2014 UAB Preview: What You Need To Know
UAB TE Kennard Backman
UAB TE Kennard Backman
Posted Aug 1, 2014

Preview 2014 - What You Need To Know About UAB (Getty Images)

2014 UAB Preview

What You Need To Know...

- 2014 UAB Preview  
What You Need To Know About The Offense: With the addition of coordinator Bryant Vincent to Bill Clark’s staff, the Blazers are making a gradual shift to a faster paced attack. They’ll attempt to spread the field vertically and horizontally, while still maximizing the power running skills of up-and-coming sophomore back Jordan Howard. UAB is in good shape at the skill positions, with Howard, receivers Jamarcus Nelson, Maudrecus Humphrey and Jamari Staples, and TE Kennard Backman. Quarterback and the O-line in Birmingham, however, aren’t quite as settled. Two starters must be replaced up front, including underrated LT Kaycee Ike. Those new starters in the trenches are expected to be blocking this fall for junior Cody Clements, who began his career at Washington State before transferring to Cerritos (Calif.) College. The early returns on Clements were positive at the conclusion of spring. The team has embraced its new quarterback, who brings a steady hand and veteran leadership to the huddle.

What You Need To Know About The Defense: New coordinator Duwan Walker will have his work cut out for him this season. He inherits a limited and overworked defense that ranked 121st nationally in points allowed in 2013. Walker will use more 3-4 sets this season, while employing a ‘Jack’ linebacker to rush the passer. The first priority of the defensive staff will be to make sure the Blazers know where they belong at all times, a rare occurrence last fall. UAB has all kinds of personnel and schematic problems, so there are no quick-fixes to trump hard work and an adherence to sound fundamentals. Some degree of solace can be taken from a secondary littered with returning veteran starters. S Calvin Jones is back from injury, and corners Kelton Brackett and Lamarcus Farmer were regulars a year ago. Even LB Jake Ganus has a history in the defensive backfield, which he’ll call upon on obvious passing downs.

Players You Need To Know

1. WR Jamarcus Nelson, Sr.
Very quietly, Nelson has become one of the most dangerous long ball hitters among small-school wide receivers. In his three years as a Blazer, he’s averaged just under 20 yards per reception. The 5-11, 160-pound speedster established career-highs in 2013 by catching 42 passes for 846 yards and eight touchdowns. Nelson is also a threat on special teams, as he returned a punt and a kickoff for scores last year. He’s a special talent, who’ll get a chance to audition for NFL scouts in 2015.

2. RB Jordan Howard, Soph.
Howard caught a lot of people by surprise in his first year on campus. Despite sharing the backfield with incumbent Darrin Reaves, the rookie still amassed 881 yards and two touchdowns on 145 carries. Howard started five games, hitting his peak with back-to-back 100-yard games versus Middle Tennessee and Marshall in early November. He’s a powerful 6-1, 228-pounder, who hits the hole with authority and often requires more than one tackler to drag him down. With Reaves off to the NFL, Howard ought to get 200 carries this season.

3. LB Jake Ganus, Jr.
Ganus played half the season at linebacker and half at safety, after starters went down, yet still led the Blazers with 93 tackles, eight of which were for minus yards. He had at least 10 tackles in three games, capped by a 13-tackle effort in a Nov. 16 loss to East Carolina. Ganus started his true freshman season at safety. But after bulking up considerably to 6-2 and 215 pounds, the former staff felt he could be even more effective operating from the second level.

4. DE Diaheem Watkins, Sr.
The Blazer D could use a few more players like Watkins, the team’s best pass rusher and most consistent lineman. He’s started 30 games at this level, so he brings a ton of experience into his final season of eligibility. After struggling to get out of the blocks as a sophomore, Watkins delivered his best season with the program, making 37 tackles, 7.5 stops for loss and a team-high 5.5 sacks. Even more production is expected from the 6-4, 258-pounder, with the non-stop motor.

5. WR Jamari Staples, Soph.
Just a year removed from Central (Ala.) High School, Staples is already one of the budding young stars in Birmingham. He started more games, eight, than any other UAB wide receiver in 2013, finishing second on the team with 31 receptions for 458 yards and four touchdowns. Sure, he’s still raw, and he can be jammed by physical defensive backs at the line of scrimmage. But at 6-4 and 190 pounds, Staples has the length and the fluid gait to keep blossoming into a dangerous playmaker at “Z” this season.

6. TE Kennard Blackman, Sr.
UAB needs to target Blackman more than it did a season ago. The tight end is big, a sturdy 6-3, 258-pounder, he has good hands and he’s a veteran of 25 career starts. And yet, he only caught 28 balls for 302 yards and two touchdowns in 2013. If used properly, Blackman can be a perfect complement in the passing game for QB Cody Clements, exploiting underneath routes as Jamarcus Nelson and Jamari Staples stretch out defenses.

7. CB Lamarcus Farmer, Jr.
Farmer is a classic case of a one-time walk-on who has overcome the odds. He’s been an unlikely starter in Birmingham the past two seasons, held back only by hamstring problems in 2013. Farmer started five of his seven games last season, making 34 tackles, four stops for loss and an interception during the abbreviated campaign. The speedy 5-11, 173-pounder will also impact the return game, taking a kick back 97 yards for a touchdown in last year’s opener with Troy.

8. FS Calvin Jones, Sr.
The UAB defensive backfield missed Jones, who was lost to a broken foot in Week 2. He’s back, healthy again and eager to bring his tenacity back to the D. The one-time transfer from Copiah-Lincoln (Miss.) Junior College has become a mainstay for the Blazers, playing with the reckless abandon of someone who doesn’t realize he’s just 5-10 and 187 pounds. In his best season in Birmingham, 2012, Jones registered 71 tackles, 2.5 stops for loss, a pair of fumble recoveries and a blocked kick to earn honorable mention All-Conference USA.

9. PK Ty Long, Sr.
When all else fails, there’s Long to put points on the board when the offense stalls. The senior has been showcasing his booming leg since 2011, when he connected on 16-of-19 field goal attempts. Now, the two-time All-Conference USA pick will need to rebound after uncharacteristically struggling in 2013. Long, who can reach the uprights beyond 50 yards, was only 16-of-24 on three-point attempts, including 5-of-11 outside of 40. He’s also an asset on kickoffs, and he can pitch hit at punter, if needed.

10. CB Kelton Brackett, Jr.
Now that he’s lettered in his first two seasons, including starting seven games in 2013, Brackett is hoping to defend at a higher level this fall. He was a part of secondary that was burned too often a year ago, en route to ranking 123rd nationally in pass defense. The 5-11, 186-pounder will need to rely on his athleticism and experience, while keeping the receiver in front of him. Brackett chipped in with 31 tackles, two stops for loss, a pick and a Blazer-best nine passes defended last fall.

11. DE Chris Rabb, Jr.
Rabb is a situational, undersized edge guy who the Blazers count on to energize a feeble pass rush. At only 6-0 and 220 pounds, he’s small even by the linebacker standard, but he uses his frame as an advantage to beat lumbering tackles off the snap. As a seven-game starter in 2013, the high-motor, always-intense Rabb finished the season with 35 tackles, five tackles behind the line, three sacks and a couple of fumble recoveries.

- 2014 UAB Preview