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2009 Tulsa Preview - Offense
Tulsa RB Charles Clay
Tulsa RB Charles Clay
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted May 9, 2009


CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Tulsa Golden Hurricane Offense

Tulsa Golden Hurricane

Preview 2009 - Offense


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2009 CFN Tulsa Preview | 2009 Tulsa Offense Preview
- 2009 Tulsa Defense Preview
| 2009 Tulsa Depth Chart
- 2008 Tulsa Preview | 2007 Tulsa Preview | 2006 Tulsa Preview

What you need to know
: Gus Malzahn, the architect of the wildly successful hurry-up, no huddle system, may be at Auburn, but don’t expect many changes in philosophy. Under Herb Hand, the Hurricane still plans to spread the field, operate out of the shotgun, and mix in the run with the pass. After leading the nation in total offense the last two seasons, why mess with success? All eyes will be fixed on a fascinating quarterback race involving last year’s backup Jacob Bower, Texas transfer G.J. Kinne, and incoming freshman Shavodrick Beaver. The winner gets an instant opportunity for monster numbers and national notoriety. While Tulsa is in good shape at the skill positions, the line is a work-in-progress, needing to replace three starters and build some depth in a hurry.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Jacob Bower
11-15, 138 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Jamad Williams
86 carries, 523 yds, 3 TD
Receiving: Damaris Johnson
53 catches, 743 yds, 10 TD

Star of the offense: Sophomore WR Damaris Johnson
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior QB Jacob Bower, sophomore G.J. Kinne, or true freshman Shavodrick Beaver
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LT Tyler Holmes
Best pro prospect: Junior RB Charles Clay
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Johnson  2) Clay  3) Senior WR Slick Shelley
Strength of the offense: Passing attack, the ground game, depth and explosiveness at the skill positions
Weakness of the offense: Inexperience at quarterback, holes on the offensive line


Quarterbacks

Projected Starter: For the first time in years, Tulsa will be handing its offense over to an inexperienced quarterback. Who that hurler will be remains very much in the air. There’s a tight, three-man race at the position, which produced no front-runner at the end of spring. The veteran of the trio is 6-3, 242-pound junior Jacob Bower, who earned some mop-up duty as the backup in 2008. A former hot-shot JUCO recruit out of Bakersfield (Calif.) College, by way of BYU, he has a strong arm, a gunslinger’s mindset, and the maturity that comes with being married and much older than the competition. He needs to improve at the finer points of the position and develop a little more touch on his throws.

Projected Top Reserves: After transferring from Texas and sitting out last season, 6-2, 215-pound sophomore G.J. Kinne is ready to compete for the job. A two-time offensive player of the year in the state of Texas, he plays with the control of a coach’s son and throws a nice ball on the move. While not an imposing figure, he has enough arm strength to make all of the throws in this offense.

The future at the position belongs to 6-3, 190-pound true freshman Shavodrick Beaver, who already took part in his first practices and turned heads in the spring game. A rangy athlete, who can kill a defense with his athletic ability and long stride, he de-committed from Michigan and Rich Rodriguez in order to play for Tulsa. 

Watch Out For… an all-out war this summer to win the job. Everyone wants to start, naturally, but this is one of the unique quarterback opportunities in America. If you get the start in Tulsa, you get a chance for eye-popping numbers and an uncommon amount of national recognition. That carrot will elevate the intensity of this race in August.
Strength: Pedigree. BYU had Bower. Texas signed Kinne. Michigan, among others, was going to build its offense around Beaver. You see a trend here? These are talented quarterbacks, who just haven’t had the chance yet to flourish at this level.
Weakness: Game experience. Bower went 11-of-15 for 138 yards, one touchdown, and one interception in 2008, making him the veteran of the group. There’s no replacement for live action, which these three are clearly short of heading into the season.   
Outlook: It’s the system, stupid. Did you notice NFL GMs tripping over themselves to sign Paul Smith or David Johnson the last two years? No, yet they combined for about a thousand touchdowns in a hurry-up, no-huddle attack that’s a star-maker. Pound-for-pound, the replacements might be more gifted than Smith and Johnson, but they’ll have to execute in the fall before earning passing grades.    
Rating: 6.5


Running Backs

Projected Starters: Now that all-time leading rusher Tarrion Adams has run out of eligibility, 5-9, 212-pound junior Jamad Williams has a clear path to earning a bigger role in the offense. He’s excelled as a reserve the last two seasons, finishing second on the team a year ago with 523 yards and three touchdowns on only 86 carries. While not very tall, he’s plenty tough and, as a former defensive back, won’t shy away from contact. Shockingly, only Navy and Air Force ran the ball more than Tulsa in 2008, so Williams must be mentally and physically prepared for at least 15 carries a game.

In 6-3, 230-pound junior Charles Clay, the Hurricane essentially gets four players in one. While listed as a fullback in the past, he could be used as a feature runner this fall. He’s also one of the team’s best receivers, a hybrid between a tight end and an H-back. He caught 38 passes for 464 yards and nine touchdowns, while running 25 times for 145 yards and two scores. He can do it all for Tulsa, which is why the staff is committed to getting him the ball at least 20 times a game.

Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore Charles Opeseyitan made the most of his limited opportunities last season, turning 45 carries into 355 yards and two touchdowns. That’s an average of just below eight yards a carry, which is sure to earn him more looks in 2009. The fastest of the running backs, he also has the 5-10, 205-pound frame needed to break tackles.

Behind Clay at the bigger back position is 6-2, 206-pound redshirt freshman Willie Carter. He displayed big-play potential in April, and already has the size and strength to contribute at this level. With three experienced runners ahead of him, he’ll have the luxury of being brought along slowly in this debut season.

Watch Out For… a much bigger role for Clay. His production actually dropped last year from his breakout freshman season, but a repeat is highly unlikely. He’s such a unique weapon, and with the departures of Adams and Courtney Tennial, there’ll be an opening for more carries than the last two years combined.
Strength: Versatility. By design, Tulsa has molded its running backs into multi-dimensional players, who can pick up huge chunks of real estate on the ground or split out and emulate a receiver. They’re all playmakers, as evidenced by their gaudy yards per touch average.
Weakness: A sure-thing feature back. Adams had 270 touches a year ago for 1,761 yards and 15 touchdowns. You don’t replace that kind of production with the snap of a finger. Williams, Clay, and Opeseyitan have been nice parts up to this point, but there are no guarantees that any one of them is durable or talented enough to shoulder the load.
Outlook: Even without Adams, Tulsa looks as if it’ll be fine at running back, an underrated position in this wide-open offense. With Clay providing the power and the pass-catching, and Williams and Opeseyitan the flash, there won’t be a noticeable drop-off in the overall production from the backfield.

Rating: 6

Receivers

Projected Starters: It’s taken a couple of years, but Tulsa has stockpiled talent at wide receiver, turning it into a position of strength. Most of last year’s top pass-catchers are back, headed by 5-8, 170-pound sophomore flanker Damaris Johnson, a rookie revelation who led the team in receptions. An explosive playmaker, he was No. 5 nationally in all-purpose yards, catching 53 passes for 743 yards and 10 touchdowns and rushing for 327 yards and a score. The Hurricane’s version of DeSean Jackson, he’s capable of hitting a home run from anywhere on the field.

Split out wide will be 6-4, 200-pound senior Slick Shelley, who excelled in his first year removed from the Tennessee program. He finished third on the team with 39 catches for 627 yards and eight touchdowns. One of the biggest receivers in Tulsa, he uses his body well when the ball is in the air, has nice hands, and is quick enough to get behind the secondary.

Rounding out the starting trio will be 5-11, 180-pound junior Trae Johnson. A year after earning Freshman All-America recognition, he suffered through a sophomore slump, catching just 20 balls for 475 yards and three touchdowns. It was a far cry from the 70 receptions and 13 touchdowns he had in 2007, but he still has the quickness, soft hands, and separation speed to make a rebound. The Hurricane, in fact, is counting on it.

When Tulsa employs a tight end, it has a good one in 6-4, 242-pound senior Jake Collums. If nothing else, he’s been incredibly efficient throughout his career, turning eight of his dozen catches into touchdowns. A veteran in the H-back mold and a good blocker, Hurricane quarterbacks would be foolish not to look his way near the end zone. 

Projected Top Reserves: Running behind Johnson at flanker is 5-9, 172-pound junior A.J. Whitmore, a letterwinner in each of the last two seasons. While not as big of a threat in the passing game, catching 27 passes for 261 yards and two scores, he’s very dangerous on inside handoffs and end-arounds. He’s averaged almost 10 yards a carry in his career, rushing 51 times for 346 yards and six touchdowns a year ago.

The rare physical receiver of this diminutive group, 6-4, 203-pound senior Jesse Meyer is No. 2 behind Shelley on the outside. While a lack of consistency limited him to just nine catches for 160 yards last fall, he does bring size, veteran leadership, and a keen knowledge of the offense to the B team.

Watch Out For… incoming freshman Ricky Johnson. A rookie has led the Hurricane in receiving the last two seasons, so there’s clearly no glass ceiling for the younger players. A de-commit from Arkansas just before signing day, he has the 4.4 speed and 6-2, 190-pound frame to make an instant impact.
Strength: Explosiveness. Collectively, this group can really fly, with or without the ball in its hands. More than just your garden-variety field-stretchers, the Hurricane receivers do a terrific job of taking short passes and turning them into long gains.                   
Weakness: Consistency. While this is a very nice collection of pass-catchers, it still has plenty of room for growth in those hard-to-quantify areas, like drops, route-running, and downfield blocking. It may be splitting hairs, but don’t tell that to receivers coaches Mike Norvell and Clarence James. 
Outlook: Through recruiting and player development, Tulsa has been building to this point, where talent meets depth at wide receiver. In Johnson, Shelley, and Johnson, the Hurricane has genuine game-breakers, who’ll help ease the transition of the new starting quarterback.
Rating: 7


Offensive Line

Projected Starters: While everyone is naturally fixated on the quarterback derby, the offseason machinations taking place up front will be just as important to the success of the program. The Hurricane must replace three starters, including first team all-leaguer Justin Morsey. If there’s bedrock to be found, it’s on the left side, where 6-3, 306-pound sophomore Tyler Holmes and 6-4, 309-pound senior Curt Puckett are back at tackle and guard, respectively. Holmes was a standout in his first season, using a strong upper body and quick feet to adequately protect the passer’s backside. He figures to continue getting better with more reps.

Puckett’s a grinder, entering his third season as a starter on the inside. Although he’s not a next-level type blocker, he endures with good size and a bucket full of intangibles that includes determination, work ethic, and a detailed knowledge of his assignments.

Sophomore Clint Anderson is expected to take over at center for Jody Whaley, who has decided to move on to a new chapter of his life. Undersized at 6-2 and 272 pounds, he plays much stronger than his size, and is quick out of the box. He earned a letter in 2008, even earning some late starts at guard after Morsey was injured.

The right side of the line tentatively has 6-2, 270-pound junior Nick Gates at guard and 6-5, 274-pound Brandon Thomas at tackle. Gates likes to mix it up in the trenches, flashing a noticeable mean streak on Saturdays. He’s played some over the last two seasons, but this is a promotion that’s going to test his skills and endurance as a lineman.

The staff is cautiously optimistic about the future of Thomas, a former high school tight end, who has gradually added weight since leaving Nordonia (OH) High School. He still has room to grow, but has the feet and the athleticism to be an outstanding pass protector at some point in the future.  

Projected Top Reserves: Redshirt freshman Jared Grigg earned high marks and the backup job at left tackle this spring. Like Thomas, he needs to add some bulk to his 6-4, 265-pound frame, but has the agility and quickness to grow into a very productive player in the next year or two.

If Anderson has any problems, or moves outside to guard, 6-2, 274-pound junior Jon Bell will be there to fill the void. A converted defensive lineman, who lettered there in 2007, he’s still learning the nuances of playing on this side of the ball.

Watch Out For… junior T Wilson Holloway. A cancer survivor and last year’s recipient of the Courage Award, he continues to try and battle his way back to the team. A promising tackle before being diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma, he actually played the first half of 2008 before enduring a recurrence of the disease.
Strength: The left side. A weakness just one year ago, the left side is suddenly the strength of the unit. With Holmes and Puckett back for another season as starters, the Hurricane will run the majority of plays behind those two known commodities.  
Weakness: Depth. The starting five has a ton of questions marks. There are even fewer answers on the second team. As it stands right now, the Hurricane has only four healthy offensive linemen who’ve earned letters on this side of the ball.
Outlook: If the offense experiences setbacks this season, the finger will probably be pointed squarely at this cast of question marks. Although the program has done a commendable job of plastering units together in the past, it has a sizable challenge ahead. Interior talent and depth will be at a premium in 2009.
Rating: 5