2013 UCF Preview – Offense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - UCF Offense
Preview 2013 - Offense
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What you need to know: UCF is entering a tougher defensive league armed with what might be its best offense in school history. The Knights are loaded just a year after finishing 25th nationally at more than 35 points per game. Everything begins with junior QB Blake Bortles, who's about to build on a breakthrough debut as the starter. He'll be surrounded by an assortment of playmakers, like budding feature back Storm Johnson and a stacked corps of athletic receivers comprised of Breshad Perriman, J.J. Worton and Ranell Hall. Bortles' backside will be ably protected by LT Torrian Wilson, a Second Team All-Conference USA pick in 2012. The rest of the O-line, though, is pedestrian, especially unproven C Joey Grant, the lone potential chink in the Knights' armor. If this group can hold up against American Athletic Conference competition, the attack will hum for coordinator Charlie Taaffe.
Star of the offense: Junior QB Blake Bortles
Passing: Blake Bortles
251-399, 3,059 yds, 25 TDs, 7 INTs
Rushing: Storm Johnson
113 carries, 507 yds, 4 TDs
Receiving: J.J. Worton
44 catches, 594 yds, 5 TDs
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore C Joey Grant
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore WR Breshad Perriman
Best pro prospect: Bortles
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Bortles, 2) Junior LT Torrian Wilson, 3) Junior RB Storm Johnson
Strength of the offense: Quarterback, running back, depth and talent of receivers, protecting the ball, third-down conversions, red-zone conversions
Weakness of the offense: Center, line depth, backfield depth
It's taken a very long time, but the Knights believe they finally have their first franchise quarterback since Daunte Culpepper graduated in 1998. Strong-armed junior Blake Bortles seized complete control of the job a year ago, sharpening his overall game en route to a Second Team All-Conference USA campaign. He steadily improved throughout the season, finishing 251-of-399 for 3,059 yards, 25 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Bortles is surprisingly agile and light on his feet for a 6-4, 227-pounder, rushing for 285 yards and eight more scores. Oh, and his school-record streak of 174 passes without a pick will remain alive when the 2013 season begins. As the competition improves in the Big East, Bortles will rapidly begin ascending toward a probable career in the NFL.
The program likes its backup situation now that 6-0, 195-pound junior Tyler Gabbert enters his second year with the program. The younger brother of Jacksonville Jaguars QB Blaine Gabbert was a coveted four-star recruit from the 2010 class, but decided to transfer shortly after signing with Missouri. He played sparingly in seven games, failing to get the reps needed to showcase his accuracy and athleticism to blow past Calabrese and compete with Bortles.
Watch Out For .... the challenge from the rookies. If Gabbert leaves the door open, one of two true freshmen, Justin Holman or Pete DiNovo is liable to walk through it. Holman, in particular, showed outstanding poise and arm strength in his first spring with the Knights.
Strength: Bortles. Boy, did No. 5 turn the corner on two wheels last season or what? The junior is the real deal for UCF, the total package at a position that puts a premium on strong-armed, athletic quarterbacks. Best of all, he's just one season into his evolution as the Knights' leader on offense.
Weakness: Footwork. Bortles is the first to admit that his footwork was sloppy at times last season. The good news is that he has a tremendous work ethic, and is always striving to improve his fundamentals. The concern is that one year might not be enough time for him to perfect such an important element to his delivery.
Outlook: Head coach George O'Leary plans to air it out a little more than usual this season. Who'd blame him? In Bortles, he has access to one of the fastest rising young quarterbacks in America. Throw in a seasoned corps of receivers, and the UCF passing attack is liable to take the American Athletic Conference by storm in 2013. If Bortles evolves even remotely the way he did in 2012, he might be compelled to consider early entry into the 2014 NFL Draft. Yup, he's that talented.
After being resigned to the role of Latavius Murray's caddy for much of 2012, junior Storm Johnson is poised to assume the feature assignment out of the backfield this fall. In his debut in Orlando, the Miami transfer flashed his potential by rushing for 507 yards and four touchdowns on 113 carries. At 6-1 and 217 pounds, he's a punishing runner, with the quickness and cutback ability to break loose from traffic and into the secondary. Since defenses must respect the passing of Blake Bortles, the table is set for Johnson to emerge as one of the most productive power runners in the Big East this season.
Brynn Harvey also graduated, leaving sophomore Cedric Thompson as the new No. 2 out of the backfield. The powerful 6-0, 227-pounder carried the ball 13 times for 62 yards and a touchdown, and plans to bring the kind of north-south running style to the backfield that will be most beneficial in short yardage situations.
Watch Out For .... Johnson to quickly become a household name in American Athletic Conference circles. The former Cane has it all, including a mature and prolific passing attack that'll make it impossible for opposing defenses to fixate on No. 8 and the rest of the ground troops.
Strength: Complementary running styles. In Johnson, UCF will feature a big-play, multi-tool runner who can hurt defenses in a number of different ways. Thompson gives the Knights a bruiser, the likes of which can be used to soften defenses and pick up tough yards. When paired together, the duo gives the offense options, depending upon the situation.
Weakness: Depth. The Knights have grown accustomed to being flush with veteran running backs, but that will not be the case this year. Johnson is a worthy candidate to carry the load in the fall, but Thompson has played sparingly, and behind the sophomore are a slew of teammates with even less relevant experience in Orlando.
Outlook: A star is about to be born out of the UCF backfield. Johnson is ready for the spotlight now that the opportunity to carry the ball at least 20 times a game is presenting itself. After getting a healthy taste of action in 2012, he's ready for the full course meal, which could include 1,000 yards on the ground and postseason honors. It will be imperative to keep No. 8 healthy, because the Knights are light on viable options behind him if an injury does occur.
Budding QB Blake Bortles is still in Orlando. So are last year's top three pass-catchers. Junior J.J. Worton is the Knights' leading returning receiver, having caught 44 passes for 594 yards and five touchdowns a year ago. The 6-2, 209-pound former walk-on has forged a nice bond with Bortles over the past two seasons, earning the respect and confidence of his quarterback. An ideal complement to his speedy teammates on the outside, Worton is a tough, sure-handed pass-catcher, who has no aversions to working the middle of the field. His enthusiasm and fiery style of play can become contagious to his fellow Knights.
Arguably the hottest receiver toward the end of last year was 6-2, 209-pound sophomore Breshad Perriman. As a rookie, the son of former Miami Hurricane and NFL receiver Brett Perriman caught 26 passes for 388 yards and three touchdowns, saving his best play for November and December. He's mature beyond his years, with the ball skills and the fundamentals to go from a backup in 2012 to the team's top target this fall.
In three-wide sets, the Knights will continue to use 5-11, 187-pound senior Jeff Godfrey, the one-time starting quarterback in Orlando. He's adjusted well to his new position, using his field awareness and quickness to beat defenders. In 2012, he caught 39 passes for 429 yards and three touchdowns, ran for 70 yards and threw a couple of touchdown passes.
Worton brings the steady. Junior Rannell Hall brings the spectacular. While he only caught 35 passes a season ago, those receptions resulted in 631 yards and four touchdowns. He's one of UCF's big-play guys in the passing game, a fleet-footed 6-2, 195-pounder out of Miami. Hall has become increasingly more comfortable within the offense, and more skilled as a complete receiver. Bortles is capable of reaching a streaking No. 6, which should mean a handful of long-ball hookups this fall.
The passing game houses an artillery of quality receivers, and the tight ends aren't too shabby either. Athletic Justin Tukes earned honorable mention All-Conference USA in 2012, catching 10 balls for 107 yards and two scores. The long and lean 6-5, 248-pounder can create matchup problems for linebackers, giving Blake Bortles a dangerous target down the seam.
Besides Hall, UCF's best wide receiver off the bench will be 6-1, 181-pound junior Josh Reese. He's been surpassed on the depth chart by younger players, but has played a lot of quality football for the Knights. A year after pulling in 30 balls for 461 yards and a touchdown, he made 11 catches for 122 yards last season.
Watch Out For .... Perriman to take a big step forward in his development. His progress became increasingly obvious as 2012 wound down. Now that he's had an additional offseason to work on his fundamentals and his chemistry with QB Blake Bortles, he's capable of blossoming into UCF's best weapon on the outside. Perriman's five-catch, 90-yard effort in the Beef ‘O' Brady's Bowl could be a harbinger of things to come.
Strength: Options. A year after being wrought with uncertainty, the receiving corps, including tight ends, is flush with depth, talent and athleticism. UCF has four different players who might lead the team in catches on a given week, which will make it very difficult for opposing defenses to keep this unit under wraps.
Weakness: Consistency. Perriman is still young. Godfrey is still learning. And Hall can be a little inconsistent on a week-in, week-out basis. The receivers are better than they were a year ago, but they're going to make the kinds of mistakes, such as drops and poor routes, that the group still might be a year away.
Outlook: UCF has been building to this point over the last couple of seasons. Young and raw in the past, the Knights are now poised to become one of the deepest and most dangerous ensembles in the conference. Perriman, Tukes and Hall are on the tarmac, and Worton and Godfrey are steady complements on intermediate routes. The growth of the receivers parallels that of Bortles, exciting news for the UCF passing attack.
If the UCF O-line is going to effectively navigate the challenges of a new and tougher league, it'll do so with two new starters up front. The star of the three returning starters is 6-4, 308-pound LT Torrian Wilson. The junior elevated from the Conference USA All-Freshman Team in 2011 to the Conference USA Second Team last fall. The former top recruit has made tremendous strides as a run blocker and a pass protector, positioning himself for an NFL run with a strong second half to his Knights career. Wilson has also become a student of the game, putting in the time needed to become a complete blocker.
At right tackle will be 6-5, 282-pound senior Chris Martin, who started games at both tight end and tackle in 2012. He's a terrific all-around athlete at the position, but still needs to improve his footwork and his fundamentals as a pocket protector. Martin has never had as much responsibility as he will in 2013.
LG Jordan McCray is looking to build on last season, in which he earned honorable mention All-Conference USA for his work. The 6-4, 309-pound senior delivered a solid debut in the starting lineup, playing left and right guard, showcasing the strength and hands needed to open holes for the backs.
McCray will once again be flanked at right guard by his identical twin brother, 6-4, 308-pound Justin McCray. The senior began the year at right tackle, starting the first seven games, before closing the year at right guard. He's better suited for the interior, where he'll spend his final season as a Knight.
The youngest member of the UCF O-line will be 6-8, 280-pound sophomore Joey Grant. Not only will he have the responsibility of playing the all-important pivot in Orlando, but he's also learning a new position after playing defensive tackle as a rookie. He has game experience, which is a plus, but the learning curve is going to be predictably steep in this first season on offense.
Watch Out For .... Grant's continuing adjustment to playing on offense. He's practiced well enough to stay ahead of sophomore Tarik Cook, but that doesn't necessarily mean he's ready to face the likes of Louisville and Rutgers. While strides were made in April, they must continue in August.
Strength: North-south run blocking. The Knights are most effective when plowing forward, creating daylight for one of the running backs. With Wilson at left tackle and the McCray twins at guard, UCF can outmuscle opposing linemen with sheer determination and upper body strength.
Weakness: Center. Arguments can be made for left tackle, but the pivot is the most important position on the O-line. It's the center who calls out signals, makes reads and is the quarterback of the group. That guy in Orlando is a converted sophomore defensive tackle, with just a handful of snaps at the college level.
Outlook: With the exception of Wilson, who might play on Sundays in two years, UCF is home to a blue-collar collection of blockers that just aims to get the job done. They'll succeed on most weekends, but will also give way to the better front sevens on the schedule. There won't be much margin for error for the unit; the center and the right tackle played different positions in 2012, and the backups are as green as the BrightHouse Networks Stadium turf.
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