Middle Tennessee Preview 2006 - Offense

Posted Aug 8, 2006

Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders Preview 2006 - MTSU Offense

What you need to know ... The offense wasn't consistent and struggled mightily to get the running game going. Expect more balance and more pop all the way around after averaging a mere 308 yards and 19 points per game. The goal will be to use several different formations in a wide-open attack relying on the decision making abilities of the quarterback. That's a positive considering Clint Marks is back for his third year under center. Eugene Gross leads a decent group of small, quick backs who should do better behind an improved line.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Clint Marks
197-228, 2,083 yds, 8 TD, 7 INT
Rushing: Eugene Gross
182 carries, 724 yds, 13 TD
Receiving: Eugene Gross
33 catches, 277 yds, 1 TD

Star of the offense: Senior QB Clint Marks
Player that has to step up and become a star: Senior WR Pierre Ingram
Unsung star on the rise: Redshirt freshman WR Jay Robinson
Best pro prospect: Sophomore OT Germayle Franklin
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Marks, 2) WR Bobby Williams, 3) Franklin
Strength of the offense: Experience, quarterback
Weakness of the offense:
Power runner, offensive line consistency

Clint Marks is a great fit for the new offense with his experience and accuracy. If he's not the Sun Belt's best quarterback, he's number two. The real interest is at the number two spot where top prospect Joe Craddock will finally get to shine after missing all of last year. Patrick Jackson has been around long enough to be a competent backup.
The key to the unit: Clint Marks has to play like a veteran leader and carry the new offense, while Joe Craddock needs meaningful playing time to be ready for 2007.
Quarterback Rating: 6

Projected Starter
- Clint Marks, Sr. - 197-298, 66%, 2,083 yds, 8 TD, 7 INT, 2 rushing touchdowns
The left-handed senior has been a good starter for the last two seasons with 21 straight starts, 29 career touchdown passes and 5,425 passing yards. He didn't bomb away last year like he did in 2004 thanks to a more balanced offense, but he certainly has no problems throwing it as much as needed. Even though he has thrown 24 career interceptions, the key to his game is accuracy completing 68% of his throws. He should thrive in the wide-open new offense.

Top Backups
- Patrick Jackson, Jr.
A decent passer who knows the system, his practice experience and his decision making will have to be enough to keep Joe Craddock out of the number two spot. While not a great runner, he's mobile.
- Joe Craddock, Soph.
Considered the star of the future, Craddock was battling Clint Marks for the starting spot last year before getting hurt. He has a great arm and far more mobility than Marks. Now he needs playing time and the experience to become the main man next year.

Running Backs
It's not going to be a big-time ground attack, but it should be better even without a true power back. There wasn't much of a running game last year with Eugene Gross carrying almost the entire load, and now there needs to be more balance after averaging 110 yards per game. Gross, Demarco McNair and Alex Suber are all able to catch as well as run. Suber is back after missing most of last year with a knee injury, while McNair returns after missing the season due to academic problems.
The key to the unit: Eugene Gross needs to average closer to five yards per carry. Demarco McNair and Alex Suber have to stay on the field to provide more options.
Running Back Rating: 5

Projected Starters
- Eugene Gross. Sr. - 182 carries, 724 yds, 4 ypc, 13 TD, 33 catches, 277 yds, 8.4 ypc, 1 TD
The leading rusher over the last three seasons is a shifty 5-9 and 208 pounds with great hands. He tore up Sun Belt teams last season highlighted by a four touchdown day against Florida Atlantic and a three score performance against UL Monroe. While he's not going to power over anyone, he's great in the open field and should flourish in the Rick Stockstill offense.

- Fullback Hunter Birtsch, Jr. - 1 catch, 6 yds
The former walk-on is purely a blocker who'll see a little more offensive work this year now that he has the full-time starting gig taking over for Nick McAfee. He's 244 pounds and should be a big boost for the ground game.

Top Backups
- Demarco McNair, Jr.
Back after missing all of last year due to an academic issue, the 188-pound junior averaged 5.3 yards per carry in 2004 and turned into a good runner by the end of his freshman season. He's an even quicker back than Eugene Gross.
- Alex Suber, Soph. - 16 carries, 55 yds, 3.5 ypc, 4 catches 28 yds
Suber started to look like a potential top playmaker for the offense before getting knocked out in the third game of the season with a knee injury. He's like a smaller version of Eugene Gross.
- Fullback Josh Dutton, Sr.
A scout teamer so far, the 230-pound senior will battle with walk-ons Anthony Smith and Spike McDaniel  He's a physical blocker who won't ever see a carry.

This should be a decent corps as long as Bobby Williams can become the type of number one target who can replace last year's leading man
Cleannord Saintil. Taron Henry is experienced enough to turn into a solid number two man on the inside, but the key to the unit will be the emergence of Pierre Ingram, Jay Robinson and Jonathan Grigsby. Stephen Chicola is one of the Sun Belt's best tight ends.
The key to the unit: More scores and more big plays are needed after only catching six touchdown passes. Bobby Williams and Pierre Ingram have to turn into reliable deep threats.
Receiver Rating: 5

Projected Starters

- Bobby Williams, Soph. - 22 catches, 303 yds, 13.8 ypc, 1 TD
Is he the team's new receiving star? Does he have what it takes to be the number one target and be reliable enough to handle the workload after being suspended from spring ball? He finished fourth on the team in receiving as a true freshman turning into a surprisingly steady target from the start. He's 6-3 with the athleticism to be a big-play star.

- Taron Henry, Jr. - 20 catches, 192 yds, 9.6 ypc
A good part-time starter over the last few seasons, the athletic Henry is tough enough to handle himself on the inside. He's more than experienced enough to be one of the team's steadiest receivers and could grow into a number one target on key downs. He'll also be used on kick returns.

- Pierre Ingram, Sr. - 1 catch, 6 yds
The 6-4, 212-pound senior has all the tools to be a great one with track star speed to go along with his size, but he hasn't been able to stay healthy with a broken foot along with hamstring and ankle problems. If he can stay healthy, he'll be too much for most defensive backs to deal with.

- Tight end Stephen Chicola , Jr. - 29 catches, 231 yds, 8 ypc, 1 TD
Chicola has grown into a tremendous receiver finishing third on the team in catches highlighted by a nine-grab game against Troy late in the year. He's an average blocker, but his hands and route running ability are among the best in the Sun Belt.  At 6-5 and 248 pounds, he's physical enough to outmuscle his way to catches. 

Top Backups
- Jonathan Grigsby, Jr. - 3 catches, 50 yds, 16.7 ypc
Small and quick, the former walk-on saw regular playing time over the second half of last season. Now he'll push for the starting spot in three wide sets.
- Jay Robinson
, RFr.
Robinson started last year as a receiver before becoming the emergency quarterback. Now the 6-4, 199-pound redshirt freshman will move back to receiver to try to become a big presence on the inside. 
- Tight end Clinton Corder, Jr. - 1 catches, 18 yds
The junior returned after missing most of 2004 with an ankle injury. He's mostly a blocker for the ground game playing in two-tight end sets next to Stephen Chicola. He's smaller than Chicola with the potential to become a decent receiver.

Offensive Linemen
It should be among the best in the Sun Belt, if not the best, if sophomores Franklin Dunbar and Richard Bortner improve on strong first seasons. Germayle Franklin is a rock at right tackle and should be a first team all-star, Dunbar is a sure-thing at left tackle, and all the other jobs are open for a battle with good backups ready to fight for starting time. There has to be improvement after allowing 37 sacks and only paving the way for 1,200 rushing yards.

The key to the unit: Can the big line be athletic enough to handle the new offense? The skill positions are solid, so if the offense fails, the line will get a bulk of the blame.
Offensive Line Rating: 5

Projected Starters
- OT Franklin Dunbar, Soph.
Dunbar came through with a tremendous freshman season taking over for Brandon Nix at left guard and became the team's most consistent lineman. He's a big too big at 6-5 and 354 pounds, but he has surprisingly decent feet and is a punishing run blocker.
- OG Brandon Nix, Jr.
A once promising defensive lineman, Nix had a rough first season getting replaced after six games. Now the starting left guard job is his where he has to combine better all-around production with his toughness.
- C Marcus Gates, Sr.
The former defensive lineman has settled in at center where he should be good if he can hold off the charge of Paul Cantrell. Gates is a physical blocker who got better as last year went on.
- OG Richard Bortner, Soph.
Bortner took over as a starter halfway though last season and now will battle with Cade Becher for the starting job on the right side. He's one of the team's biggest guards at 6-6 and 334 pounds with the potential to be an all-star with a bit more time.
- OT Germayle Franklin, Sr.
The team's best offensive lineman, the 6-4, 316-pound senior will anchor the line from the right side. He earned second-team All-Sun Belt honors and should be a lock for bigger things this year. He's always on the field and always solid, and now he has to be a more dominant and consistent pass blocker.

Top Backups
- C Paul Cantrell, Sr.
Cantrell will give Marcus Gates a huge push for the starting center job. At 313 pounds, he's a bigger option and will be used in pure running situations.
- G Cade Becher, Sr.
Becher doesn't have the talent of Richard Bortner at right guard, but he's a strong veteran who'll push for time. The 6-3, 300-pound senior is being given every shot at the starting job.
- G David Price, Soph.
Price has to be ready at a moment's notice with Brandon Nix not exactly set at left guard. The Mississippi State transfer is bigger than Nix at 6-3 and 305 pounds.

Related Stories
Middle Tenn. Preview 2006 - Further Analysis
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Aug 8, 2006
Middle Tennessee Preview 2006 - Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Aug 8, 2006
Middle Tennessee Preview 2006
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Aug 8, 2006

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