind center
Six years—and many records—later, the career of QB Case Keenum has finally reached an end at Houston. Ironically enough, his likely successor, 6-3, 200-pound sophomore David Piland , has already replaced Keenum one time before in his career. In 2010, he was forced into the lineup as a rookie, and responded by going 201-of-345 for 2,641 yards, 24 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Since Piland wasn't needed in 2011, he redshirted, using the time off to hit the weights, and get better acclimated to the system. He's a mature young player, with a good feel for the offense, and a very quick trigger.
There's a two-man battle brewing to be Piland's backup. The veteran is 6-1, 193-pound senior Crawford Jones, who has mostly seen action as the holder on field goals and extra points. The third-stringer in 2011, his biggest edge comes from his comfort level in the program and knowledge of the personnel. Hanging with Jones is 6-2, 205-pound redshirt freshman Bram Kohlhausen , the former three-scout recruit with the higher ceiling. He has a live arm and accuracy to someday be the leader of the attack.
Watch Out For .... Piland to look like a far different player than he did two years ago. Obviously, everything moved so fast in 2010, but the Cougar has grown in a multitude of different ways since his up-and-down debut. He's not only physically bigger, but the game should move a lot slower now that he's been able to view it from two disparate angles in 2010 and 2011.
Strength: A player with starting experience. The injury to Keenum two years ago is going to greatly benefit the 2012 squad. Instead of replacing a legend with a complete newcomer, the Cougars will have a successor who has taken snaps for almost an entire season. Over the past year, Piland has conducted himself like someone who plans one being a cornerstone type player for the next three seasons.
Weakness: Overall depth. Yeah, it helps immensely that Piland has a season under his belt, but this will still be a group of quarterbacks that's light on experience. The graduation of not only Keenum, but also long-time backup Cotton Turner means that Houston is an injury away from having to trot a complete unknown, Jones or Kohlhausen, on to the field.
Outlook: While there's no easy way to replace a player of Keenum's ability and accomplishments, Houston feels as if it's poised to still have success through the air. Piland may be young, but he's also mature and no novice at being at the controls for the Cougars. If he's able to adjust to the rebuilt receiving corps, there's good reason to believe that he can be one of Conference USA's most prolific passers of 2012.
Hidden behind the enormous shadows of QB Case Keenum and his cadre of big-play wide receivers a year ago was 6-0, 206-pound junior Charles Sims, an underrated weapon in the program's success. The former Conference USA Freshman of the Year made a triumphant return after sitting out 2010 because of academics, spicing up the Houston ground game and mid-range passing attack. The all-purpose dynamo put together a First Team All-Conference USA brag sheet by rushing for 821 yards and nine scores on only 110 carries, while catching 51 passes for 575 yards and four more touchdowns. A powerful athlete, Sims will make the explosive cuts that leave defenders riveted to the turf.
There are plenty of touches to go around in this offense, which will make the battle for the backup job rather intriguing. One of the pleasant surprises of the offseason so far has been 5-11, 195-pound redshirt freshman Kenneth Farrow , who is on the verge of nabbing the No. 2 job. Despite practicing at safety in 2011, he looked as if he belonged on offense this spring, running without much wasted movement.
The staff could also give the No. 2 slot to a senior, former walk-on Braxton Welford. He's been a selfless, blue-collar member of the program since arriving, rushing for 83 yards and a score on 21 carries, while also making 15 tackles on special teams. The 5-11, 195-pounder is in his third year on campus, having transferred from San Diego Mesa (Calif.) College.
Watch Out For .... Farrow to pull ahead in the summer. Although the program really likes having a player like Welford on the roster, Farrow flashes a higher ceiling as an offensive playmaker. He looked so smooth and comfortable during practice that he's capable of earning 75 or so touches in the fall.
Strength: Sims. So versatile is No. 5 that he can play a multitude of different roles for the Houston offense. He'll run, both outside the tackles and between them, serve as a valuable outlet for young QB David Piland and pick up the blitz when the ball isn't in his hands. Sims is the most important cog of this offense, a back who'll have a chance to play on Sundays.
Weakness: Proven depth. Yeah, Farrow has looked capable, but that was in practice against his own teammates. A year ago, the Cougars harbored three different running backs who warranted starts, Sims, Bryce Beall and Michael Hayes. This season, Sims won't have much of a safety net in his rear view mirror.
Outlook: While depth will be a question mark in 2012, star power will not. Sims is set to start building a national identity now that the aerial attack is rebooting. The junior is still an overlooked threat who'll vex defenses with his hands and his feet. He's a prime contender for Conference USA Offensive Player of the Year, and might even flirt with the idea of leaving school early for a chance to play in the NFL.
As if losing QB Case Keenum wasn't painful enough, the Cougars have also parted with four of last season's top five receivers. Developing some semblance of chemistry will be a top priority once the program reconvenes in August. Fifth-year senior Ronnie Williams has patiently waited for his turn to contribute, and could be ready for a breakout season. He's played sparingly up to this point, peaking in 2011 with 16 grabs for 138 yards and a touchdown. The 5-11, 188-pound will be lining up in the slot, looking to lead by example, and offset some of Tyron Carrier's old production.
It'll be difficult to keep sophomore Daniel Spencer off the field this fall. Another candidate to be playing on the inside, likely ay "Y", he is arguably one of the top gamebreakers of the receiving corps. In mop-up duty as a rookie, he turned 12 catches into 171 yards and two scores. However, he's liable to erupt after showing outstanding ball skills and consistency throughout the spring.
Also fighting for time in the slot will be 6-0, 180-pund junior Darian Lazard and 6-4, 236-pound sophomore Kenneth Bibbins . Lazard is lining at the "H", the same position as Williams. The former high school quarterback is a terrific all-around athlete, and caught the first eight passes of his career for 72 yards in 2011. Because of his tight end-like size, Bibbins is ideally suited at the "Y" behind Spencer. He's coming off a redshirt year in which he got a firmer grasp on the system.
At "Z" receiver, the program has high hopes for 6-0, 190-pound junior Dewayne Peace . The one-time Michigan recruit and Blinn (Tex.) College transfer has the wheels to get separation on defensive backs, but now needs to raise the overall caliber of his game. Appearing only in blowouts last season, he caught 13 passes for 105 yards.
The program could look in a number of different directions at the other outside position, "X" receiver. Senior Isaiah Sweeney has been in the program for a long time, and is also a star athlete on the Cougars track team. However, he remains unpolished at this stage of his career, catching just eight balls for 123 yards and three scores since arriving out of high school. Also lining up to compete on the flanks will be 6-4, 185-pound sophomore Mark Roberts and 5-11, 185-pound junior Gino Collins . Roberts had six grabs for 136 yards in 2011, while Collins came on strong late to finish with 10 receptions for 178 yards and a score.
Watch Out For .... the anticipated arrival of blue-chip recruit Deontay Greenberry . The five-star gem, who stunningly de-committed from Notre Dame, has all of the physical tools to be for Houston what DeAndre Brown was for Southern Miss in 2008. An electrifying playmaker, Greenberry is capable of scaling a depth chart that's patiently waiting for a difference-maker.
Strength: Athletes. The Cougars receivers may be raw, but they are certainly not light on athletic ability. This program has never had much of a problem attract explosive players who can get behind a secondary, and pick up yards after the catch. It's now up to the coaching staff, like assistants Brandon Middleton and Jamie Christian, to help transform these athletes into consistent playmakers.
Weakness: Proven players. The Cougars don't have a single benchmark receiver left on the roster, that go-to guy capable of bailing out the rest of the offense. And while it's quite possible such a player emerges before the opener, there's no getting around the fact that Houston will need a swath of athletes to deliver the best season of their careers in 2012.
Outlook: So who wants to be a pass-catching star? The opportunity is sitting there for a collection of Houston wide receivers who'll get every opportunity to catch at least 50 passes this season. Greenberry is a wild card walking into a perfect situation to contribute immediately after arriving on campus. However, no matter how quick he is to adapt, he'll still need plenty of help from the veteran supporting cast. It should only take a week or two into the season to learn the pecking order and the names of QB David Piland's favorite targets.
The rock of Gibraltar on offense this season will be located up front, where Houston returns four of last season's starters. The anchor will be 6-4, 300-pound senior Jacolby Ashworth , the program's left tackle. A regular since 2009, he peaked with last year's appearance on the All-Conference USA Second Team. While he'll be a guard if he gets a chance at the next level, for now he has the footwork and tenacity at the point of contact to continue to be a terrific pocket protector.
The team's right tackle will be sophomore Rowdy Harper for a second straight year. The former three-star recruit impressed throughout his debut, earning Freshman All-America honors for his efforts. At 6-6 and 290 pounds, he has the ideal frame and arm length to excel in pass protection, and eventually replace Ashworth on the left side.
Things are going to get interesting on the inside. For now, it looks as if 6-5, 301-pound junior Kevin Forsch will be shifting to center to take over for the lone graduate, Chris Thompson. Forsch ably started all 14 games at right guard in 2011, and has spent much of the offseason practicing at the pivot, which ought to make for a smoother transition.
Assuming Forsch remains at center, his old right guard slot is likely to be commandeered by 6-3, 310-pound junior Ralph Oragwu , who is coming off a solid spring camp. The two-time letterman played some as a reserve, showcasing the athletic ability and leverage that drew interest from Big 12 schools in 2009. Still battling Oragwu for reps will be 6-5, 315-pound junior Emeka Okafor and 6-2, 290-pound sophomore Bryce Redman. Okafor earned his first letter in 2011, while Redman might also be used at center.
Left guard will once again be the domain of Ty Cloud, a powerful north-south blocker coming off a building block season. The sophomore goes a sturdy 6-4 and 315 pounds, using his tenacity and strong upper body to bully opponents off the ball. He has an all-star ceiling, with the potential to keep playing at the next level if he continues to develop his pass blocking skills.
Watch Out For .... the eventual starter at center. It looks as if it'll be Forsch, who'll have the biggest responsibility of any of the Houston blockers. He'll not only be playing a new position and delivering the ball to the quarterback, but is also supplanting a First Team All-Conference USA center. If Forsch runs with this opportunity, everyone else on the offense is going to benefit.
Strength: Pass protection. The Cougars allowed just 19 sacks in 2011, and impressive figure considering how often they threw the ball. Four starters return, two of whom protect the edge, Ashworth and Harper. If the retooled Houston passing game hits any speed bumps, don't fault an O-line that ought to make life easier on QB David Piland.
Weakness: Right guard. With Forsch moving inside, it's created a vacuum at right guard. Oragwu seems to be the guy for now, but he still needs to lock down this job in the summer. The Cougars are hoping to avoid any weak links in its chain of protection, but the situation to the right of center still needs to be fleshed out in August.
Outlook: The quarterback is new and the receiving corps is being renovated, but Houston will once again boast one of Conference USA's toughest O-lines. The Cougars will feature a veteran, well-coached ensemble that could send multiple players to the postseason all-star team. The left side will be particularly stout, with Ashworth and Cloud protecting Piland, and paving the way for RB Charles Sims. If the Cougs continue to roll with the ball, this group of blockers will have plenty to do with it.
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