What you need to know ...
Nine starters return including four on the line, QB Reggie
Ball, and possible all-everything receiver Calvin Johnson. Now
there has to be more production after averaging a mere 349 yards
and 18.5 points per game. This wasn't an explosive attack
relying on a steady running game and the stout defense to win
games, but that needs to change a bit. The first order of
business is to find a second receiver to take the pressure off
Johnson, and Ball, who isn't the most accurate passer around,
can't lock in on his number one target on every pass play.
Replacing top runner P.J. Daniels won't be hard with Tashard
Choice and Rashaun Grant sure to shine behind a line that'll be
among the ACC's best.
Passing: Reggie Ball
182-379, 2,165 yds, 11 TD, 12 INT
Rushing: Tashard Choice
117 carries, 513 yds, 6 TD
Receiving: Calvin Johnson
54 catches, 888 yds, 6 TD
Star of the offense: Junior WR Calvin Johnson
Player that has to step up and become a star: Sophomore
WR James Johnson
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore TE Colin Peek
Best pro prospect: Calvin Johnson
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Johnson, 2) OT Andrew
Gardner, 3) QB Reggie Ball
Strength of the offense: Offensive line
Weakness of the offense:
Number two receiver
It's a good situation with Reggie Ball the unquestioned
starter, unlike last year, and three promising backups who'll
get as many reps as possible to prepare for next year and to
sort out the pecking order. Ball finds ways to pull out wins,
but consistency is his issue. He'll never be a big passer like
backups Taylor Bennett, Kyle Manley and Jonathan Greer are, but
he has a spark that makes things happen when they absolutely
have to. Bennett is the likely number two going into the season
with Jonathan Garner a top prospect battling scout teamer Kyle
The key to the unit: Get Reggie Ball's completion
percentage to close to 60% while finding meaningful playing time
for the three good reserves.
Quarterback Rating: 7.5
- Reggie Ball, Sr. - 182-379, 48%, 2,165 yds, 11 TD, 12
INT, 104 carries, 381 yds, 4 TD
Ball is going into his fourth year as the starter in one of the
strangest careers in recent memory. He's small, inconsistent,
locks onto one receiver way too often, throws way too many
interceptions, and has a career completion percentage of under
50%, but he has a knack for leading the team to wins in big
games and often makes up for his struggles with an
out-of-his-hat game-changing play that saves the day. How many
quarterbacks can say they beat Auburn at Auburn and Miami at
Miami in the same season? It's his offense to run meaning he has
to be a better decision maker and a consistent leader who pulls
off wins against the average teams along with the really good.
- Taylor Bennett, Soph. - 14-37, 38%, 145 yds, 1 TD,
5 carries, 22 yds
The left-hander stepped up when Reggie Ball was sick and led the
team to a win over Connecticut. He wasn't sharp completing 11 of
30 passes, but he threw for 142 yards and a touchdown. He's a
big passer with great zip on his passes and a little bit of
mobility. Around the program for more than two years, he knows
what he's doing.
- Kyle Manley, Soph.
Mostly known as the holder for the kicking game and the scout
team quarterback, the 6-2 sophomore is a good passer who's
getting every chance to work his way up and challenge for the
number two job. He'll likely be the third man in the mix looking
to develop enough to be in the starting discussion in 2007.
- Jonathan Garner, RFr.
The lefty was a high-profile recruit with the size, arm, and
talent to grow into the starter ... next year. He needs more
reps and has to be more consistent in practice, but he has all
Losing P.J. Daniels hurts, but there
are good prospects ready to keep the ground game going led by
Tashard Choice, last year's second leading rusher. While he
might not have the speed or talent of Daniels, he's a workhorse
back who'll keep the offense moving. He'll face stiff
competition from Rashaun Grant, who got bigger and stronger this
off-season after having problems with injuries over his first
few seasons. The hope is for true freshman
Jamaal Evans to provide a spark as a reserve. Mike Cox is
emerging as a strong fullback.
The key to the unit: Keeping Rashaun Grant healthy
and getting close to five yards per carry out of Tashard Choice.
Running Back Rating: 7
- Tashard Choice, Jr. - 117 carries, 573 yds, 4.4 ypc, 6
TD, 14 catches, 185 yds, 2 TD
The former Oklahoma transfer finished second on the team in
rushing and led the way with six touchdown runs. He ranked out a
107-yard day against Duke, but his big splash came with a
workmanlike 29-carry, 84-yard day in the win over Miami. He's a
big, smart, back who isn't going to do anything special, but
will keep the offense moving while growing into a leader for the
- Fullback Mike Cox, Jr. - 13 catches, 72 yds
Only used as a blocker and an occasional receiver, the 245-pound
junior grew into the starting role last season and now has the
potential to be special. He's a tough, bruising lead man with
reliable enough hands to be a go-to receiver on third downs.
He'll do more for the offense this year.
- Rashaun Grant, Jr. - 10 carries, 44 yds, 4.4 ypc
A speed back who's great when he gets to the outside, the 5-10,
200-pound junior has to figure out how to stay healthy after
getting knocked out in each of the last two seasons. That should
be less of a problem after bulking up this off-season. He has the
hands to eventually become a dangerous receiver and can be
physical when he has to, but his game is about quickness and a
burst to try to make things happen.
- Loyall Gause, Soph.
The clear third man in the mix, Gause is a small, but powerful
back at 5-9 and 210 pounds. He was dinged up a bit this spring
but is expected to be a key back to keep the top two starters
fresh this fall.
- Jamaal Evans, Fr.
Evans will get every chance to see playing time after enrolling
early this spring. The 5-8, 191-pound quick back ran for over
6,300 yards and 67 touchdowns at Irving High School in Texas.
- Fullback Justin Guadagni, Soph.
Smaller than starter Mike Cox, the 235-pound sophomore has yet
to see any time after learning the job. He was a high school
linebacker who'll compete with Matt Kamp for the backup role.
There's Calvin Johnson and, uh, Calvin
Johnson. While James Johnson is a decent prospect, there's
nothing to count on as a second receiver to keep defenses from
throwing everything in the bag at the future top draft pick.
Seniors Chris Dunlap and Xavier McGuire haven't done much so far
in their careers and will likely be lapped the second Martin
Frierson, Greg Smith and Andrew Smith are ready for more work.
The tight end situation is solid with George Cooper a reliable
starter, Michael Matthews a too-big backup, and Colin Peek a
future All-ACC candidate waiting in the wings.
The key to the unit: Finding a number two receiver to
make defenses pay for all they'll do to stop Calvin Johnson.
Receiver Rating: 7.5
- Calvin Johnson, Jr. - 54 catches, 888 yds, 16.4 ypc, 6 TD
While his numbers slipped after a record-setting freshman
season, the 6-4, 235-pound Johnson became a more complete
receiver and stopped relying solely on his ridiculous talents to get by. He figured out how to be more physical and
use his strength and size more to his advantage and showed
better route running ability. Now he has to be an even more
polished route runner and do a better job of being open despite
being the focus of every defensive gameplan. If he's the
be-all-end-all pro prospect he's supposed to be, he has be a
7-10 catch per game receiver no matter what.
- James Johnson, Soph. - 14 catches, 185 yds, 13.2 ypc, 2
Johnson finished third on the team in receiving and now has to
take advantage of all the attention paid to Calvin Johnson.
James will see single coverage all season long needing to use
his quickness to find the openings underneath and make plays
once the ball is in his hands.
- Tight end George Cooper, Sr. - 8 catches, 92 yds, 11.5
ypc, 1 TD
Cooper will have to fight to keep the starting job, but he'll
end up being used more as a receiver after turning into a decent
target over the last four games of last year. He's 6-5 and 260
pounds and is able to use it to fight for passes. He's also a
- Chris Dunlap, Sr. - 2 catches, 22 yds
One of the team's top special teams players, Dunlap will fight
for playing time behind James Johnson. He has only four catches
in three seasons and has to show that his overall experience and
great hands can
mean more passes his way.
- Xavier McGuire, Sr. - 2 catches, 6 yds
Is this the year McGuire finally becomes a player? He's 6-4 and
215 pounds with decent speed, but he only has six catches in
three seasons. He'll start out pushing for time as a third
receiver backing up Calvin Johnson and should get plenty of work
after seeing more reps than normal this spring.
- Martin Frierson, RFr.
At 6-2 and 200 pounds, Frierson is a good-sized, physical
receiver who should push Chris Dunlap out of a number two spot
sooner rather than later. He was a good scout teamer last season
showing enough promise to allow the coaching staff to move Pat
Clark to defensive back.
- Tight end Michael Matthews, Sr. - 4 catches, 48 yds, 12
The 270-pound senior is a huge target, and that's not
necessarily a good thing. The coaching staff would rather see
him a bit lighter to stay healthy and to take advantage of
his good hands and athleticism as a
- Tight end Colin Peek, Soph.
The 6-6, 260-pound Peek saw time as a true freshman but didn't
catch a pass. He's a very talented prospect who could take over
the starting role by midseason if he plays up to his potential.
Four starters return to what became one of the ACC's best
lines last season giving up a mere ten sacks and helping to crank out
over 1,800 rushing yards. Part of the reason for the success in pass
protection was the mobility of QB Reggie Ball, but the line really did
turn out to be good. The one new starter is massive Mansfield Wrotto,
who's finally able to move over from the defensive side to start at
right tackle. Depth is a bit of an issue needing several sophomores to
become steady contributors right away.
The key to the unit: Keep improving and hope for more
all of last season's first year starters to take another step up.
Offensive Line Rating: 8.5
- OT Andrew Gardner, Soph.
Gardner bulked up to 290 pounds and became a Freshman All-ACC blocker.
Now the coaching staff wants him to keep getting bigger. He's a
tremendous athlete for his size and is expected to be in the hunt for
All-America honors over the next few seasons as he keeps progressing at
- OG Matt Rhodes, Jr.
Rhodes might not be a special all-around blocker, but he's great for the
ground game and is more than steady with 20 straight starts at left
guard. He was a steady force on the line last year when it needed one
- C Kevin Tuminello, Jr.
An ankle problem kept him out of the mix early on last off-season, and
then he took over the starting job in the opener and never gave it up.
He's a smart, Academic All-ACC anchor in the middle.
- OG Nate McManus, Jr.
One of the team's most versatile linemen, the 295-pound junior can play
center if needed. He'll get the start at right guard for the second
- OT Mansfield Wrotto, Sr.
The 310-pound senior has been one of the team's better defensive tackles
over the last three seasons with 32 starts and 45 career tackles. He was
supposed to play on the offensive side last season but was needed back
on defense after injuries struck. With his size he's able to play guard
if needed and has the athleticism to be a dominant right tackle.
- T/G Jacob Lonowski, Soph
The 290-pound sophomore is a vital, versatile reserve at both guard and
tackle as the top backup on the right side. He has been around long
enough to step in and start at either spot if needed.
- T A.J. Smith, Soph.
The former defensive lineman hasn't quite filled out his 6-7 frame, but
the 280-pound sophomore is a good prospect who'll be counted on to grow
into a steady reserve on the left side behind Andrew Gardner.
- G LeShawn Newberry, Soph.
Mostly a special teamer so far, Newberry will be the top
backup on the left side behind Matt Rhodes. Even though he's only 6-0,
he's the team's biggest offensive lineman at 320 pounds.