2013 UAB Preview - Offense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - UAB Blazer Offense
Preview 2013 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: So far, so good. In his first year as the head coach, Garrick McGee's impact on the offense was evident. Running a balanced, pro-style attack, the Blazers went from 364 yards and 20 points a game in 2011 to 419 points and 28 points a game a year ago. That's undeniable progress, especially since UAB broke in a rookie quarterback, a new feature back and a handful of new regulars in the trenches. With most of last year's starters still in Birmingham, further progress is expected in 2013. QB Austin Brown provided a spark in his debut, throwing 15 touchdown passes, but he'll need to take the next step. RB Darrin Reaves came out of nowhere to rush for more than 1,000 yards, the first Blazers back to do so in well over a decade. And the receivers are a big-play crew, with a wild card in underrated TE Kennard Backman. However, this system might need to once again overcome a flimsy O-line that lacks size and sure-fire maulers.
Star of the offense: Junior RB Darrin Reaves
Passing: Austin Brown
205-355, 2,673 yds, 15 TDs, 12 INTs
Rushing: Darrin Reaves
215 carries, 1,037 yds, 13 TDs
Receiving: Jackie Williams
52 catches, 799 yds, 1 TD
Player who has to step up and become a star: Redshirt freshman OT Victor Salako
Unsung star on the rise: Junior TE Kennard Backman
Best pro prospect: Reaves
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Reaves, 2) Senior WR Jackie Williams, 3) Backman
Strength of the offense: Running back, tight end, red-zone offense
Weakness of the offense: Consistency in the passing game, the O-line, turnovers
Sophomore Austin Brown began last season on the bench, and didn't take over until Week 4, but ended the year as a possible franchise quarterback for the Blazers. The 6-1, 208-pounder showed good pocket poise and an ability to connect downfield, finishing the year 205-of-355 for 2,673 yards, 15 touchdowns and 12 picks. Brown also has the footwork to extend plays, find receivers when on the move and avoid pressure, a must for any quarterback operating behind an O-line that struggles badly in pass protection.
Providing veteran insurance—and tight competition—for Brown will be 6-2, 210-pound senior Jonathan Perry. Perry has 11 career starts in Birmingham, including the first three games of 2012. The dual-threat from behind center went 74-of-122 for six touchdowns and a pick, adding 61 yards and two more scores on the ground.
Watch Out For … Brown to be far more comfortable as the leader of the offense. Everything happened so fast last fall that it prevented the young hurler from getting a firm grip on Garrick McGee's system. With an entire offseason to prepare as the presumed starter, Brown will operate with more poise and confidence.
Strength: Two players with starting experience. While the Blazers may not house an All-Conference USA contender, it does boast two players with considerable experience. Brown is the incumbent, but the athletic Perry was believed to be the future at the position not long ago.
Weakness: Pass efficiency. In 2012, UAB was 19th nationally in passing, yet just 66th in passing efficiency. That's code for throwing for plenty of yards, but with a few too many mistakes and poor judgments. The quarterbacks are determined to improve their accuracy, while cutting down on their number of turnovers.
Outlook: There's no Joe Webb or Darrell Hackney on the roster, but the situation under center could be far worse. The Blazers now have two starting quarterbacks, one who could go on to become a four-year starter. And if Brown regresses as a sophomore, Perry is preparing as if he plans to mount a challenge this summer for the starting assignment.
Unit Rating: 5
Revelatory ... it's the only way to describe the past season of junior Darrin Reaves, the lone sure-thing on offense for UAB entering 2013. After showing hints of potential in 2011, he exploded into an All-Conference USA First Team back, rushing for 1,037 yards and 13 touchdowns on 215 carries, and catching 41 balls for 302 yards and another score. And all while navigating behind one of the nation's flimsiest offensive lines. The 5-10, 210-pound Reaves started just six games, but was virtually unstoppable for a stretch of games in the second-half of the season. He runs with ideal pad level, bouncing off tacklers for additional yards.
Backing up Reaves will be seasoned veteran Greg Franklin. The 5-11, 197-pound senior has starting experience, carrying the ball 131 times for 663 yards and four touchdowns over the course of his career. Franklin has also caught 38 passes for 522 yards and two scores, often proving to be more valuable as an outlet in the passing game.
When a fullback is employed, the staff will turn to 5-11, 220-pound senior Santonio Jones. The no-nonsense third-year transfer from Jones County (Miss.) Junior College has played sparingly up to this point in his Blazers career.
Watch Out For … Reaves to begin to attract the attention of NFL scouts. He's not the ordinary small-school back who gobbles up big numbers because of a lack of competition. No, he's the real deal, a terrific all-around back, with the ability to turn heads now that he'll begin the year as the undisputed starter.
Strength: A go-to guy. It's been a long time since the Blazers harbored a true workhorse, the kind of back who can wear out defenses, while giving his own D much needed breaks on the sidelines. Prior to last year, UAB hadn't had a running back go for more than 1,000 yards in a season since 1996.
Weakness: Support. How much better would Reaves and the reserves be if they received more help from the passing game and the front wall? Reaves and Franklin form a potent one-two punch out of the backfield, but they'll have quiet weeks when the quarterback is sloppy or the O-line isn't doing its job.
Outlook: No, it's not the ‘Bama stable of runners, but the Blazers are rather pleased with their mix of talent in the backfield. Reaves has a chance to go down as the best running back in school history, while Franklin provides a seasoned and steady injection of touches from off the bench. If QB Austin Brown keeps evolving, the UAB offense might have some punch in 2013.
Unit Rating: 6.5
Of the three wide receivers to catch at least 40 passes in 2012, only one is still in Birmingham. But it's a good one, 5-11, 190-pound senior Jackie Williams, who has led the program in receptions in each of the last two seasons. Last fall, he caught 52 balls for 799 yards and one touchdown. Williams harbors the speed and the quickness from "Z" to get behind the defense, and to turn short hitches and fly sweeps into long gains. However, he needs to be more productive in the red zone, catching just four career touchdown passes on 140 receptions.
The starter at "X" will be junior Jamarcus Nelson, UAB's top deep ball threat. At 5-11 and 160 pounds, he's ineffective in traffic, but he can get behind the opposing secondary in a hurry. In his first two seasons of action, Nelson has caught only 39 passes, but has parlayed them into 772 yards and eight touchdowns.
When the offense shows a three-wide look, 5-10, 190-pound sophomore Dequindre Adams is expected to be used in the slot, or "W" receiver. After practicing in the defensive backfield in 2012, the staff felt he'd offer more to the offense. The veteran behind Adams at "W" will be 6-3, 205-pound junior Nolen Smith who brings more of a tight end feel to the position. He was unavailable last year, but did catch 19 balls for 273 yards and two touchdowns in 2011.
The more traditional tight end role will be filled by a good one, 6-3, 258-pound junior Kennard Backman. The veteran of 17 career starts is coming off his best season in Birmingham, catching 23 balls for 235 yards and four touchdowns. Backman plays with the speed, strength and athleticism to cause serious matchup problems for opposing linebackers.
Watch Out For … the newcomers. Competition is sure to heat up in the summer, as three-star JUCO transfer DeVante Scott and Arkansas transfer Maudrecus Humphrey join the mix. Scott has the potential to be an exciting playmaker. Humphrey needs to make the most of his second chance after messing up while in Fayetteville.
Strength: Playmaking ability. The Blazers harbor a bunch of very good athletes in the receiving corps, both at wide receiver and at tight end. They boast an abundance of speed, a situation being exacerbated by the additions of Scott and Humphrey in the summer.
Weakness: Consistency. This has been a concern for the passing game over the past few seasons. 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 plays and reducing the number of dropped balls. Only then will the receivers elevate to a higher level of productivity.
Outlook: There's a decent amount of raw ability at wide receiver and tight end, which the Blazers are hoping to maximize in 2013. Williams and Nelson are quality, big-play athletes, while Backman has all-league ability. If this group can collectively get on the same page with the quarterbacks, while smoothing out some of the individual wrinkles, its numbers will head north in the fall.
Unit Rating: 5.5
The Blazers welcome back six linemen who started games in 2012, but losing all-league OT Chris Hubbard is going to hurt. Senior Kaycee Ike is prepared to take over as the veteran among the UAB tackles. The former journeyman started all 12 games a year ago, but struggled to keep quality edge rushers from flushing the quarterback from the pocket.
Youth is likely to be served at the other tackle position, where 6-6, 315-pound redshirt freshman Victor Salako has ascended to the top of the depth chart. Light on his feet and built ideally for the position, he simply needs to get on the field and to start earning valuable reps at this level.
In the middle of the line, junior Brian O'Leary is expected to take control of the opening at center. The 6-2, 290-pounder started five games in 2012, and did a nice job of run-blocking. However, four of those starts came at guard, while only one was at center.
On the interior, 6-2, 290-pound senior Billy Autrey brings considerable experience to the front wall. The third-year transfer from East Mississippi College started eight games at center in 2012, but the coaching staff feels as if he's better suited to play guard.
Joining Autrey at guard will be 6-4, 305-pound sophomore Cameron Blankenship, a returning starter. He impressed the staff a year ago, earning nine starts, while generally blocking like the kind of young player that a developing line can build around.
From off the bench, 6-2, 270-pound junior John Hix is the most experienced of the guards. Quick, nimble and heady, he picked up six starts in 2012, laying the solid foundation needed to remain firmly in the rotation.
Hix's counterpart from the sidelines at tackle is 6-3, 300-pound Aaron Green, the backup to Ike. Green came to UAB by way of Miles College in Alabama, and started five games at guard last season.
Watch Out For … Salako's ability to handle a significant promotion. Sure, the staff thinks very highly of Salako, but it's never easy to start at tackle so early in one's career. Going from Hubbard to a rookie at tackle is about as steep a drop-off as UAB could have at the position.
Strength: Run blocking. RB Darrin Reaves was terrific in 2012, ripping off 573 yards on the ground over a three-game stretch late in the year. Now, Reaves is an emerging talent out of the backfield, but the O-line deserves some of the credit for opening the wide holes that No. 5 was able to navigate.
Weakness: Pass protection. After doing such an underrated job of keeping the pocket clean in 2011, the Blazers tanked in 2012, ranking 116th nationally in sacks allowed. And that was with an-leaguer, Hubbard, playing tackle. Without Hubbard, UAB is expected to struggle again in pass protection.
Outlook: The Blazers will enter 2013 with a porous O-line, a concern for the balance of the offense. No one from this group stands out as a possible all-star this year, leaving UAB with a collection of mediocrity to create space for Reaves, and to protect QB Austin Brown. When the attack sputters, there's a very good chance that this unit is culpable.
Unit Rating: 4
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