2013 Middle Tennessee Preview – Offense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Middle Tennessee Blue Raider Offense
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Preview 2013 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: Coordinator Buster Faulkner took over the Middle Tennessee offense in 2012, ushering in unmistakable improvement. The Blue Raiders committed to the run, hung up more points and were less predictable than they were in 2011. The goal now will be to build on those results. The offense brings back most of last season's starters, save for a couple of key all-starters, WR Anthony Amos and C Micah James. Back at the controls will be veteran distributor Logan Kilgore, a reliable quarterback being asked to do a little more running in 2013. However, no Blue Raider will carry the ball more than sophomore Jordan Parker, the emerging star out of the backfield. James is the only departing offensive lineman from a unit that quietly ranked No. 2 in the county in sacks allowed. While the pieces are in place for Middle Tennessee to take another step forward on offense, it'll instead regress unless it can produce more touchdowns when reaching the red zone.
Star of the offense: Senior QB Logan Kilgore
Passing: Logan Kilgore
212-335, 2,571 yds, 16 TDs, 6 INTs
Rushing: Jordan Parker
166 carries, 851 yds, 3 TDs
Receiving: Kyle Griswould
45 catches, 531 yds, 3 TDs
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior C Nick Nunez
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LT Darius Johnson
Best pro prospect: Sophomore RB Jordan Parker
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Parker, 2) Kilgore , 3) Senior G Josh Walker
Strength of the offense: Quarterback, running back, the O-line
Weakness of the offense: Big-play receivers, center, finishing drives
The Blue Raiders have a luxury behind center, a proven senior with 25 games of starting experience already on the resume. Logan Kilgore is coming off his best season since transferring from Bakersfield (Calif.) College, completing 212-of-335 passes for 2,571 yards, 16 touchdowns and six picks. The 6-3, 201-pounder is also agile enough that the coaching staff would like to see more rushing yards out of him this fall. Kilgore earned honorable mention All-Sun Belt a year ago, aided by an outstanding season of weight training that helped to improve his overall arm strength.
Redshirt freshman Austin Grammer has taken his first big step toward succeeding Kilgore in 2014 by winning the backup job. The 6-2, 210-pound Tuscaloosa native showed signs of growing up in the spring, while improvising when his protection broke down.
Watch Out For … Kilgore to deliver his best season to date as a Blue Raider. He built some momentum as the physical and emotional leader of the offensive unit, which ought to carry into a new campaign. Kilgore has a full command of the offense to go along with the respect of his teammates.
Strength: Good decisions. Kilgore won't wow onlookers with his skill set, but he's not going to hurt his team either with reckless decisions in the passing game. A year ago, he completed 63% of his passes, and was only picked off six times on 335 attempts.
Weakness: Proven backups. Middle Tennessee wants Kilgore to run the ball a little more often than in recent seasons in order to better disguise the "wildcat" formations. However, such a move will also expose the undersized quarterback to more punishment. Grammer is just a rookie, and sophomore Shaun White was suspended following a spring arrest.
Outlook: Middle Tennessee is thrilled to have a third-year starting quarterback to help guide it into a tougher new league. Kilgore is a steady veteran, who'll bring his poise and leadership to the field and the locker room. He's an able passer, with a mandate to showcase a little more of his athleticism this fall.
Unit Rating: 6
When last season began, Middle Tennessee's depth at running back did not include the name of sophomore Jordan Parker, then a rookie out of Georgia. Yet, after veteran Benny Cunningham was injured, it was Parker who took command of the Blue Raiders' running game, rushing for 851 yards, a school record for freshmen, and three scores on 166 carries. At 6-1 and 220 pounds, he's no longer lanky, instead possessing the strong frame needed to bounce off tacklers. Best of all, Parker is a quiet, humble athlete, with the right work ethic and frame of mind to continue improving in his second season of action.
In many ways, junior Reggie Whatley will serve as a perfect complement to Parker in the backfield. The latter will soften defenses, while the former will stretch them. Whatley is a 5-7, 167-pound jackrabbit, with just enough wiggle to make defenders whiff in space. Besides being a talented kick returner, he also ran for 172 yards and a touchdown on 39 carries.
Watch Out For … the impact of three-star rookie Kamani Thomas out of Dallas, Ga. The 5-9, 195-pounder chose Middle Tennessee over the likes of Vanderbilt, Oklahoma State and Arizona State, and has the skill set to force his way on to the field even those his new school is deep at the position.
Strength: Talent mix. Parker and Whatley are going to give the Blue Raiders an eclectic one-two punch for which opposing defenses must contend. While Parker will bring the punch to the ground game, Whatley is a finesse guy who is ideally suited to contribute on third downs.
Weakness: Pass protection. Still somewhat young and inexperienced, the Middle Tennessee backs need to work on their skills when the ball is not in their hands. Blocking is one of the last things that young runners typically work on, but if not handled properly could get a kid relegated to the bench.
Outlook: The development of Parker last season could not have come at better time for the Middle Tennessee program. He has a star's ceiling, a great attitude and three years of eligibility remaining. After finishing last season as hot as any Sun Belt Conference back, he's eyeing a more prominent role that leads to well over 1,000 yards on the ground.
Unit Rating: 5.5
The new veteran among the receivers now that all-star Anthony Amos has graduated is senior Kyle Griswould. He's not the biggest or the fastest of the wideouts, but he is tough and smart, which is why he'll again be a frequent target of QB Logan Kilgore. The 5-10, 197-pound Griswould has good ball skills out from "Z" receiver to go along with the toughness to box out opposing defenders. In his best year to date with the program, he pulled in 45 passes for 531 yards and three touchdowns last season.
At "X" receiver, the coaching staff is becoming increasingly confident in the play of sophomore Christian Collis. He debuted a year ago by catching 18 balls for 206 yards and two touchdowns, settling down as the season unfolded. At 6-0 and 208 pounds, he's physical and will go into the teeth of traffic in order to make a catch.
Senior Tavarres Jefferson has returned to "Y" after missing all but one game of 2012 with a hamstring injury. The 5-9, 206-pounder arrived to spring practice in great shape, looking as quick and as elusive as ever. He has 16 career starts, and led the Blue Raiders in 2011 with 51 receptions for 398 yards and a touchdown.
In four-wide situations, Middle Tennessee will employ 6-0, 182-pound junior Marcus Henry at "H" receiver. In his first season out of Northwest Mississippi Community College, he started four of six games, making nine catches for 182 yards and a score. Further development was stunted by an injury that cost him seven games of 2012.
Watch Out For … Collis to experience the biggest growth spurt among the wide receivers. The coaching likes his toughness and his ability to get open. The Blue Raiders are hunting for a new set of hands to complement the steady veterans, and No. 81 is on the verge of fulfilling that role.
Strength: Experience. As it stands today, Middle Tennessee will employ three upperclassmen in its four-wide sets. Griswould, Jefferson and Henry may not be flashy, but they have as firm a grasp on the offense as they do balls thrown in their direction.
Weakness: Playmakers. Do not expect a ton of field-stretching plays out of the Blue Raiders' wide receivers this fall. It's just not a part of their personality as skill position players. This blue-collar group is comprised of steady short-range targets, few of whom are capable of getting behind the secondary.
Outlook: With Amos now trying his hand at the NFL, Middle Tennessee will
be light on star power on the outside. The receiving corps will be steady, experienced and reliable, but isn't likely to produce an All-Conference USA performer. While Griswould will be the preferred target early on, Collis or Jefferson could end up leading the team in receiving.
Unit Rating: 5
While the Blue Raiders must replace its best blocker, C Micah James, six players with starting experience return from a unit that played exceptionally well in 2012. The new cornerstone will be junior G Josh Walker, a veteran of 21 career starts. The honorable mention All-Sun Belt pick has great size at 6-5 and 323 pounds, yet was more than just a mauler last fall. Walker was a key component of a group that ranked second nationally in sacks allowed, a smart and tough lineman who'll assume a greater leadership role.
Over at right guard will be 6-2, 284-pound senior Jadereius Hamlin, one of the self-made vocal leaders of the front wall. He started eight games in 2012, ranking fifth on the team with 514 snaps.
The staff is bullish on the future of LT Darius Johnson, a starter in all 12 games a season ago. The 6-3, 293-pound sophomore is a terrific athlete, who'll use his leverage and strength to get up underneath the pads of opposing players. He yielded just one sack in 2012, while registering 74 knockdowns.
Back at right tackle is junior Isaiah Anderson, who started all 10 games he appeared in last year. He's very athletic, with quick hands and feet, but at 6-4 and 268 pounds, he also needs to add weight and strength in order to better hold up at the point of attack.
Adequately replacing James at center is the program's biggest O-line concern of the offseason. Coming out of spring, 6-4, 292-pound Nick Nunez was being entrusted with the assignment. In his first season out of Hartnell (Calif.) College, the junior appeared in just two games. He's added significant weight over the last two years, but still has a long way to go before earning the confidence of the staff.
Senior Jesse Grisham will bring veteran leadership from off the bench. The 6-3, 287-pound three-time letterwinner is listed as the backup at left tackle, but he's able to fill in at multiple positions up front.
Watch Out For … the development of depth. The Blue Raiders are seasoned on the first unit, but young off the bench. This is going to be an important summer for redshirt freshmen Josh Chester, Adam Stickel and Hunter Rogers who are hoping to position themselves for snaps in 2013 and promotions in 2014.
Strength: Pass protection. Okay, so the team largely performed against Sun Belt Conference competition, but seven sacks allowed in 12 games are remarkable at any level. And with both of last year's starting tackles back, there's justifiable reason to believe that QB Logan Kilgore will again be well-protected.
Weakness: The pivot. Maybe Nunez will be fine, especially with the support of veterans to his left and right. But Middle Tennessee really has no idea how its new starting center is going to perform at arguably the most important position along the line. If he stumbles, it's sure to affect everyone else around him.
Outlook: The Blue Raiders front wall returns largely intact, and determined to replicate last year's surprisingly tight results. The linemen are tough and, well, blue-collar to their core, trading next-level talent for results. The key, of course, will be Nunez. If he can even modestly supplant James at center, Middle Tennessee will boast one of Conference USA's better O-lines.
Unit Rating: 5.5
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