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2008 Tulsa Preview - Offense
Tulsa WR/KR Brennan Marion
Tulsa WR/KR Brennan Marion
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted May 2, 2008


CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Tulsa Golden Hurricane Offense

Tulsa Golden Hurricane

Preview 2008 - Offense


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2008 CFN Tulsa Preview | 2008 Tulsa Offense Preview
- 2008 Tulsa Defense Preview
| 2008 Tulsa Depth Chart
- 2007 CFN Tulsa Preview | 2006 CFN Tulsa Preview 

What you need to know: A star will be born as soon as the staff decides on its next starting quarterback. The hurry-up, no-huddle offense is that prolific under coordinator Gus Malzahn.  The early edge goes to David Johnson, who backed up Paul Smith for three seasons and spent a year in the system.  However, he’s no lock to win the job, and will get challenged by Clark Harrell and Jacob Bower, a coveted JUCO recruit.  The transition to a new starter will be made easier by the presence of a veteran line and 1,000-yard receivers Brennan Marion, Trae Johnson, and Charles Clay.  As if the Hurricane needs more weapons, the program’s leading rushers from the last two years are also back.  Tarrion Adams ran for 1,225 yards and caught 30 passes after starter Courtney Tennial was lost with a season-ending Achilles injury.

Returning Leaders
Passing: David Johnson
4-8, 56 yds
Rushing: Tarrion Adams
219 carries, 1,225 yds, 8 TD
Receiving: Trae Johnson
70 catches, 1,088 yds, 13 TD

Star of the offense: Senior WR Brennan Marion
Player that has to step up and become a star: Senior QB David Johnson
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore FB Charles Clay
Best pro prospect: Marion
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Marion  2) Sophomore WR Trae Johnson  3) Senior RB
Tarrion Adams
Strength of the offense: Depth and talent at the skill positions, the right side of the line
Weakness of the offense: Inexperience at quarterback and left tackle

Quarterbacks

Projected Starter: Now that long-time starter Paul Smith has exhausted his eligibility, the Hurricane needs a new triggerman to direct one of the nation’s most prolific offenses.  The front-runner is senior David Johnson, who’s thrown 63 career passes, but more important, has that one valuable season as a backup in Gus Malzahn’s system.  Not unlike Smith, the 6-3, 217-pounder doesn’t have a gun, but throws a catchable ball, moves well in and out of the pocket, and won’t be intimidated by being in the spotlight.  Although it’s only one season, Johnson has a unique opportunity to make the trip from anonymous backup to household name in Conference USA.     

Projected Top Reserves: Keeping Johnson from getting cozy will be a couple of talented sophomores, Clark Harrell and Jacob Bower.  Harrell is a veteran of the no huddle offense from his years at Ennis (Tex.) High School and a player with a lot of upside.  He’s got good size at 6-4 and 193 pounds, with adequate arm strength and a quick release that’ll serve him well in this system.  While not a runner, Harrell does throw well on the move, another one of his myriad assets. 

Bower comes from BYU by way of Bakersfield (Calif.) College, where he was one of the nation’s most sought after JUCO quarterbacks.  The hardest chucker of the three at 6-3 and 233 pounds, he’s a mature leader that can make all the throws.  Even if Johnson locks down the job, the on-going battle between Harrell and Bower will be a meaningful preview of what’s to come in 2009.

Watch Out For…the drop-off from Smith to be less precipitous than most would expect.  The Hurricane boasts three solid quarterbacks and a supporting cast that includes four starting linemen and last year’s top four rushers and top six receivers. 
Strength
: Quality passers.  From the looks of their spring performances, Tulsa has three quarterbacks capable of running the offense and distributing the ball to the team’s playmakers.  All have a good grasp of the system, which was evident in March and April.                        
Weakness: Game experience.  There’s no replacement for live experience, which this trio has little of at this level.  Only Johnson has thrown a pass for the Hurricane, going 41-of-63 in three seasons of mop-up duty. 
Outlook: It’s the system, stupid.  No disrespect to Smith, but he didn’t account for 60 touchdowns and more than 5,000 yards on talent alone.  With so many contributors back and some of the first-year kinks solved, the new starter is positioned to put up gaudy numbers and vie for all-league honors.                 
Rating: 7

Running Backs

Projected Starters: For a team that leans so heavily on the pass, the Hurricane is packed with unexpected depth and talent at running back.  When pressed into a starting role last year, senior Tarrion Adams delivered in a big way, rushing for 1,225 yards and eight touchdowns on 219 carries and catching 30 passes for 301 yards and three more scores.  A powerful, north-south back at 6-1 and 210 pounds, he also has terrific hands, an added bonus in this system.  

Although sophomore Charles Clay is listed as the starting fullback, he’s really more of an H-back that’ll do more of his damage as a receiver than as a runner.  In an improbable Freshman All-American season, the 6-3, 222-pounder caught 69 passes for 1,024 yards and eight touchdowns, adding 57 carries for 304 yards and a touchdown.  A versatile and explosive all-around athlete, he’s a mismatch for opposing linebackers with the ball in his hands. 
 
Projected Top Reserves: Before rupturing his Achilles tendon last August, senior Courtney Tennial was slated to be one of the centerpieces of the offense.  Healthy again and much stronger, he participated in spring practice after receiving a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA.  Rarely brought down on first contact, he rushed for 845 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2006, using a compact 5-10 and 235-pound frame to pin-ball off would-be tacklers. 

Sophomore Jamad Williams was a pleasant surprise in his debut on offense, gaining 458 yards and scoring twice on 106 carries.  The 5-9, 193-yard former defensive back has good hands and a little more flash than the other Hurricane backs.

Watch Out For…an expanded role for Clay.  He’s a unique weapon that’ll be even more effective with a season of experience in the rear view mirror.  With so much attention going to the Tulsa receivers, Clay is virtually unstoppable in the flat and on underneath routes.                  
Strength: Depth.  The silver lining to Tennial’s injury is that it allowed Adams to become the feature back for an entire season.  Now the Hurricane boasts two runners with starting experience to go along with one of the most unique fullbacks in America.            
Weakness: Big play potential.  There’s nothing fancy or electrifying about Tennial or Adams, a pair of blue-collar runners that rarely slip through the cracks for long gains.  Williams has a little wiggle, but unless the offense is doing something unique, such as an inside handoff to a receiver, three to five yards is going to be the norm.                      
Outlook: Good luck finding a deeper group of running backs in Conference USA.  While they’ll take a backseat to the passing game, when it’s time to pick up a first down or catch a swing pass, Adams, Clay, and Tennial have proven that they’re capable of coming through.       
Rating: 7

Receivers

Projected Starters: A massive unknown just one year ago, the receivers are suddenly one of Tulsa’s biggest strength.  As a group, they stepped up decisively, giving the Hurricane the pass-catchers it needed to make the hurry-up, no-huddle attack hum.  Sophomore Trae Johnson led the team with 70 catches for 1,088 yards and 13 touchdowns, earning Freshman All-American honors.  At 5-11 and 170 pounds, he has reliable hands, gets great elevation, and runs tight routes. 

Joining Johnson at split end is 6-1, 185-pound senior Brennan Marion, the ultimate deep ball threat and one of last year’s biggest surprises at any school.  Lightly recruited out of high school and DeAnza (Calif.) College, he immediately earned his Tulsa scholarship, catching 39 passes for 1,244 yards and 11 touchdowns.  Marion’s average of 31.9 yards per catch set an NCAA record and opened things up for the rest of the receivers whenever he ran a deep pattern. 

At flanker, 5-9, 170-pound sophomore A.J. Whitmore is a dangerous open-field runner, who caught just four passes, but rushed for 268 yards and three scores on only 26 carries.  The leading rusher in the spring game, the coaches will continue to line him up at quarterback in the team’s Wildcat package. 

Rounding out the receiving corps is junior Jesse Meyer, a 6-4, 201-pounder that had 39 catches for 585 yards and two touchdowns.  The Hurricane’s version of a physical possession receiver, he’ll get more looks as his number of dropped passes declines.   

Tulsa uses the tight end infrequently, but when it does, junior Jake Collums will get the call.  A 6-4, 242-pound receiver with a couple of letters on the resume, he started five games, catching three passes for 20 yards and a pair of scores. 

Projected Top Reserves: Tulsa’s most experienced receiver off the bench is junior flanker Dion Tolliver, another junior college transfer that quickly adapted to the nuances of Malzahn’s offense.  A slippery receiver at 5-11 and 170 pounds, he debuted with 34 receptions for 392 yards and a touchdown, while occasionally being used on handoffs.

Watch Out For…The transfers.  The Hurricane is excited about former SEC players Slick Shelley and Andrew Norman, who both took part in their first spring.  At 6-4 and 195 pounds, Shelley was buried on the Tennessee depth chart, but now has a chance to become the receiver that was rated among the nation’s best in 2005.  Norman is a 6-1, 195-pounder that’ll be reunited with Malzahn, who had him at Arkansas and Springdale (Ark.) High School.              
Strength: Yards after the catch.  Collectively, this group can really motor with or without the ball in its hands.  Johnson and Marion are bona fide field-stretchers that make a difference by simply running pass patterns.                   
Weakness: Consistency.  While this ensemble has no peers in Conference USA, it still lacks consistency, needing to limit the number of dropped balls and tighten up its route running.  It’s nit-picking about a group that has few weak links.        
Outlook: As dynamic as the Hurricane receivers were in 2007, they’ll be even better in 2008 if the new quarterback isn’t a washout.  Don’t forget that other than Meyer, every one of the team’s top wide receivers was a newcomer last fall.
Rating: 8

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: One year after having to build the line from scratch, Tulsa returns four starters, including a couple with all-league potential.  The right side is set with seniors Rodrick Thomas and Justin Morsey at tackle and guard, respectively.  Thomas is a 6-5, 355-pound mountain of a man that punishes opposing linemen with his size and upper body strength.  An honorable mention All-Conference USA selection, he’d benefit by shaping up to play another season in an offense that doesn’t take many pauses. 

Morsey is the veteran, a third-year starter and one of the leaders of the unit.  While not imposing at 6-2 and 282 pounds, he uses leverage, quickness, and a no-quit attitude to hold his own against larger opponents.

Manning the middle for a second straight year will be junior Jody Whaley.  At 6-4 and 302 pounds, he’s more physical than the average center and sports the versatility to play multiple positions.  Whaley excels in both run blocking and pass protection, early signs of a possible NFL career.

At left guard is 6-4, 297-pound junior Curt Puckett, a returning starter that saw first significant action a year ago.  A pedestrian overall blocker, he succeeds through sheer determination, work ethic, and knowledge of his assignments.  The great unknown inside is who out of a group of unproven redshirt freshmen will replace Walter Boyd at left tackle. 

The favorite coming out of spring is 6-3, 299-pound Canadian Tyler Holmes, one of the school’s better recruits from 2007.  He’s noticeably strong up top, but will need to grow up in a hurry in order to avoid being the weakest link in the Hurricane front wall.       

Projected Top Reserves: The most experienced reserve is junior Travis Wike, a former tight end that earned his first letter a year ago.  A good athlete at 6-4 and 292 pounds, he can play center in an emergency, but is more likely to back up Thomas at right tackle. 

Battling Holmes on the left side will be 6-5, 250-pound redshirt freshman Brandon Thomas, an athletic former high school tight end that the coaches believe could be special once he adds more muscle. 

A lot will be expected of 6-3, 285-pound Shawn Santos, a guard in his first year out of Trinity Valley (Tex.) Community College.  Already slotted into the second team, he’ll be an important part of the rotation in Tulsa.   

Watch Out For… the development of the left tackles.  Holmes and Thomas have bright futures in Tulsa, but this year, they’ll have to protect the quarterback’s backside, a concern for the line and the passing game.                   
Strength: Physicality.  The offense may be finesse, but the offensive line consists of a bunch of plowers that can move the opposition off the ball.  The ground attack averaged 173 yards a game last year, largely because of the play up front of the Hurricane blockers.         
Weakness: The left side.  Puckett’s pedestrian and the new tackle will be a freshman unless someone else switches positions.  In other words, the Hurricane will run plenty of plays to the right of center this season.    
Outlook: Just like the receivers, the line is a group that’s come a long way since being a perceived liability a year ago.  And just like those pass-catchers, the pass blockers are going to benefit tremendously by having spent a season in a system that was completely foreign to them when the new staff arrived.             
Rating: 6.5