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2009 Memphis Preview - Offense
Memphis WR Carlos Singleton
Memphis WR Carlos Singleton
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Jul 22, 2009


CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Memphis Tiger Offense

Memphis Tigers

Preview 2009 - Offense

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

What you need to know: While the Tigers boast some really talented skill position players, like RB Curtis Steele and receivers Carlos Singleton and Duke Calhoun, you might not know it if everyone else doesn’t step up. For the Memphis offense to truly flourish up to Tommy West’s expectations, it’s incumbent upon QB Arkelon Hall to evolve into a steadier passer and the rebuilt offensive line not to look rebuilt. After showing flashes in his first year out of junior college, the Tigers are counting on Hall to make good use of his weapons for at least 12 games. The front wall, which played so well a year ago, is being forced to replace four starters, and is dangerously thin in terms of proven depth.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Arkelon Hall
191-335, 2,275 yds, 12 TD, 7 INT
Rushing: Curtis Steele
218 carries, 1,223 yds, 7 TD
Receiving: Carlos Singleton
52 catches, 791 yds, 5 TD

SStar of the offense: Senior RB Curtis Steele
Player that has to step up and become a star: Senior QB Arkelon Hall
Unsung star on the rise: Junior C Dominik Riley
Best pro prospect: Senior WR Carlos Singleton
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Steele, 2) Singleton, 3) Senior WR Duke Calhoun
Strength of the offense: The skill position players
Weakness of the offense: Turnover and inexperience of the offensive line

Quarterbacks

Projected Starter: After showing glimpses in his first year out of the College of the Sequoias, senior Arkelon Hall is looking to build on that debut. He started 11 games, missing a pair with a thumb injury, but never really got in a groove for an extended period of time. He wound up going 191-of-335 for 2,275 yards, 12 touchdowns, and seven interceptions, adding 200 yards and three scores on the ground. A plus-sized quarterback at 6-3 and 225 pounds, he possesses a strong arm and surprising escapability when things break down. With the learning curve now flattened, he’s poised to catch a lot of people off guard.   

Projected Top Reserves: When Hall got hurt last October, 6-1, 190-pound senior Brett Toney got the first extensive action of his career. In three games, he went 31-of-53 for 338 yards, three touchdowns, and two interceptions. The Tigers’ nominee for the Rudy Award, which honors athletes of high character, courage, contribution and commitment, he’s a veteran backup and a valued team member.

Pushing hard to move up the depth chart will be 6-3, 220-pound sophomore Tyler Bass and 6-5, 195-pound junior Byron Ingram, a Georgia Tech transfer. Rather than redshirting in 2008, as expected, Bass was forced into action for two games, completing 10-of-13 for 101 yards, a touchdown and an interception, adding 79 yards and a score on the ground. The future at the position once he recovers from ACL surgery, he has the athletic ability and accuracy to be a great fit in Clay Helton’s spread.

Long and lean, Ingram is yet another good athlete, who can sling the ball downfield. A raw talent with no practical experience at this level, he has the longest climb up the depth chart between now and the opener.

Watch Out For ... the role of Will Hudgens. The oft-injured quarterback and member of the Memphis baseball team lobbied the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility and succeeded. Although he’s doubtful to win the job, you can never have enough experienced hurlers on the roster, something the Tigers know all too well.  
Strength:
Athleticism. The Tigers specifically recruit players who can make plays outside the pocket, which is evident with this collection of quarterbacks. All four are capable of taking off to pick up a first down on designed plays or when the protection breaks down.                           
Weakness: Proven passers. While Hall has the potential to be a quality passer, he still has plenty to prove after less than a year of work in the FCS. He lacked consistency against the better defenses, and needs to improve his reads heading into his final year. As a team, the Tigers were just 70th nationally in passing efficiency.          
Outlook: It feels like a decade ago, but don’t forget that Hall was a top recruit of Washington State a few years back. He has enough raw talent and supporting players to account for 25 or 30 touchdowns this year. Of course, that’s assuming he can hold off Bass, who has a bright future and won’t back down without a fight.
Rating
: 5.5

Running Backs

Projected Starters: Problem solved. The identity of Memphis’ next feature back was a glaring mystery in 2008 until senior Curtis Steele won the job and evolved into an all-star. In his first year removed from Northwest Mississippi Community College, he was named Conference USA Newcomer of the Year, rushing for 1,223 yards and seven touchdowns on 218 carries. At 6-0 and 195 pounds, he won’t run through defenders, but he uses his size and quickness as advantages, slashing in and out holes in a flash. A patient, north-south runner with the vision to accelerate to daylight, he has 4.45 speed and outstanding agility.  

Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore Brandon Ross was expected to redshirt last year, but when injuries struck the position, he moved up the depth chart and played rather well. As the backup to Steele, the 6-0, 205-pounder appeared in eight games, rushing for 296 yards and two scores, including the first 100-yard game of his brief career. Mature beyond his years and physical between the tackles, he’ll play a support role for one more year before vying for the starting job in 2010.

One of those injuries that created an opportunity for Ross was to 5-10, 200-pound senior T.J. Pitts, who spent the year rehabbing an ankle injury. A quality veteran who’ll bolster the depth at the position, he hits the hole with authority and won’t be arm tackled. In his last full season, he ran 106 times for 481 yards and a score.

The wild card in the mix is 5-10, 208-pound junior Lance Smith, a transfer from Wisconsin who played on the scout team in 2008. Although an arrest and brief jail term got him booted out of Madison, he’s looking to Memphis as an opportunity to turn his life and his career around. In two seasons as a backup with the Badgers, he rushed for 774 yards and eight scores. 

Watch Out For ...
Smith. If he can remain out of trouble, the talent is there for Smith to be very successful in his two years as a Tiger. This is a legitimate Big Ten talent, with terrific balance and cutback ability, playing against suspect Conference USA defenses.   
Strength: Depth. Although this did not look possible a year ago, Memphis is loaded with capable backs after Steele. With Smith in the fold, Pitts back from IR, and Ross a year older, an injury won’t be as devastating as it was in the past.          
Weakness: Pass-catching. It’s a bit of a nit-pick, but the backs didn’t get particularly involved in the passing game a year ago. Steele caught just eight passes, which was twice more than the nearest back.                       
Outlook: Credit the Memphis staff for turning a glaring weakness into a team strength in under a year. Not only is Steele capable of being the league’s premier runner, but he won’t have to do it on his own. The Tigers are as deep as they’ve been in years at the position, boasting four backs capable of carrying the load if necessary. 
Rating: 6.5

Receivers

Projected Starters: Last year’s top receivers, seniors Carlos Singleton and Duke Calhoun, are back to hold down the two jobs on the outside. At 6-8 and 220 pounds, Singleton has a distinct size advantage over every defensive back that tries to shut him down. Once a raw project, he’s gradually developed into a more polished receiver, who’ll use his body, leaping ability, and 4.4 speed to create even bigger mismatches. He led the team a year ago with 52 grabs for 791 yards and five touchdowns, his second-straight 50-catch season.

While not quite as big at 6-4 and 200 pounds, Calhoun is another physical Tiger receiver, who can sky above helpless defensive backs or zoom past them with his jets. He has an NFL body and a three-year track record as a consistent producer. Although his numbers tailed off to 40 catches for 487 yards and three touchdowns, it had as much to do with the quarterback situation than anything else.

In the slot, or H receiver, the Tigers are expected to lean on 6-0, 170-pound sophomore Cam Baker. In his first season of action, he got buried in the numbers, appearing in nine games and making only a pair of catches. He has outstanding straight-line speed and big-play potential once he adjusts to the promotion and expanded role.

The graduation of Brett Russell creates an opening for junior
Deven Onarheim to be the team’s every-down tight end. At 6-7 and 255 pounds, he has the size to be an in-line blocker and the strong hands to be a factor in the passing game. He had six grabs for 34 yards in 2008, numbers he might pass by the end of September.

Projected Top Reserves: The Memphis receiving corps is going to have a very distinct Miami flavor. A pair of ‘Cane transfers, sophomore WR Jermaine McKenzie and senior TE DajLeon Farr, are eligible after sitting out a year. McKenzie has good size at 6-3 and 180 pounds, and is a fundamentally sound pass-catcher and route runner. He’s behind Calhoun at the Z, but will still find a way into the huddle in four-receiver sets.

Farr is an interesting story. One of the nation’s most coveted recruits four years ago, he hasn’t materialized up to expectations, catching just a handful of passes. What he does have is one more year to make up for lost time and audition for NFL scouts. While Onarheim is more of a plodder, Farr is the team’s most athletic tight end, combining 4.7 speed and a great burst with a 6-5, 252-pound frame.

Among the young receivers, the staff is especially excited about redshirt freshman Marcus Rucker, an early candidate to get Singleton’s X job in 2010. He’s a 6-3, 180-pound glider, who can elevate well above defensive backs to make plays.

Watch Out For ... Farr. Although it hasn’t worked out up to this point, he better be viewing this season as a salary run. One of the best combinations of size, speed, and strength on the roster, he should be difficult to keep off the field this fall.
             
Strength: Size. Everywhere you look, this is a big group of receivers, who’ll create matchup problems for everyone on the schedule, including Ole Miss and Tennessee. Beyond just the height, the Tigers are a muscular bunch that can win tough battles when the ball is up for grabs.                   
Weakness: Consistency. Singleton and Calhoun are very good Conference USA receivers, but they still need to eliminate the drops and improve their route-running. The Tigers did lose a slew of seniors to graduation, meaning their spots will be filled by inexperienced kids, who’ll also be sloppy at times.
Outlook: Although it’s a long way between now and the 2010 NFL Draft, Memphis could have three players, Singleton, Calhoun, and Farr, from this unit vying for a shot in the pros at that time. Three. One would be exciting for a Conference USA program, but three is what you build an offense around. Singleton and Calhoun are dynamic, but it’s up to the quarterback to get them more involved in the offense than last year.
Rating
: 7

Offensive Linemen

Projected Starters: It’s adjustment time for a Tiger offensive line looking to replace four of last year’s starters. The lone returner is 6-4, 315-pound junior Dominik Riley, who’s looking to make the switch inside to center after starting 13 games at left guard. One of the strongest members of the team, he’s able to get a consistent push on running plays, often blowing his man off the ball.

The next closest thing to a sure-thing up front will be senior RG Malcolm Rawls, a five-game starter a year ago. Although he hasn’t dominated, as expected, since transferring from Tennessee, he’s got one more year to justify his lofty recruiting grade from four years ago. On size and raw power alone, the 6-5, 315-pounder ought to be able to open some holes for Curtis Steele and the running backs.

The front-runner to join Rawls at guard is 6-4, 290-pound sophomore Michael Antonescu. A grinder with solid fundamentals and a great work ethic, he’s being asked to make the quantum leap from not lettering a year ago to being a starter on the right side this fall.

Coming out of spring, the leaders at tackle are 6-4, 313-pound sophomore Ronald Leary and 6-3, 290-pound junior Brad Paul on the left and right side, respectively. One of last season’s young surprises, Leary played in eight games, earned a letter, and made the All-Conference USA Freshman Team. A hulking presence, he needs to maintain his weight and conditioning now that his playing time is about to increase.

Paul was signed in February out of Blinn (Tex.) College to compete for playing time right away. While not recruited by any major schools last year, his versatility and toughness at the point of contact were enough to attract the attention of the Tiger coaches.       

Projected Top Reserves: Paul isn’t the only former junior-college transfer being counted on to contribute in 2009. Massive Kindly Jacques, a member of the 2008 class, has moved up to the top spot behind Leary at left tackle. He’s got the right frame at 6-7 and 325 pounds, but needs to sharpen his pass protection skills.

Backing up Riley at center is 6-4, 290-pound sophomore Robbie Hardie, one of last year’s Offensive Scout Team Players of the Year. Predictably heady for a man in the middle, he could someday allow Riley to head back to guard if he proves he can handle the job.

The most experienced reserve guard is 6-3, 315-pound sophomore Joel McCleod, although he earned his letter as a defensive tackle in 2008. The coaching staff is hoping that his intensity and quickness for a big man will translate into success on the other side of the ball.  

Watch Out For ...
Rawls to finally emerge in his third—and final—season in Memphis. No, he hasn’t fulfilled expectations, but when a 315-pound, former SEC talent settles in Conference USA, he’s capable of excelling, something Rawls must begin doing now that he has a few starts under his belt.                    
Strength: Pass protection. Someone needs to give more recognition to veteran line coach Rick Mallory, who continues to coach up this group regardless of turnover. Over the last 50 games, Memphis has yielded just 54 sacks, so there’s no reason why that four-year trend shouldn’t endure. 
Weakness: Proven depth. When three of the starters have next to no experience at this level, you can bet the backups are going to be rather green as well. If the Tigers have to go to the bench too often, they’ll be in big trouble.
Outlook: Although the Tigers have done a nice job of retooling on the fly in the past, this season presents some new challenges and tall hurdles. Four key seniors from last year are gone, and a new anchor needs to be found for Brandon Pearce. Recent history is on their side, but it could take half a season before this is a truly effective unit.
Rating: 5