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2008 UCF Preview - Offense
UCF OT Pat Brown
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you need to know:
Considering the gaping hole that exists in the running game, the
Knights are going to need more production from a passing attack
that was last in the league and 105th nationally a
season ago. The battle to replace Kyle Israel at quarterback
will focus on Joe Weatherford, brother of Florida State’s Drew
Weatherford, and Michael Greco, a 220-pound dual-threat southpaw
that conjures up images of Tim Tebow light. As if the running
game needed more problems, Phillip Smith, Kevin Smith’s
successor, suffered a lower leg injury and finished the spring
on crutches. If he’s unavailable for any length of time, UCF
will be forced to dig deep into the roster, relying on unknowns,
such as James Jamison and Ronnie Weaver. Led by starters Rocky
Ross and Kamar Aiken, the receivers will be a strength if they
can cut down on dropped passes.
Passing: Michael Greco
24-45, 303 yds, 0 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Phillip Smith
52 carries, 246 yds, 4 TD
Receiving: Rocky Ross
50 catches, 658 yds, 2 TD
Star of the
Senior WR Rocky Ross
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior RB
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore WR Kamar Aiken
Best pro prospect: Senior RT Patrick Brown
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Brown 2) Ross 3) Aiken
Strength of the offense: The receivers
Weakness of the offense: Uncertainty in the backfield, the
right side of the line
Projected Starter: The Knights have an opening
under center that’ll be filled by either junior Michael Greco
or redshirt freshman Joe Weatherford. Greco is more
experienced and the far better athlete, exiting spring with a
clear edge in the competition. After brief stops at NC State
and Pearl River (Miss.) Community College, the 6-3, 220-pound
lefty has found a home in Orlando and gradually emerged as one
of the vocal leaders of the offense. A terrific all-around
athlete that can break containment and routinely runs in the 4.4
range, Greco is at his best on short and intermediate routes.
As Kyle Israel’s backup, he appeared in nine games, throwing for
303 yards and rushing for 128 yards and two scores.
Projected Top Reserves: At worst, Weatherford will
be the first option off the bench for George O’Leary. The
younger brother of Florida State’s starting quarterback, he’s
more of a prototypical drop-back passer than Greco. At 6-4 and
200 pounds, he has a nice pocket presence and can make all the
throws, but has a lot to learn fundamentally and needs to become
more assertive in the huddle. While Weatherford is the future
at the position, he has a lot of ground to cover in the summer
to overtake Greco.
Watch Out For… new wrinkles in the playbook that
take advantage of Greco’s athletic ability. Now that Israel and
RB Kevin Smith are out of the equation, the Knights are about to
become more finesse and less power. Greco has a chance to be
the headliner in that philosophical shift.
Strength: Mobility. Greco’s ability to escape the
pocket and make throws on the move is a new dimension to the
offense and an added challenge for UCF’s opponents to scheme
Weakness: Proven passers. Until the season starts,
no one really knows if Greco will be the type of quarterback
that relies on his legs too much, bolting from the pocket
whenever his first option is blanketed. His backups,
Weatherford and Nate Tice, have yet to take a snap in
Outlook: Greco’s biggest challenge won’t be
succeeding Israel, who underachieved as the starter, but rather
taking over an offense that no longer has Smith in the
backfield. If he can prove himself as a passer, the Knights
will have a starter for the next two seasons, allowing
Weatherford to mature at a modest pace.
Projected Starters: There’s no simple way to
replace Kevin Smith, who led the country with 2,567 yards and 29
touchdowns on the ground. The task got a little harder when
last year’s No. 2, junior Phillip Smith, injured his
lower leg in the spring. The extent of the injury isn’t known,
but if he’s out for any length of time, the fate of the running
game will be in the hands of a bunch of unknowns with no
experience. Smith was second on the team with 246 and four
touchdowns on 52 carries, most coming in blowouts of Memphis and
SMU. A rangy 6-1, 194-pound slasher, he’s got the outside speed
needed to get around the corner and into the secondary in a
hurry. Although Phillip isn’t going to be Kevin, he does have
1,000-yard potential if health isn’t an issue.
Sophomore Ricky Kay will be the fullback a year after
playing in 14 games and starting a pair. A bruising 6-3,
245-pound walk-on, he won’t be asked to carry the ball, but did
have six receptions for 60 yards as a true freshman.
Projected Top Reserves: After Smith was injured in
March, redshirt freshman Ronnie Weaver took most of the
reps with the first team. A 6-0, 202-pound former walk-on, he’s
a hard worker with deceptive speed and the ability to pick up
tough yards between the tackles. Sophomore James Jamison
is a converted defensive back that switched sides of the ball to
bolster the backfield. He’s shown a nice burst and decent speed
for a 5-11, 215-pound runner. At 6-0 and 206 pounds, senior
Jayson Williams is another Knight that’s making the move
from the secondary. A special teams lifer, he’ll be getting his
first opportunity to make plays with the ball in his hands.
Watch Out For… the incoming freshmen. It’s a good
thing that the Knights loaded up on running backs in the
offseason because they’ll need at least one of them to
contribute right now. Brynn Harvery and Latavius
Murray, in particular, are big backs capable of scaling the
depth in August.
Strength: Smith. Assuming he’s 100%, Smith has
the physical attributes to slowly begin stepping out of that
other Smith’s tall shadow. He’s not going to challenge Barry
Sanders’ single-season rushing mark, but he’s good enough to
take heat off the new quarterback.
Weakness: No proven feature back. Hey, the
drop-off from was going to be precipitous no matter what, but it
wouldn’t have been so bad if there was a proven commodity
waiting in the wings. You know team depth is a crisis when half
the spring backs were recently defensive backs.
Outlook: The Knights need someone to step up and
assume the role of every-down back. If they’re unsuccessful, a
running game by committee will be employed, and the offense will
lean more on the running ability of QB Michael Greco.
Projected Starters: Senior Rocky Ross will
be part player and part teacher for the Knights, serving as the
No. 1 option in the passing game, while mentoring a very young
corps of receivers. He catches everything thrown in his
direction, runs tight routes, and is clutch on third downs. The
6-2, 196-pound Ross is coming off a career year, catching a
team-high 50 passes for 658 yards and two touchdowns. His
partner will be sophomore Kamar Aiken, a more dynamic big
play threat coming off a terrific rookie season. A surprise
12-game starter, the 6-2, 205-pounder caught 33 balls for 584
yards and five touchdowns. More important than averaging almost
18 yards a catch, Aiken showed signs of being a complete
receiver and a rising star in Conference USA.
Junior Corey Rabazinski is back for a third year as the
UCF tight end. Since breaking through as a true freshman, he’s
made 26 appearances and started in 15 games, serving as an
occasional option in the passing game. At 6-3 and 243 pounds,
Rabazinski caught his first two touchdowns a year ago, but isn’t
going to simulate a sixth guard as a blocker.
Projected Top Reserves: The kiddie corps on the
second team was supposed to be led by 5-10, 188-pound sophomore
A.J. Guyton, who was fourth on the team with 23
receptions for 253 yards and two scores. However, a torn ACL in
the spring means he’ll likely be redshirted in 2008.
Behind Ross is sophomore Sidney Haynes, a massive 6-4 and
214-pound target that played sparingly as a true freshman.
Following a terrific offseason, he’s ready to be a major
contributor that can out muscle defenders on short routes or
stretch a secondary on deep fade patterns.
Although Brian Watters doesn’t get the notoriety of the
other sophomores, he quietly had a solid rookie season, catching
14 passes for 161 yards and three touchdowns. Lightly recruited
out of high school, the 6-2, 180-pounder does the little things
well, including having some of the best hands on the team.
While Rabazinski is the starter at tight end, redshirt freshman
Adam Nissley is making sure he doesn’t get too
comfortable. A 6-6, 260-pound beast, he floored the coaching
staff in the spring with his soft hands and devastating blocks
on running plays. If Nissley, who played in the Wing-T in high
school, keeps progressing as a pass-catcher, he’ll be hard to
keep off the field.
Watch Out For… Haynes. While he won’t start, the
sophomore’s blend of size and speed has the Knights thinking
they might have the second coming of Mike Walker.
Strength: Size. In Orlando, they like their
pass-catchers big enough to create match up headaches for
average-sized defensive backs. The top three receivers are all
6-2 or taller, and Haynes and Aiken are at least 205 pounds.
Weakness: Ball security. With youth comes a
cost. For the Knights, that means a few more dropped passes
than George O’Leary can tolerate.
Outlook: The receivers will be more reliable than
last year, when freshmen dominated the three-deep. Now that
seven of those rookies are sophomores, the Knights expect Ross
to get extra support. With the senior commanding attention
underneath, Aiken and Haynes will have lots of chances to make
big plays against man coverage.
Projected Starters: Entering his fourth season as
a starter, senior Patrick Brown will be the anchor of a
Knight line that’ll be breaking in three new starters. An agile
6-5, 292-pounder that’s started 38 straight games, he’s prepared
to break through after earning honorable mention All-Conference
USA honors in consecutive seasons. Over on the right side will
be sophomore Jah Reid, a raw player with the size to
eventually grow into a very productive player. Now a
trimmed-down 6-7 and 320 pounds, he has the long arms to wall
off rushers and four games of starting experience that’ll
benefit him in his third season in Orlando.
Senior Mike Lavoie has been a pleasant surprise in the
offseason, calming some of the Knights’ fears about having a new
starter at center. A 6-5, 292-pound career backup on the line
and special teams, he’s loaded with experience in the system,
but needs to prove he can handle the responsibility of being the
every down guy at the pivot.
Junior Jeramy DeVane is the veteran at guard, having been
the starter for half of his sophomore season. The 6-3,
300-pounder still has plenty of upside, getting a good push in
the running game, yet needing to improve as a pass protector.
Devane split time with Cliff McCray, who has since left the
program. Taking advantage of the opening has been Cody
Minnich, a senior coming off the best spring of his Knight
career. A former 6-3, 296-pound walk-on with no game
experience, he spent most of March on the right side with the
first unit, while showing the versatility to play some tackle.
Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore Wes Sauvao has
made the move from defensive tackle in order to provide
competition to the guards. A physical 6-3, 300-pounder, he’s
picked up the offense quickly, impressing the staff with how
well he moves off the snap. Joining Sauvao on the second team
is 6-7, 296-pound
Pieschel, who’s made terrific strides since his
rookie season. A fluid athlete for his size, he could be a
tackle at some point in his career.
Setting the pace at tackle for the reserves is a pair of
imposing underclassmen, sophomore Mike Buxton and
redshirt freshman Billy Offutt. While Offutt is 6-6 and
305 pounds, Buxton is 6-8 and 314 pounds. Both figure
prominently in the program’s future, particularly with Brown
down to his final year of eligibility.
Watch Out For… the play of Lavoie. It’s one thing
to open a few eyes in the spring. However, it’s another thing
entirely to handle the most important position on the line once
games begin. Lavoie has limited relevant experience, which the
staff hopes won’t become evident in September.
Strength: Brown. He’s one of the steadiest
linemen in Conference USA, and if lefty Michael Greco is under
center, Brown will be guarding the quarterback’s front side for
the first time in his career.
Weakness: Everything to the right of Brown.
Minnich and Lavoie are nice stories, but there’s a reason they
haven’t played much over the last three years. Ideally, they’re
the type of players that provide depth on the B team, rather
than hold down jobs in a sketchy starting lineup.
Outlook: The unsung heroes in Kevin Smith’s
2,000-yard season, the UCF offensive line won’t be nearly as
heralded this fall. The right side of the unit is a flashing
weakness, and Lavoie has plenty to prove in his first season as
a starting center.