2007 Middle Tennessee Preview - Offense

Posted Apr 8, 2007

Preview 2007 Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders Offense

Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders

Preview 200
7 - Offense

- 2007 Middle Tennessee Preview | 2007 MT Defense Preview
2007 MT Depth Chart | 2006 CFN Middle Tennessee Preview 

What you need to know:
The offense was strange last year finishing sixth in the league in total yards but first in scoring. In other words, the O took advantage of almost every opportunity despite not being all that good scoring on 33 of 36 chances in the red zone. Even without long-time starting quarterback Clint Marks, the passing game can't help but better whether it's Joe Craddock, or one of three other options under center. The receiving corps is experienced, but unless Bobby Williams plays up to his talent, it won't be much better. The running game will be the strength with DeMarco McNair and speedsters Desmond Gee and Phillip Tanner running behind a massive line.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Joe Craddock
9-24, 75 yds, 0 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: DeMarco McNair
139 carries, 586 yds, 7 TD
Receiving: Bobby Williams
36 catches, 378 yds, 1 TD

Star of the offense: Junior OT Franklin Dunbar
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior WR Joe Craddock
Unsung star on the rise: Junior WR Michael Cannon
Best pro prospect: Dunbar
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Dunbar, 2) WR Bobby Williams, 3) C Brandon Nix
Strength of the offense: Offensive line, receiver experience
Weakness of the offense:
Receiver production, quarterback experience, running back depth


Projected Starter: Junior Joe Craddock will likely get the first look as the starter, but he'll have to fight to keep the job early on. He's not all that big and wasn't accurate in his limited time completing nine of 24 passes with an interception, but he's mobile, has a great arm, and offers a different look than Clint Marks provided. He should turn out to be solid in time with the talent to grow into the role if he's allowed to work through his mistakes.

Projected Top Reserves: Senior Patrick Jackson will be given every shot to win the starting job up until opening day. Only 6-0 and 192 pounds, he might not be all that big, but he's a good passer who's been around the program moving up and down the depth chart as a backup. He was good enough that spring to be considered a number two guy, but never broke through to do much of anything on the field.

Also in the hunt for time is the star of the future, redshirt freshman Salin Simpson, who's arguably the best quarterback prospect the program has ever had. Unlike Craddock and Jackson, Simpson's 6-3 and 210 pounds with a great résumé throwing for 58 touchdown passes in his final two years at Henry Clay High in Lexington. He's smart enough to get the offense down right away.

Another interesting prospect is sophomore Gene Delle Donne, a 6-5, 240-pound transfer from Duke who won't get a shot at the starting job right away, but will be good at the three if he can beat out Simpson.

Watch Out For ... the passing game to not miss Marks all that much. Marks was good, and he was around so long that the team was able to rely on him to run the offense, but he was inconsistent and wasn't the type of difference maker Middle Tennessee could win because of. There are four good prospects in the mix who all could end up adding more pop to the attack.
Strength: Options. It's not a bad thing when you're number three and four quarterbacks (whichever way you want to rank Simpson and Delle Done) have more skills than the one and two. Craddock is the guy going into the year, but the offense should be fine with Jackson and might not fall apart with the other options.
Sure-thing production. It's the old adage that when you have two starting quarterbacks, you don't have a starting quarterback; the Blue Raiders potentially have four. They'll have to wait until Simpson and Delle Done are ready for prime time, while Jackson and Simpson haven't actually done it on the field yet.
Outlook: Replacing a long-time starter like Marks isn't going to be as tough as it might appear. Craddock was neck-and-neck for the job a few years ago before going down with a knee injury and has been around long enough to know the offense. The quarterback situation could be the X factor in the Sun Belt race.
Rating: 5

Running Backs

Projected Starters: Senior DeMarco McNair
missed all of 2005 with academic issues but got everything in order, grew into a solid number two runner behind Eugene Gross, and now appears ready to carry the workload after finishing second on the team with 586 yards and seven touchdowns and tied for fourth in receptions with 16 grabs for 139 yards. While he's not all that huge at 5-11 and 195 pounds, he's a tough runner.

At fullback, when the offense uses one, will be senior Josh Dutton, a 241-pound pure blocker stepping in after Hunter Birtsch went down with a knee injury. It'll be a shock if he ever gets the ball.

Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore Desmond Gee is the potential home-run hitter in the backfield with the quickness and speed to force the coaching staff to find several ways to get the ball in his hands. He only ran for 277 yards, but he scored five rushing touchdowns and finished second on the team with 27 catches for 351 yards and three scores highlighted by a 73-yard touchdown against South Carolina. He'll be used more as just a runner this year behind McNair.

When Gee is needed as a receiver, sophomore Phillip Tanner will be a key reserve making the move from safety to the offensive backfield. He's a more natural running back (running for 4,275 yards and 76 touchdowns in high school) with phenomenal speed and decent size. At fullback, the job is Birtsch's when he's back from a knee injury. Like Dutton, he'll only be used as a blocker.

Watch Out For ... the coaching staff to get creative with the running game if McNair isn't a star. Already needing to move Gee over to running back in a full-time role (for the most part) while switching Tanner from safety, there will be real problems if McNair goes down or isn't effective.
Strength: Potential. Yeah, everyone has potential, but this backfield has several interesting options to work with. McNair has All-Sun Belt (here it comes) potential, Gee and Tanner have the wheels to crank out several big plays. Potentially.
Depth. While Gee and Tanner are going to be fun pieces for the coaching staff to play with, it would be nice if there was a sure-thing number two running back to rely on.
Outlook: The team has several question marks and concerns (linebacker, number two corner), and while this isn't a major worry, it could be. The running game was non-existent in 2005 and bounced back nicely last year. If the ground game starts to sputter again, the offense will fall on the unproven quarterbacks.
Rating: 5


Projected Starters: Is Bobby Williams ready to fulfill his vast potential? He's 6-3, 196 pounds, fast, and has NFL-potential skills, but he has to keep his head screwed on straight (he was booted during spring ball two years ago) and only finished up with 36 catches for 378 yards and a touchdowns. On the plus side, he led the team in receiving. If the quarterbacks are playing well, there's no excuse for Williams not to be an All-Sun Belt star. He simply has too much talent at the outside X position.

Senior Taron Henry is an athletic possession receiver with 38 career catches for 474 yards and a touchdown, and good enough to potentially do a whole bunch more. He was absent from too many games and almost never got the ball on the move. Getting better separation would be a big help, but the quarterbacks have to include him more.

At the B position is senior Jonathan Grigsby, a veteran grinder who finished third on the team with 24 catches for 319 yards having carved out a nice niche for himself. The former walk-on is small, quick and tough.

Senior Clinton Corder is back to start at tight end after catching eight passes for 78 yards. Mostly a blocker, he could be used more on short to medium range patterns.

Projected Top Reserves: Junior Michael Cannon is a blazing option behind Grigsby at the B position with 4.4 speed. His issue is injury having missed time throughout last year finishing with just two catches for 19 yards.

Sophomore Patrick Honeycutt is back after missing a knee injury and should provide a big boost to the reserves. He has some of the best hands on the team and is able to play either inside position. 6-2, 200-pound sophomore Rod Taylor will back up Williams on the X and will see plenty of time on special teams again.

At tight end, senior Stephen Chicola can be considered a starter next to Corder with plenty of experience, good size, and decent hands catching nine passes for 79 yards and two touchdowns. A good route runner, he caught 29 passes in 2005 and has 52 career grabs. Why isn't he the starter? Blocking. Corder's better at it.

Alvin Ingle
was starting to become a part of the offense as a true freshman before getting hurt early on and getting a redshirt season. A great athlete, he could quickly take over the tight end job if he can stretch the field.

Watch Out For ... more production. There can't be any less. Williams should be more dangerous and Henry and Grigsby have been around long enough to start being more involved in the offense.
Strength: Experience. The five leading wide receivers (including now-running back Desmond Gee) are back along with the top two tight ends and a terrific prospect in Ingle.
Talented number two receiver, inconsistent number one receiver. Williams has too much talent to not crank out more yards, more big plays, and far, far more than just one touchdown. Henry and Grigsby are good, but not special.
Outlook: A major disappointment last season, the receiving corps should be far more better as long as Joe Craddock, or whoever's the starting quarterback, plays well. With so much experience, this is a corps full of safety valves to go along with a possible home-run hitter like Williams.
Rating: 4.5

Offensive Linemen

Projected Starters: Three starters return up front anchored by 6-5, 320-pound junior Franklin Dunbar at left tackle. The Second Team All-Sun Belt performer is a bruising run blocker but excelled mostly in pass protection with one of his best performances coming against Louisville. A guard when he started out, he got in far better shape over the last two years and now should be even quicker.

Normally there'd be concern on the other side needing to replace all-star Germayle Franklin, but junior David Price should be ready. The former Mississippi State transfer started a few games last year when Franklin was out and was rock solid not allowing a sack. At 6-4 and 312 pounds, he's big enough to play guard, which he used to be, but should shine on the outside in the full-time role.

At center, long-time starting guard Brandon Nix will be the line's most aggressive and toughest player. At 6-4 and 296 pounds, he's a big, pounding run blocker who spend most of last year switching back and forth between the right and left side. The former defensive lineman might not be an all-star, but he'll be good in his new spot.

Sophomore Mark Thompson was a surprising starter throughout his first year seeing time at left guard before giving up his starting spot late in the year. Out in spring ball hurt, he'll have to fight to get his job back, but he has the size at 6-4 and 312 pounds to be a good run blocker in time.

The biggest body up front is 6-6, 327-pound junior Richard Bortner, a part-time starter who spent most of his time on special teams. He can play either guard spot, but he has to prove he can hold down the job for a full season.

Projected Top Reserves: Until Thompson can prove he can handle the job at left guard, 6-4, 295-pound redshirt freshman Jamal Lewis will man the position. One of the team's strongest players with a 430-pound bench press, he could find a spot at backup tackle if he doesn't win the starting spot.

Redshirt freshman Chris Hawkins has great technique and will quickly be a main contributor behind Lewis on the left side or could find a spot on the right. If the 312-pound Price isn't big enough at right tackle, 6-6, 320-pound redshirt freshman J.C. Moore is there to add even more bulk. He needs time and could eventually be moved to guard.

Watch Out For ... Nix to earn all-conference honors at center. A good guard, he should be even better now that he's the quarterback up front. He's not the most athletic of linemen and should be even better in the more confined surroundings.
Strength: Size. This is a massive front five averaging well over 300 pounds per man. The tackles are among the biggest in America with the four on the projected two-deep checking in at an average of 313 pounds.
Production. This was a good line, but not a great one and although three starters return along with several experienced backups, it's not like they were superstars last season as a whole.
Outlook: Considering the size and the experience, there should be even more done for the running game. The pass protection will always be adequate, but with a line this big, especially at tackle, there should be far more movement up front. Are the tackles too big to handle speed rushers? Elite ones, yes.
Rating: 5


Related Stories
2007 Middle Tennessee Preview
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Apr 8, 2007
2007 Middle Tennessee Preview - Defense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Apr 8, 2007
2007 Middle Tennessee Preview - Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Apr 8, 2007

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