2008 UAB Preview - Offense
UAB QB Joe Webb
UAB QB Joe Webb
Posted May 2, 2008

CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - UAB Blazer Offense

UAB Blazers

Preview 2008 - UAB Offense

2008 CFN UAB Preview | 2008 UAB Offense Preview
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What you need to know: Topping Callaway’s list of offensive priorities is to improve a running game that was last in the league a year ago.  The coach is keeping his fingers crossed that Aaron Johns, a gifted former Alabama running back, can qualify academically after missing the mark last season.  QB Joseph Webb offers some interesting options, both as a strong-armed passer and a scrambler on designed running plays.  He’ll have no shortage of quality targets.  Frantrell Forrest led the team with 49 receptions as a freshman, Mike Jones tore it up in the spring, and Roddell Carter is physical junior college transfers capable of contributing immediately.  Jake Seitz anchors a young line that was unexpectedly solid in pass protection but needs to step it up in the running game.       

Returning Leaders
Passing: Sam Hunt
48-82, 655 yds, 2 TD, 5 INT
Rushing: Sam Hunt
69 carries, 159 yds, 1 TD
Receiving: Sylvester Mencer
31 catches, 400 yds, 3 TD

Star of the offense: Junior QB Joseph Webb
Player that has to step up and become a star: Sophomore RB Dexter Barnett
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore WR Frantrell Forrest
Best pro prospect: Junior OL Jake Seitz
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Seitz  2) Forrest  3) Webb
Strength of the offense: Webb, the receivers
Weakness of the offense: The running game


Projected Starter: After sharing the job with Sam Hunt and even catching 30 of his passes as a wide receiver, the wait is finally over for junior Joseph Webb.  He’s the undisputed starter in Birmingham, with two years to make people forget about Darrell Hackney.  At 6-4 and 220 pounds, Webb isn’t your typical dual-threat under center.  Chiseled from a slightly bigger mold than former Auburn quarterback Reggie Slack, he’s got the quick feet to zoom past defenders and the size to run them over.  Webb also possesses the arm strength needed to reach UAB’s faster receivers, throwing five touchdowns and one pick in limited duty a year ago.  Once he learns how to manage a game and read defenses better, the potential is there for him to evolve into one of Conference USA’s up-and-coming quarterbacks.  

Projected Top Reserves: The battle to back up Webb will pit sophomore Anthony Speight versus senior Rodney Bivens.  At 6-3 and 210 pounds, Speight is bigger and is the better pocket passer of the two.  He’s also dangerous on the move, which somewhat neutralizes one of Bivens’ best attributes.  While only 6-0 and 195 pounds, Bivens is the shiftiest of the three quarterbacks, a burner when he gets into the open field.  He’s the kind of athlete that can be used in certain running packages or shift to another position to make better use of his athleticism. 

Watch Out For… Webb to have a breakthrough season by UAB standards.  No longer looking over his shoulder, he has the improving receivers, the athletic package, and the confidence of the coaching staff to become the new face of the Blazer program in 2008.      
Strength: Scrambling.  Webb, Speight, and Bivens are all nimble quarterbacks that aren’t bashful about tucking the ball, bolting from the pocket and picking up a first down.  Offensive coordinator Kim Helton will undoubtedly script a bunch of plays specifically designed to maximize Webb’s multi-threat potential.                            
Weakness: Depth.  The passing game will be on a northern trajectory provided Webb stays off the injured list.  Speight and Bivens have taken a few meaningless snaps in their careers, and aren’t quite ready to pilot the offense against one of the league’s thorniest schedules.                 
Outlook: Whether it was by design or because of injuries, using multiple quarterbacks had become a nuisance over the last two seasons for the Blazers.  With Webb locked in as the starter, the passing game will begin making strides after finishing last in the league in passing efficiency.                            
Rating: 5.5

Running Backs

Projected Starters: In short, the UAB running game is abysmal after finishing 104th in the country.  Last year’s top rusher, Rashaud Slaughter, only managed 325 yards on the ground and is moving back to wide receiver.  The team’s second and third best runners were quarterbacks, and option No. 4 was dismissed from the team.  Yup, the situation is dire.  Coming out of spring, sophomore Dexter Barnett and junior Justin Brooks were battling for a chance to be the savior.  

At 5-10 and 180 pounds, Barnett is a scatback that can zip through small spaces and double as a receiver coming out of the backfield.  One of the program’s top recruits from 2007, he lettered as a true freshman, logging 19 carries, catching two passes, and contributing on special teams.  While only 5-10 and 190 pounds, Brooks brings a little more muscle to the backfield, when UAB wants to run between the tackles.  Before transferring from Troy, he played in four games in 2006, running for 72 yards and three scores on 17 carries.

Projected Top Reserves: Until the newcomers arrive in the summer, there won’t be much depth in the backfield.  Junior Jim Mitchell brings the most experience, playing in all 12 games and carrying 18 times for 83 yards.  A 5-10, 190-pound former walk-on, he knows the offense and will hold on to the ball, but is most susceptible when the new recruits descend on Birmingham in August.

Watch Out For…the arrival of Aaron Johns.  Yeah, you’ve heard this one before.  The Blazers are still waiting on Johns, a former Alabama back that got the boot from Mike Shula three years ago.  Although he’d easily be the program’s most talented runner, he failed to meet academic requirements in 2007, and is still trying to work his way back to the UAB program.                              
Strength: The offensive line.  Hey, if nothing else, the running backs shouldn’t get hurt by the blockers in front of them.  The UAB line is young, experienced, and continually getting better under the watchful eyes of Neil Callaway and Will Friend.  Now all the unit needs is a back that can hit the hole with authority and won’t dance around in the backfield.
Weakness: Talent and depth.  Unless Johns can make his grades and shake off a couple of years worth of rust, the Blazer offense doesn’t house a running back that’s worthy of being a starter at this time.  If he’s a no-show once again, UAB will depend heavily on QB Joe Webb to assist the ground game.                               
Outlook: Forget 1,000 yards.  It’s been three years since UAB even had a 500-yard rusher, a trend that’s unlikely to change unless Webb goes berserk on the ground.  Barnett shows some spark and could be dangerous as a third-down back, but it’s asking too much for him to carry the load at 180 pounds.        
Rating: 4


Projected Starters: A liability a year ago, the Blazer receiving corps is gradually becoming one of the team strengths.  Sophomore Frantrell Forrest, in particular, shined when the opportunity presented itself, catching a team-high 49 passes for 563 yards and five touchdowns as a first-year player.  The 6-2, 195-pound starter in the slot, he runs good routes, has sticky hands, and can take a short slant a long way with a timely downfield block. 

Sophomore Mario Wright has the edge at the X receiver following a strong finish to 2007 and a terrific spring session.  As a true freshman, he had 27 catches for 272 yards and four touchdowns, using his 6-5, 205-pound to sky above defenders and laying the groundwork for a promising career in Birmingham. 

The competition at Z receiver involves sophomore Mike Jones and junior Darryl Harris.  The 6-1, 180-pound Jones caught 15 passes for 122 yards a year ago, but announced in the spring that he’s ready to obliterate those numbers.  Routinely getting behind defensive backs, he caught a slew of long passes and could give the offense the deep threat it’s lacking.  Harris is smaller at 5-10 and 175 pounds, relying on his quickness and ability to find the soft spot in defenses to make his plays.   

In sophomore Jeffrey Anderson, UAB may have located a four-year starter at tight end .  An All-Freshman selection at 6-3 and 255 pounds, he caught 15 passes for 216 yards and a touchdown, showing an ability to pick up yards after the catch.

Projected Top Reserves: Junior Rashaud Slaughter was miscast as a running back, so he’s moving back to his natural spot in the slot.  A threat to make plays in the open field, he led the Blazers with 325 and a touchdown on the ground, adding 22 catches for 123 yards. 

The veteran of the corps is 5-11, 185-pound senior Sylvester Mencer, a three-time letterman with 44 career receptions and four touchdowns.  Although he was pushed to the background by the freshmen, his experience will be invaluable for an ensemble that’s characterized by its youth and inexperience.

Watch Out For… junior college transfer Roddell Carter.  Big, physical, and blazing fast at 6-4 and 220 pounds, he’s going to challenge the outside receivers as soon as he arrives on campus.  Carter could have played in the Big 12 this year, but opted for UAB, where the opportunity to shine is within arm’s reach.            
Strength: Length.  If Carter is as good as advertised, a strong likelihood, the Blazers will boast eight wide receivers that go at least 6-1, a mismatch for most Conference USA defensive backfields.      
Weakness: Consistency.  The future is bright, but the present is still littered with the occasional dropped passes and sloppy routes that come with sophomore-dominated unit.  They’ll get there in time and will be crisper than last season, but the receivers are still going to make a fair amount of mental errors.                          
Outlook: This group of receivers is a microcosm of where Neil Callaway would like to take the UAB program.  They’re young, fast, and only going to get better with more reps and more time with new full-time QB Joseph Webb.  If the Blazer offense begins to slowly get out of neutral, it’ll be because of this emerging passing game.           
Rating: 5.5

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: Seven letterwinners return from an offensive line that quietly exceeded expectations a year ago.  The leader of the group is junior Jake Seitz, a two-year fixture at center who made the switch to left guard this spring to fill a need.  At 6-2 and 290 pounds, he’s a heady player that brings the footwork and quick hands of a former state wrestling champion. 

Although it’s not set in stone, the right guard spot was being filled by junior Daniel Seahorn at the conclusion of spring.  A first-year player out of Tyler (Tex.) Junior College, he’s 6-2 and 300 pounds, impressing the coaching staff with his strength and quick retention of the offense.

The move of Seitz to guard has been made possible by the rapid development of 6-3, 290-pound Caleb Thomas at center.  Just a redshirt freshman, he’s particularly versatile and was the starter at right guard in last year’s opener before a foot injury curtailed his season.  Showing good toughness and consistency with his shotgun snaps, he’ll keep Seitz at guard as long as he keeps learning.

The favorites at tackle are a pair of sophomores, 6-7, 295-pound Matt McCants on the left side and 6-4, 295-pound Terence Edge over on the right.  Both started as true freshmen, overachieving on a line that allowed the second fewest sacks in Conference USA.  McCants has a high ceiling and the long arms needed to wall off opposing pass rushers.  After spending three years in the high school band and less than a season playing football, the coaches believe his best on the field is yet to come. 

Edge has continuously added weight and muscle since arriving in Birmingham, yet hasn’t lost the quickness that makes him one of the line’s best athletes.  Another late-bloomer, last year’s baptism under fire will really begin paying dividends to the offense this fall.          

Projected Top Reserves: At guard, 6-3, 300-pound sophomore Adam Hollifield has the potential to crack the lineup, but slipped in the pecking order after missing spring practice with a foot injury.  A starter in last year’s first five games, the former walk-on tore a tendon in his foot against Mississippi State that prematurely ended his season. 

Adding more depth to guard is another sophomore, 6-5, 290-pound Logan Creel.  A versatile blocker who can also play tackle, he lettered as a freshman, flashing quickness off the snap and a need for more upper body strength. 

The Blazers are still waiting for junior tackle Willie Thompson to blossom into the player that was the gem of the 2005 recruiting class.  A tremendous physical specimen at 6-6 and 295 pounds, he earned significant playing time in 2007, but is currently lagging a step behind McCants on the left side. 

Watch Out For … the staff to continue shuffling the deck.  The goal is to get the five best linemen in the huddle, and as the spring demonstrated, that process is far from over.  Hollifield, Creel, Thompson are all listed as backups, but have the potential and the experience to earn a promotion.         
Strength: The future.  There isn’t a senior on the two-deep, and underclassmen will lead the way up front.  The Blazers used four freshmen a year ago and lived to tell about it.  Now that those rookies are a year older and wiser, the unit expects fewer false starts and more holes for the running backs.                   
Weakness: Run blocking.  The problems in the running game are a shared responsibility.  No, the backs aren’t very good, but the line hasn’t exactly helped the situation.  A little undersized as a group, the unit needs to somehow become more physical at the point of attack.               
Outlook: Although the Blazers are still going to get schooled by some of the league’s better lines, there’s reason for optimism, especially if Thomas allows Seitz to stay at guard.  McCants and Edge are green, but will keep getting better, eventually giving UAB a formidable bookend at tackle.  
: 5