2007 Houston Preview - Offense

Posted Jun 19, 2007

Preview 2007 Houston Cougar Offense

Houston Cougars

Preview 2007 - Offense

- 2007 Houston Preview | 2007 Houston Defense Preview
2007 Houston Depth Chart | 2006 CFN Houston Preview 

What you need to know: The graduation of four-year starting quarterback Kevin Kolb signals a new era in Houston, but it doesn’t mean the Cougars will be inept on offense in 2007.  There’s too much explosiveness and veteran leadership for that to happen.  Last year’s backup, sophomore Blake Joseph, is expected to get the nod at quarterback.  He’s got a huge arm and about as much fear as he does experience.  Surrounding Joseph will be a half-dozen players that earned all-league honors last year, headed by senior running back Anthony Alridge, one of the nation’s fastest players.   

Returning Leaders
Passing: Blake Joseph
6-8, 56 yds, 0 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Anthony Alridge
95 carries, 959 yds, 8 TD
Receiving: Donnie Avery
57 catches, 852 yds, 5 TD

Star of the offense: Senior RB Anthony Alridge
Player that has to step up and become a star: Sophomore QB Blake Joseph
Unsung star on the rise: Redshirt freshman RB Randall Antoine
Best pro prospect: Alridge
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Alridge  2) Senior WR Donnie Avery  3) Senior WR Jeron Harvey
Strength of the offense: Team speed
Weakness of the offense: Inexperience at quarterback


Projected Starter: Exactly how do you replace Kevin Kolb, the spine of the Cougar program for the last four years? It won’t be easy, but the show must go on for Art Briles and his high-octane offense.  The competition between sophomore Blake Joseph and redshirt freshman Case Keenum was tighter than most expected, and will continue when camp resumes in August.  Joseph is still the favorite, by virtue of his better physical attributes and one season as Kolb’s apprentice.  He sets up well in the pocket and has a live arm, but then again, so does Roy Oswalt.  If he wins the job, the key for Joseph will be how well he manages the offense and whether he can complete the touch passes as well as the downfield heaves.

Projected Top Reserves: While Keenum is still very much in this race, he’s more likely to be the No. 2 coming off his redshirt season.  He put on a nice showing in March, displaying the poise and grasp of the offense of an upperclassmen.  A prolific passer in high school, he can also surprise defenses with his legs, much the way Kolb did for the Cougars.  At just 6-1 and 205 pounds, he doesn’t have Joseph’s fast ball, but has the dual-threat potential and intangibles to be a nuisance until the opener with Oregon.       

Watch Out For… Oklahoma State transfer Al Pena.  With one year of eligibility remaining, Pena is hoping to be granted a waiver from the NCAA that’ll allow him to play immediately without sitting out one season.  With a green light from the governing body, he’ll instantly become a factor for the top spot on the depth chart.
Strength: The supporting cast.  Whichever quarterback gets the ball will be surrounded by a solid offensive line and a nice collection of talent in the backfield and at receiver.  Neither Joseph nor Keenum will have to win games as a solo act in 2007.
Weakness: Inexperience.  It’s hard enough replacing a local legend, but downright criminal when the two successors have thrown only eight passes between them at this level.  An out of conference schedule that includes first-half trips to Eugene and Tuscaloosa won’t make the transition go any smoother.
Outlook: At times, Joseph, or Keenum, is going to look like one of those Texas Tech quarterbacks that steps into a great system and piles up some silly numbers in his debut.  At other times, he’ll make the locals pine for the days when Kolb was barking signals.  In a year of tumultuous change behind center at Houston, inconsistency shouldn’t surprise anyone.
Rating: 5.5

Running Backs

Projected Starters: There are plenty of fast players in college football.  And then there’s senior Anthony Alridge, a player that gets from Point A to Point B about as quick as any player in the country.  Fueled by game-breaking speed, he astounded scouts at Houston’s junior Pro Day by tearing off a 4.26 in the 40.  In his first season of extensive action, Alridge nearly rushed for 1,000 yards despite logging only 95 carries, an astonishing average of 10.1 yards a carry.  He also caught 19 passes, scored ten times and led the Cougars in kick returns.  Not your typical feature back at just 5-9 and 170 pounds, his size won’t keep Art Briles from inventing ways to get him in space this season.

When the Cougars shift into short yardage mode, they’ll call upon junior Jake Ebner and senior Kenneth Atkins to push the pile and blow open holes.  A versatile tight end/fullback hybrid, the 6-2, 270-pound Ebner has done everything from play center to snap for punts and field goals.  In his first season out of Bakersfield (Calif.) Junior College, Atkins played in 13 games, seeing most of his action on special teams.

Projected Top Reserves: A couple of redshirt freshman, Randall Antoine and Andre Kohn, will be making sure Alridge isn’t overworked this season.  Antoine grabbed the No. 2 job with an outstanding effort in the spring.  He may not be in Alridge’s elite class, but he has a nice burst of speed to go along with great moves in the open field and soft hands.  Although he’s a backup, Antoine will get plenty of reps in his first season of action. 

At 5-11 and 200 pounds, Kohn is the biggest of the Cougar that can expect to get touches in 2007.  On a roster dominated by scatbacks, he represents an interesting option between the tackles and near the end zone.

Watch Out For… Antoine to conclude his first season on the Conference USA All-Freshman team.  Alridge clearly can’t go it alone, and Antoine has shown some of those Reggie Bush-like qualities that’ll earn him about 100 carries in 2007.
Strength: Quick strike ability.  Whether they’re taking a handoff or catching a screen pass, Alridge and Antoine are usually only a block or two away from finding a seam and going untouched through the secondary for six points.
Weakness: Lack of a power back.  The Cougars have the all-purpose thing down to a science, but who’s going to get the tough yards or milk the clock late in the fourth quarter? He wasn’t the flashiest runner, but Houston is really going to miss its Battleship, Jackie Battle, at times in 2007.
Outlook: Alridge is pure lightning in a No. 22 jersey, but without his complementary thunder, the Cougar running game will be just a tad less diverse and dangerous than it was in 2006.
Rating: 6


Projected Starters: Although Vincent Marshall and Biren Ealy have graduated, the Houston receiving corps is still in good shape thanks to the return of seniors Jeron Harvey and Donnie Avery.  At 6-5 and 215 pounds, Harvey is physical and fast enough to really test the big right arm of Blake Joseph.  In his first full season in Houston, he caught 41 passes for 671 yards and four touchdowns.  Now, he’s positioned to be one of the most dangerous pass-catching weapons in Conference USA.

Avery is 5-11 and 190 pounds, and can flat out fly.  Clocked at 4.3 by NFL scouts in the spring, he’s coming off a 57-catch season that ended with a spot on the All-Conference USA Third Team. 

In the slot will be diminutive sophomore Chris Gilbert, who lettered last season for his work on special teams.  A gutty performer with good hands, he has the tall task of replacing a player of Marshall’s caliber.          

Despite starting just three games at tight end, junior Mark Hafner caught 19 balls for 214 yards and scored against Oklahoma State and South Carolina to earn honorable mention recognition on the all-league team.  A much better receiver than blocker, he’s bulked up to 230 pounds in anticipation of an increased work load in 2007.

Projected Top Reserves: This year’s primary backups are steady, yet unlikely to strike fear into opposing secondaries.  Senior Perry McDaniel, Gilbert’s reserve in the slot, is a three-time letterwinner with good hands, tight routes and a great work ethic.  The 5-9, 175-pounder has 42 career catches that have netted just 304 yards and one score. 

On the outside, sophomore Tim Monroe and junior Brennan Gleason are the favorites to caddy for Harvey and Avery, respectively.  Monroe has nice size at 6-2 and 185 pounds and a letter already for his work on special teams in 2006.  Gleason is neither the biggest nor the most elusive Cougar receiver, but he’s about as fundamentally sound as any of his teammates.  Another career special teams player at Houston, he has a chance to do damage on the intermediate routes as a member of the second team this season.

Watch Out For… redshirt freshman L.J. Castille.  Instead of competing for the starting quarterback job this off-season, Castille is trying to learn a new position on the fly.  A gifted all-around athlete at 6-3 and 205 pounds, he was the headliner of the Cougs’ class of 2006.  On pure upside alone, even a raw Castille is athletic enough to ascend to a more prominent role at some point this year.
Strength: Harvey and Avery.  By themselves, they’re receivers worthy of post-season honors.  Together, they form a perfect tandem of size and blazing speed that’s a handful for Conference USA defensive backs.
Weakness: Depth.  While the first unit is solid with three returning starters, the second team is pretty pedestrian without a single player wearing the look of a future star.  That’s why the staff is keeping its fingers crossed that Castille can develop into a periodic playmaker.
Outlook: As long as Harvey, Avery and Hafner remain healthy, the Cougar receiving corps will be a real nice security blanket for the new triggerman.  If any of the three is lost to injury, however, there’s little margin for error on the depth chart.
Rating: 6.5

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: The core of the line that paved the way for almost five yards a carry, but was inconsistent in pass protection, returns in 2007.  Anchoring the left side of the line will be senior guard Jeff Akeroyd, a former defensive tackle who can play just about position across the line.  One of the squad’s better pass blockers, he was named to the all-Conference USA second team last year. 

At left tackle, the Cougars are cautiously optimistic that sophomore Matt Hart is ready to handle a huge promotion after getting on the field for seven games last season.  A physical, 6-6 and 305-pounder, he’s also surprisingly light on his feet when the pocket is moving.             

Anchoring the left side of the line will be senior tackle Dustin Dickinson, a third-year starter coming off an all-conference season.  He’s gotten better with each season, a trend that should earn him postseason recognition for a second straight year. 

Next to Dickinson will be junior Michael Bloesch, who enters his second season as a starter.  Lacking ideal size at 6-2 and 295 pounds, he needs to improve at holding his blocks and protecting the passer. 

Sophomore Carl Barnett better be a rock at center because he’s all the Cougars have at the position after two backups left school in the spring.  A member of the Conference USA All-Freshman team in 2006, he’s very agile at 6-3 and 275 pounds, but needs a few more pounds to even approach what Sterling Doty achieved at the school.        

Projected Top Reserves: If back problems don’t complicate matters, Cougar coaches believe junior left tackle Sebastian Vollmer has pro potential down the line.  An imposing 6-8, 290-pound German import, he’s a terrific athlete in need of more training at the position. 

On the right side, the program is counting on Kansas transfer Josh Bell to quickly elevate up the depth chart and provide some much needed depth to the unit.  At 6-6 and 300 pounds, the former star tight end recruit is athletic and unlikely to be buried on the depth chart for too long. 

The program’s most experienced guard is sophomore Jerrod Butler, who earned a letter in 2006 and is capable of filling in at center, a real need position this year.  After ballooning to well over 300 pounds, his biggest challenge between now and the opener will be to get into shape.

Watch Out For… SirVincent Rogers’ recovery from last fall’s knee surgery.  Just how good would this line be with its star tackle at full strength?  The former Outland Trophy candidate is rehabbing nicely, but is more likely to redshirt this season and target a return in 2008.
Strength: Run blocking.  For a team that’s built more on the passing game, the Houston line is unexpectedly nasty on running plays.  It’s a physical bunch of drive blockers that gets good push, particularly in short yardage.
Weakness: Depth.  Defections and injuries have left the line dangerously thin beyond the starting five.  Vollmer is coming off back surgery, Butler is battling weight problems and there’s absolutely no one behind Barnett at center.
Outlook: By Conference USA standards, this is a quality offensive line that boasts a pair of pillars in Dickinson and Akeroyd.  The key this year will be coaching up Hart at left tackle and keeping Barnett healthy at center.
Rating: 6


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