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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.
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:
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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 ...
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.