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2009 Middle Tennessee Preview - Offense
Middle Tennessee RB Phillip Tanner
Middle Tennessee RB Phillip Tanner
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted May 5, 2009


CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Middle Tennessee Blue Raider Offense

Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders

Preview 200
9 - Offense

- 2009 CFN Middle Tennessee Preview | 2009 MT Offense
- 2009 MT Defense | 2009 MT Depth Chart
- 2008 MT Preview | 2007 MT Preview | 2006 MT Preview 

What you need to know:
Tony Franklin, the offensive coordinator booted from Auburn last year, will bring his spread attack to the Blue Raiders, and he has the players to run it with all the starters returning. The key will be the play of quarterback Dwight Dasher, a multi-talented playmaker who has to show he can be consistent enough to make the right decisions on a regular basis. The receiving corps is loaded with speed and production, but it might go underused if there’s a renewed reliance on the ground game. The line got 12 games out of four of the starters and has a good situation at the other spot, right guard, while RB Phillip Tanner is a touchdown machine who should benefit from the new style.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Dwight Dasher
17-44, 156 yds, 2 TD, 3 INT
Rushing: Phillip Tanner
188 carries, 714 yds, 15 TD
Receiving: Eldred King
51 catches, 598 yds, 4 TD

Star of the offense: Junior RB Phillip Tanner
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior QB Dwight Dasher
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore WR Sancho McDonald
Best pro prospect: Junior OT Mark FIsher
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Fisher, 2) WR Malcolm Beyah, 3) RB Phillip Tanner
Strength of the offense: Experience, receiving corps
Weakness of the offense:
Proven running game, needing to rely on Dwight Dasher

Quarterbacks

Projected Starter: Dwight Dasher appeared to be ready to become a superstar after a great true freshman season with 530 rushing yards and a good passing year even though he wasn’t the full-time starter. However, he was inconsistent in practices and lost out the starting job to Joe Craddock going into last year and only finished with 118 rushing yards and completed a mere 33% of his throws for 156 yards and two touchdowns and three interceptions. Now he has the potential to be a star in the new offense that’ll be perfect for his skills. While the junior is only 5-10 and 204 pounds, he’s very fast, being used at receiver for a stretch, has a decent arm, and he should be a nightmare to defend when he gets on the move.

Projected Top Reserves: With Joe Craddock gone and Dwight Dasher still a bit of a boom-or-bust prospect, redshirt freshman Brent Burnette will need to be at the ready. Tennessee’s Mr. Football is a 6-3, 207-pound redshirt freshman with a live arm and excellent pure passing skills. He’s also a winner, going 60-0 with four state titles at Maryville High in Tennessee. While he’s not expected to start, he could see time here and there to get his feet wet.

Watch Out For ... Dasher to regain his freshman year form. There will be times when he kills the team with mistakes, he’ll be on the move more in the Tony Franklin offense and he should be in the mix for all-star honors if he can prove he can handle the weight of being the main man for the attack.
Strength: Dasher’s legs and Burnette’s arm. Dasher can throw the ball, he showed decent accuracy two years ago, but he’s not Burnette throwing the ball. Burnette isn’t a statue, but Dasher is a runner. There are two good options to work with.
Weakness
:
Dasher’s consistency. The Blue Raiders might be good enough to win the Sun Belt title with a few big breaks, but it’s not going to happen unless Dasher comes up with a big year. He’ll have to be counted on game in and game out to not make a slew of mistakes and to be the type of playmaker who keeps defensive coordinators up at night.
Outlook: The Tony Franklin spread attack is perfect for Dwight Dasher, and if he can improve his passing efficiency, the offense has the potential to blow up. Dasher is a dangerous runner who has Sun Belt Player of the Year potential if he takes to the new offense and flourishes. If he struggles, the Blue Raider offense will have to rely more on Brent Burnette to add more of a passing element to the mix.
Rating: 6


Running Backs

Projected Starters: Senior Phillip Tanner only started in four games, but he was the main rushing threat all season long with a team-leading 714 yards and 15 touchdowns. He also was used as a receiver out of the backfield with 13 grabs for 135 yards and a score. With tremendous speed and a great high school résumé with 4,725 yards and 76 touchdowns, he was expected to shine from day one, but he has a hard time staying healthy and finally showed what he could do last year. At 6-0 and 211 pounds, he has good size to go along with his wheels. While he only averaged 3.8 yards per try, he had some big moments with 159 yards and five touchdowns on just 14 carries in the win over North Texas, and he scores in every game but two.

Projected Top Reserves: While Tanner is the team’s best running option, Desmond Gee is one of the Sun Belt's most dynamic players and is a player who has to get the ball in his hands more. He's an average kick and punt returner, and he only ran for 205 yards, averaging 3.2 yards per try, but he was a dangerous receiver finishing with 24 catches for 248 yards and a score. Only 5-8 and 158 pounds, he’s all about his speed. While he’ll still get a few carries here and there, he’ll mostly be used as a wide receiver.

If Gee really is used more as a wide receiver, it’ll be up to sophomore D.D. Kyles to play a big role as the No. 2 back behind Tanner. At 6-1 and 191 pounds, Kyles is a lanky runner who only had one carry in two games before being lost for the year with a knee injury. Originally a wide receiver, he moved to safety, and then moved to the offensive backfield to add his blinding speed to the equation.

Watch Out For ... Tanner to be used even more effectively. With the new offense, Dwight Dasher will add more rushing production from the quarterback spot so Tanner won’t need to carry the ball 25 times a game. That’s a positive considering his past injury issues. That will mean Tanner will have to shine when he gets his chances.
Strength: Speed. Few teams in America have the home run hitting potential of this group with Tanner and Kyles speedsters who can run past anyone. Throw Gee into the discussion and Middle Tennessee has a heck of a track team, but ...
Weakness
:
Home runs. There have been moments when the backs have been able to tear off big runs, but there’s way too much speed to not have more big runs. There’s no excuse for the Blue Raiders to average 3.1 yards per carry with this group.
Outlook: There isn’t much in the way of power and the backs aren’t good enough to carry the offense, but there’s speed to burn and there’s plenty of experience with Tanner around long enough to be a star if he can stay healthy. If Kyles is 100%, he’ll be another dangerous option. However, if everything is going according to plan and the offense is working, Dasher will be the team’s leading rusher.
Rating: 5


Receivers

Projected Starters: The team needed a steady, go-to receiver, and Eldred King came in from the JUCO ranks and provided it with a team-leading 51 catches for 598 yards and four touchdowns. While he’s not big at 5-9 and 167 pounds, the senior is tough and athletic at the H position. He was good for around three catches a game throughout the season, and he blew up against Mississippi State with 11 grabs for 164 yards and one touchdown. He wasn’t much of a scorer, but he got in the end zone in four of the last five games of the year.
 
5-9, 169-pound senior Patrick Honeycutt stepped up in a big way, after missing all of 2006 with a knee injury, and tied Eldred King for the team-lead in catches with 51 grabs for 513 yards and three scores. A good inside Z receiver, he was a steady, consistent playmaker who came up with a monster two game stretch in September against Arkansas State and Florida Atlantic with 20 catches for 207 yards and two scores. However, he only scored one time in the other nine games.

While King and Honeycutt are the reliable midrange targets, sophomore Malcolm Beyah is the home run hitter. The 5-11, 190-pound starter at the Y finished third on the team with 33 catches, but he amassed 550 yards averaging 16.7 yards per catch with six touchdowns. While he slowed down as the year went on, he’s still coming into the season as one of the team’s most dangerous players.

The 6-4, 203-pound Chris McClover originally signed with Rutgers, when the JUCO route, and came to Middle Tennessee last year to become a decent backup making 14 catches for 114 yards. With his size, he provides a different look at the outside X position along with Sancho McDonald, but he could play anywhere in the corps.

Sophomore tight end Byron McLeod only started in two games, but he showed good potential even though he made just two catches for 26 yards. He struggled through a shoulder injury early in the season, and now the 6-2, 236-pounder should be a bigger part of the offense.


Projected Top Reserves: Sancho McDonald was one of the team’s top recruits last year, and he showed why averaging 26 catches for 308 yards and three touchdowns. At 6-3 and 192 pounds, he has good size to go along with excellent speed. He would’ve been the type of recruit who went elsewhere to a much bigger school but he was hurt for most of his senior year of high school. Middle Tennessee was able to reap the rewards with McDonald certain to eventually be a starter on the X for the next three years.

Working behind Beyah at the Y position is 6-1, 184-pound junior Wes Caldwell, who has nice hands and decent experience catching 27 passes for 265 yards. He has the quickness to do more once he gets the ball, but he’s mostly been a possession target so far.

Sophomore Andrew Banks was expected to be a major contributor after a huge spring as a true freshman, but the former quarterback didn’t catch any passes and was only used on special teams. A wisp of a target at 5-9 and 150 pounds, he could grow into a uncoverable quick target if he can grow into a better route runner. He’ll play at the Y behind Malcolm Beyah.

Senior Gene Delle Donne was supposed to be a key quarterback prospect with good size and a live arm, but the 6-5, 251-pounder became a tight end where he has become a decent blocker. He has the athleticism and the potential to be more of a receiver after catching just two passes for six yards.

Watch Out For ... Desmond Gee
as a wide receiver. The speedy running back has been used in a variety of ways over the last few years, and now he’ll get more work as a wideout. He’s not expected to push Eldred King for a starting job, but he’s too talented to not work his way through the crowded receiving corps to shine.
Strength: Veterans. Everyone is back. Including the running backs, the top eight pass catchers from last year return. There’s plenty of production, plenty of options, and too many good targets to work with.
Weakness
:
The quarterback. This might be the team’s biggest strength, but it might go underutilized with Dwight Dasher at quarterback. The new offense will revolve more around the running game and should involve the passing game less than last year. There might be stretches when the top targets aren’t getting the ball in their hands.
Outlook: Considered to be one of the team’s biggest problems last year, it turned into a major positive thanks to the emergence of Eldred King and Patrick Honeycutt as steady targets, and the play of Malcolm Beyah. While the corps might be underutilized if the Tony Franklin offense revolves more around the running game, the receivers are there to use when needed. This might be the league’s best group of receivers.
Rating: 5.5

Offensive Linemen

Projected Starters: All five starters return to the line led by junior Mark Fisher, a 6-3, 281-pound right tackle who was a steady starter and was tough as nails. He suffered a bad shoulder injury, but he was able to play all season long and was a key pass protector. While he might not be a devastating run blocker, he’s one of the anchors the offense will work around.

Back at left tackle is sophomore Mike Williams, an undersized blocker who uses his excellent athleticism to be a steady pass protector. While he’s only 6-2 and 253 pounds, he’s tough for his size and is every bit as quick as the defenders trying to get by him. While he’s not going to power over anyone, he’s a good one who’ll be a starter for the next three years.

6-5, 302-pound senior Mark Thompson was going to move outside to tackle when it originally looked like Mark Fisher was going to be out for the year, but he was able to start for the entire year at center for the second straight season. A good recruit who became a solid interior blocker, he’s one of the team’s most versatile linemen and the leader of the front five.

Pushing to get the start at right guard is Alex Stuart, a 6-3, 289-pound sophomore who was one of the surprises in spring ball and appears to be ready to take the job by the horns. While he’ll be part of a rotation when everyone gets healthy, he’ll be a key factor with his good athleticism and strength.

6-3, 297-pound junior Jamal Lewis started every game at left guard and turned into a fringe all-star. He was a rock who couldn’t get off the field and he showed the potential to eventually be a major star for the ground game. He’s a good athlete with nice size and tremendous upside.

Projected Top Reserves: At some point, sophomore Colin Boss will be back in a spot as a starting guard. He’s a talented 6-4, 313-pound hitter who was emerging as one of the new stars on the line before having problems with a shoulder injury. While he’ll have to work to get his job back, when healthy, he’s too good to keep off the field.

Stepping in to get a look at the starting right guard spot with Colin Boss hurt is 6-3, 276-pound junior Chris Hawkins, a versatile blocker who could play anywhere on the line if needed. While he’s mostly been a reserve, he has one start under his belt and has the potential to be a steady contributor, starting out at tackle behind Mark Fisher.

With Mike Williams undersized at left tackle, 6-5, 282-pound redshirt freshman Rogeric Govan is a bigger option to see time in the rotation. A great athlete for his size, he’s also a tough, physical player. A top defensive lineman in high school, he still has room to grow and emerge as a blocker.

6-4, 291-pound junior Evan Lettsome got in a little work over the last two years and has been great in practices. However, he’s not getting on the field. He has the size and the strength to get more work at guard working behind Jamal Lewis on the left side.

Watch Out For ... more for the ground game. With all the returning experience and all the potential for greatness up front, the line will do more for the running game that finished 102nd in the nation. The new offense will make a push to do more to pound away.
Strength: Experience. All the starters are back with four players returning who started every game. Only one spot, right guard, underwent some turnover and even that wasn’t much of a problem. That’s a good situation this year with Boss able to step in at any time if Hawkins isn’t the man.
Weakness
:
Proven run blocking ability. With the great size everywhere but left tackle, there’s no reason the team should average just 107 rushing yards per game. With the new offense needing to rely more on a spread look to open up slivers of holes, the line has to come through.
Outlook: The Blue Raider lines have been great in pass protection over the last few years and awful for the running game. With Dwight Dasher under center, his mobility will help out the line. Now the front five, full of experience with all the starters back, the line should be among the best in the Sun Belt if it can take to the new attack.
Rating: 5.5