2013 Memphis Preview – Offense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Memphis Tiger Offense
Preview 2013 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: The offense, led by head coach Justin Fuente and coordinator Darrell Dickey, made modest strides in 2012. The goal is to further that trend this fall. Many of last season’s starters return, including QB Jacob Karam who was a steadying influence in his first year removed from Texas Tech. The focal point, though, figures to be senior RB Brandon Hayes, the second-year JUCO transfer who wrapped up his debut with back-to-back 100-yard games. After lacking pop and the ability to stretch the field last fall, the Tigers are counting on fleet-footed receivers Keiwone Malone and Joe Craig of Alabama and Clemson, respectively, to provide occasional flashes of electricity. The program’s biggest concern involves a mediocre O-line that’s long on youth and short on anchors. The developing unit, more than any other, will get a crash course on life in a tougher league.
Star of the offense: Senior RB Brandon Hayes
Pa D Passing: Jacob Karam
164-256, 1,733 yds, 12 TDs, 3 INTs
Rushing: Brandon Hayes
99 carries, 461 yds, 4 TDs
Receiving: Keiwone Malone
44 catches, 476 yds, 3 TDs
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore LT Taylor Fallin
Unsung star on the rise: Junior WR Joe Craig
Best pro prospect: Hayes
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Hayes, 2) Junior WR Keiwone Malone, 3) Sophomore TE Alan Cross
Strength of the offense: Veteran quarterback, backfield depth, tight ends, picks
Weakness of the offense: Explosive plays, wide receivers, O-line, red-zone scoring, third-down conversions, fumbles
For the first time in a while, the Tigers return a
starter at quarterback, senior Jacob Karam.
The Texas Tech transfer was steady in his debut in
The River City, completing 176-of-274 passes for
1,895 yards, 14 touchdowns and three interceptions.
He was also a threat outside the pocket, rushing for
221 yards and a score on 101 carries, a level of
production deflated by sacks. The 6-0, 205-pound
Karam is a heady quarterback, who manages the game
with a minimum of mistakes. He improved with his
accuracy and decision-making , trends expected to
continue in 2013.
Redshirt freshman Paxton Lynch
has won the backup job, playing as if he plans on
being the future at the position. The 6-6,
225-pounder from Deltona, Fla. has ideal size and
arm strength for a pro-style hurler. The ideal
situation would be for Lynch to earn enough snaps
this season to feel comfortable holding the job in
Watch Out For … Karam to build on his first season with the program. The
former Red Raider made noticeable strides in 2012,
getting more comfortable with his coaches and his
personnel. With another full offseason to better
acclimated, his timing with the receivers figures to
be better, positively impacting the entire passing
Strength: Accuracy. No, Karam doesn’t harbor a rifle, but the accuracy
with which he displays makes his receiving corps
more effective. A year ago, he completed 64.2% of
his throws, establishing a new single-season Memphis
mark, and was picked off just three times. On short
and intermediate routes, Karam is rarely going to be
Weakness: The long ball. Yeah, Karam will throw darts from short
range, but he lacks the arm strength to stretch out
opposing defenses. The Tigers ranked No. 10 in
Conference USA in yards per completion, rarely
generating the kinds of quick strikes that result in
two or three-play scoring drives. If Karam can’t
threaten deep, defenses have less real estate to
Outlook: While facing Big East competition this year presents a much
taller challenge for the Tiger passing game, Karam
is in many ways an ideal candidate for the job.
Yeah, he has limitations, but he’s also poised,
doesn’t make a lot of mistakes and won’t force
throws into traffic. He’s on board as a quarterback
and as a mentor, creating a bridge until the kids
are ready to take over in 2014.
Unit Rating: 5.5
Although it took almost an entire season, Memphis finally mined a running back it can build a ground game around, senior Brandon Hayes. An afterthought at the beginning of his debut out of Scottsdale (Ariz.) Community College, he wound up rushing for a team-high 576 yards and six scores on 118 carries. Even better, he was at his best in November, running for 242 yards and five touchdowns in the final two games. The compact 5-8, 205-pounder runs hard between the tackles, and has just enough wiggle to make the first defender miss in the hole.
Behind Hayes is 5-11, 225-pound Jai Steib, a bigger and stronger version of the team’s starter. Steib, too, is a senior who did some nice things in his rookie year out of the JUCO level, College of the Desert in California. The between-the-tackles bruiser and short-yardage option carried the ball 119 times for 427 yards and six touchdowns.
Watch Out For … Hayes to pick up where he left off late last season. As the newcomer got comfortable, he ran with an increasing amount of confidence and authority. Unless the O-line proves utterly powerless versus Big East fronts, No. 38 has the momentum and running style to give the Tigers a 1,000-yard rusher in 2013.
Strength: Powerful backs. Not only will Hayes soften the interior of opposing defenses, but Steib will as well. Both of last year’s top rushers are physical, north-south backs who won’t easily go down upon contact. In short yardage situations, Memphis ought to pick up the first down more times than it comes up short.
Weakness: Big plays. For the second straight year, Memphis struggled to spring its running backs, the product of mediocre blocking and methodical backs. Not only did the Tigers average only 3.7 yards per carry, but since the beginning of 2011, just three of their last 867 carries have produced more than 31 yards.
Outlook: The Tigers’ running game is in its best shape in years, maybe as far back as 2005, when DeAngelo Williams was still on campus. Based on last year’s finish, Hayes is capable of contending for all-league attention, and Steib will be a bruising complement from off the bench. Memphis will again labor to rip off long runs, but should do a decent job of controlling the clock of the ground.
Unit Rating: 5.5
Marcus Rucker has graduated from the receiving corps. It’s time for junior Keiwone Malone to enter the spotlight. The Alabama transfer, who was suspended by Nick Saban in June of 2011, caught 44 passes for 476 yards and three touchdowns in his first season with the Tigers. He was also suspended by Justin Fuente last March, so the team’s “X” receiver must show growth on and off the field in 2013. While just 5-11 and 155 pounds, Malone has the jets and the acceleration to take Jacob Karam’s short tosses and turn them into long gains.
Taking the lead at “Z” receiver is 6-2, 205-pound sophomore Tevin Jones. He lettered a year ago, making 10 catches for 165 yards and a touchdown, while rushing 10 times for 32 yards and another score. Jones is still raw in his fundamentals, but flashes the size and gait to deliver sparkplug plays in the passing game.
In the slot, or “S” receiver, junior Joe Craig has seized the lead role in his first year out of Copiah-Lincoln (Miss.) Community College. The 5-11, 175-pound speedster, who began his career at Clemson, performed in the spring as if he’s capable of giving the passing game the playmaker it covets. He has the jets to spring through the secondary, and can turn short hitches into chunk yards.
At tight end, sophomore Alan Cross is about to become a fixture in the passing attack. The one-time walk-on played like anything but a non-scholarship athlete in his debut, catching 23 balls for 301 yards and a team-high five touchdowns. At 6-1 and 235 pounds, he lacks prototypical tight end size, but has soft hands, and shows a knack for locating the soft zones in opposing defenses.
The Tigers are thin in experience from the bench, counting just a couple of reserves who lettered last season. Behind Malone, blue-collar 5-11, 180-pound sophomore Mose Frazier is eligible after transferring from Arkansas-Pine Bluff. Keeping Jones motivated at “Z” is 6-2, 205-pound rookie Daniel Hurd now that his redshirt season is in the rear view mirror. Providing Memphis with unexpected depth at tight end is 6-3, 255-pound senior Jesse Milleson, who hauled in 10 passes for 98 yards and three touchdowns as a part-time starter in last year’s first season out of Glendale (Ariz.) Community College.
Watch Out For … Craig to pay immediate dividends. He’s fast, elusive and gifted enough to earn an offer from Dabo Swinney four years ago. The junior is the perfect antidote for a corps of receivers looking for a splash of electricity. The Tigers will look to immediately incorporate his speed, using him on slants, dump-offs and wide receiver screens.
Strength: Tight end. Memphis boasts a pair of tight ends, or “Y” receivers who are capable of starting on this offense. Neither Cross nor Milleson is a field-stretcher, but modest foot speed couldn’t keep the duo from producing eight touchdown catches on 33 receptions.
Weakness: Proven wide receivers. Rucker leaves a sizable void on the outside that Malone and Jones will attempt to fill. The latter is raw, while the former is an inconsistent 155-pounder who might not be go-to guy material. It’s a good thing that the Tigers have reliable options inside, because they could hit-or-miss on the outside this fall.
Outlook: The pass-catchers form a group that’ll deliver flashes of occasional brilliance mixed with drops and poorly-run routes. This unit, especially the wide receivers, is short on consistency. For Malone, Craig and even Jones, the ceiling is high, and the big plays ought to come with more regularity. However, the trio, plus the steady tight ends, needs to deliver on a week-in, week-out basis.
Unit Rating: 5
From an O-line that played marginally well in 2012, Memphis welcomes back five players who started games. The key departure, Second Team All-Conference USA LT Jordan Devey, is being replaced by enormous sophomore Taylor Fallin, who cut his teeth with a pair of starts in his rookie year. The 6-6, 330-pounder has the right physical makeup for success as a pass protector, now needing to fine-tune his fundamentals and technique before facing Big East pass rushers.
Forming a bookend with Fallin from right tackle will be 6-4, 300-pound junior Al Bond, the versatile Tiger who has started 19 games over the last two seasons. He played every game in 2012, playing on more snaps than any other program lineman. He’s athletic and light on his feet, a plus when the offense is in pass formation.
Senior Antonio Foster showcased his flexibility in last year’s debut out of Northeast Mississippi Community College , starting 11 games, five at right guard and the final six at center. The 6-3, 300-pounder, who began his college career at Georgia Tech, will remain at center, continuing what he started in 2012.
On the interior, the unlikely veteran among the guards is 6-3, 280-pound sophomore Micah Simmons, the team’s starter on the right side. He cracked the lineup in three of the final four games as a true freshman out of Lindale (Tex.) High School, earning reps that’ll greatly benefit his transition to a full-timer this year.
Over at left guard, the Tigers look as if they’ll be going with a novice, 6-2, 285-pound redshirt freshman Sam Thomas. The local product has added 10 pounds since the end of last season in anticipation of making the leap from scout team member to key cog in the starting lineup.
Memphis lack experience off the bench. In fact, 6-2, 285-pound C Michael Stannard is the only second-teamer with a letter on his resume. The staff is hopeful that junior Kevin McIntyre, a 6-4, 310-pound transfer from Butte (Calif.) College, can have an instant impact at one of the guard positions.
Watch Out For … how well Fallin handles his promotion. Not only will there be an inevitable drop-off from Devey to a newcomer to the lineup, but the Tigers will also be playing in a league that houses better edge rushers than were seen in Conference USA. It promises to be a challenging year for Fallin, who’ll get a crash course in pocket protection.
Strength: Run blocking. While the unit did have its issues at times last year, it can also take some credit for the strong finish on the ground from Brandon Hayes. The back rushed for 242 yards and five scores over the final two games, enjoying sizable holes from an O-line bringing back a handful of starters.
Weakness: The left side. Not only might Fallin be rather vulnerable in his first season as the blindside protector, but the guard next to him, Thomas, is still just a redshirt freshman. Depth is going to be a concern, and without Devey, this unit is missing a true bellwether blocker who the backs can run behind with complete confidence.
Outlook: Yeah, Memphis held up pretty well in the trenches in Conference USA, but the Big East will present a very different challenge. Even worse, the Tigers will begin the new challenge without last season’s top performer. This is a marginal, pedestrian overall group whose shortage of depth and all-star caliber blockers is likely to encroach upon the offense’s quest for improvement in 2013.
Unit Rating: 4.5
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