Preview 2007 - Offense
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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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.