2009 UCF Preview - Offense

Posted Jul 29, 2009

CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - UCF Offense

UCF Knights

Preview 2009 - Offense

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

What you need to know: Unless they add more FCS schools, the only way is up for UCF, which was last nationally in total offense a year ago. Hope for progress comes from budding young RB Brynn Harvey, an underrated group of receivers, and veteran offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe. Taaffe brings to Orlando an impressive resume and a pro-style offense that’ll sprinkle in some option plays. His presence on he staff is going to make a difference. Just how much of a difference will depend on the development of true sophomore QB Rob Calabrese and a patchwork offensive line that got routinely abused in 2008.

Returning Leaders
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 offense: Sophomore RB Brynn Harvey
Player that has to step up and become a star
: Sophomore QB Rob Calabrese
Unsung star on the rise: Junior WR Kamar Aiken
Best pro prospect: Senior WR Rocky Ross
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Harvey  2) Ross  3) Aiken
Strength of the offense: The skill positions
Weakness of the offense: Inexperience at quarterback, the offensive line 


Projected Starter: Considering the offensive debacle a year ago, all eyes will be on the competition at quarterback. Leading the pack will be 6-2, 218-pound sophomore Rob Calabrese, who was recruited by George O’Leary to be the future at the position. As a rookie, however, he struggled mightily, going just 65-of-165 for 664 yards, seven touchdowns, and five interceptions. Things should begin to slow down following that baptism under, and the presence of new coordinator Charlie Taaffe is a plus. He has the strong arm and toughness to be a success once he gets more rides in the saddle.

Projected Top Reserves: Calabrese’s chief competition will come from 6-4, 206-pound sophomore Joe Weatherford. In three appearances a year ago, he failed to distinguish himself as starter material, connecting on 15-of-36 passes for 160 yards and two interceptions. He has ground to make up on Calabrese, and needs to become more of a field general.

Watch Out For… a new Calabrese. Although the young kid was in way over his head last fall, this off-season has allowed him to get a little stronger and a lot more comfortable with his role. Now that he’s no longer a wide-eyed rookie, the talent is there for him to be a Conference USA success.   
Strength: Upside. Calabrese and Weatherford are only sophomores, with their best days ahead of them. Yeah, last season was a disaster on many levels, but at some point, both will be able to look back at 2008 and laugh.                         
Weakness: Proven passers. Okay, so the future is promising at the position, but that’s not going to move the chains. Both sophomores are unproven commodities, who are still going to look lost at times. If Calabrese doesn’t make the quantum leap, as hoped, are the Knights confident turning the offense over to Weatherford?    
Outlook: Naturally, this is going to be the most watched and most important position all year in Orlando. It’s Calabrese’s job to lose, which is what he’ll be working to avoid over the next few months. Taaffe is installing a pro-style offense that incorporates some elements of the option, so both quarterbacks will be hitting the books as well in the summer.                 
Rating: 4.5

Running Backs

Projected Starters: This time last year, the running back situation was in complete disarray in the aftermath of Kevin Smith’s departure. And then Brynn Harvey emerged into an impact player as a true freshman. A physical 6-1, 202-pounder with outstanding vision, he wound up with a team-best 519 yards and a score on 125 carries, while starting the final six games. With a full season as the starter and that year of experience, he should be good for 1,000 yards on a team that likes to work its feature back.

The battle at fullback will be between a pair of redshirt freshmen, 6-3, 225-pound Brendan Kelly and 5-11, 223-pound Billy Giovanetti. Kelly is big enough to move the pile or even be used in certain short-yardage situations. Although Giovanetti isn’t as big as Kelly, he’ll use his low center of gravity to get under his man when he’s blocking.

Projected Top Reserves
: Harvey’s backup will be sophomore Ronnie Weaver, the starter at the beginning of 2008. He went for 348 yards and two scores on 102 carries, but wasn’t as capable as Harvey of making his own yards when defenders closed in. A 6-0, 200-pound former walk-on, he’s a hard worker, who can pick up some tough yards between the tackles.  

Like Harvey, Latavius Murray lettered as a true freshman in 2008, carrying the ball 46 times for 132 yards and three scores. A very tall, sleek runner at 6-3 and 216 pounds, he drew interest from ACC and Big East schools in the Northeast before deciding to play in Florida. While a little behind on experience, he has more upside than Weaver.

Watch Out For… more Harvey. He was only getting started at the end of last season, running for at least 90 yards in three of the final six games. Off-season conditioning has prepared him for the physical demands that come with 20-25 carries a game.                 
Strength: Youth. All five tailbacks on the roster are sophomores, which means the Knights will be set at the position for the next three years. After flashing all kinds of potential, despite getting no support, these kids are going to be even better in their second year.            
Weakness: Depth. While Harvey is the undisputed feature back, what happens if he goes down for an extended period of time? Weaver was marginal in his six-game audition as the every-down back, and Murray is a year away from being ready.                           
Outlook: The Harvey era began last year. This season, it takes flight. UCF has found its successor to Smith, a precocious athlete, who’s capable of being among the league leaders in rushing if the rest of the offense does its job. If nothing else, Harvey will allow Calabrese to grow without having to be the focus of the offense.               
Rating: 5.5


Projected Starters: Hope for the passing game can be found here, where all of last year’s top receivers return. The Knights got a particularly pleasant surprise, when they learned that 6-2, 202-pound senior Rocky Ross had earned another year of eligibility from the NCAA. He was lost for the final two months of 2008 with a broken collarbone, and his absence was felt. Like having a coach on the field, he catches everything thrown his way, runs crisp routes, and is clutch on third downs. In his best full season, he had a team-high 50 grabs for 658 yards and two touchdowns in 2007.

While Ross will work the middle of the field, junior Kamar Aiken has the speed and big-play ability to work the perimeter of the field. He was plagued by injuries a year ago, catching just 20 balls for 244 yards and a touchdown, but looked like a rising star when he was a freshman. A matchup problem at 6-2 and 211 pounds, he’ll be ready to turn the corner as soon as he eliminates the drops.

UCF is excited about the return of 6-3, 227-pound senior Corey Rabazinski, an H-back who missed the second half of 2008 with a broken leg. Before getting injured, he’d caught nine passes for 54 yards and a touchdown, representing a sure-handed option on intermediate routes.

When the Knights use a tight end in jumbo packages, it’ll summons 6-6, 254-pound Adam Nissley, who also started games at tackle a year ago. Assuming he doesn’t go back to the line, he has soft hands for such a big player, which is going to make him an interesting target for the quarterbacks.    

Projected Top Reserves: When injuries struck the unit last fall, 6-2, 193-pound junior Brian Watters stepped up to lead the team with 42 catches for 594 yards and three touchdowns. While not one of the flashiest Knights, he showed a knack for finding the soft spots in a defense and making the tough grab. He’s like having a third starter, even if he winds up coming off the bench.

The fourth receiver returning from injury is 5-11, 189-pound sophomore A.J. Guyton, who tore his ACL in the spring and missed the entire season. Prior to the injury, he was headed toward becoming the playmaker of this group, a dynamic speedster with great moves in open space.

Junior Ricky Kay is part fullback and part H-back, dual roles he expects to play again this season. A sturdy 6-3, 242-pound former walk-on, he’ll never be asked to carry the ball, but has pulled down 13 receptions over the last two years.

Watch Out For…: the trainer’s table. If the UCF receivers are going to reach their potential in 2009, they have to collectively get healthy and stay healthy. This is a completely different group when Ross, Guyton, Aiken, and Rabazinski are playing at full strength.            
Strength: Depth. Because of those injuries a year ago, the Knights were forced to use players, who otherwise may not have even lettered. At wide receiver, tight end, and H-back, they now can go three-deep with players now used to the speed of the game.                
Weakness: Ball security. Although Ross is going to help this area with his return, the Knights dropped way too many passes last year and need to collectively become better receivers. Yeah, they didn’t have the best pitchers, but they were also a part of the problem in the passing game.              
Outlook: Over the last two seasons, the Knights have used a ton of young receivers. Now, it’s time for some of those players to begin building on those apprenticeships. With Ross as the go-to guy and Aiken and Guyton stretching defenses, the ingredients are in place for this to be a dramatically improved group.                               
Rating: 5

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: The good news is that all but one regular lineman is back at the program. The bad news? The lone departure is all-league LT Patrick Brown. The plan is for sophomore Nick Pieschel to slide into the opening after starting seven games at left guard last year. At 6-7 and 284 pounds, he has the long arms needed to wall off edge rushers and the footwork to be a natural at the position. However, he needs to put it all together and put a rough debut behind him.

Getting a shot to line up next to Pieschel at left guard is redshirt freshman Theo Goins, an import from the defensive line. A 6-4, 320-pound wide-body, he looks the part, but is still facing a steep learning curve at a new position. The job is there for the taking if he’s up to the challenge.

Challenging for time on the right side will be 6-7, 310-pound junior Jah Reid and 6-3, 314-pound redshirt freshman Steven Robinson at tackle and guard, respectively. Reid displayed his versatility last year, starting four games at tackle and six at tackle. He has the potential to be the star of this group, but needs to start playing like it.

Nicknamed “Moose” in high school, Robinson is a powerful drive blocker, who was physically ready to contribute from the moment he arrived on campus. He’ll bring an attitude to the ground game that was missing last season.

The veteran at the pivot will be 6-2, 303-pound senior Ian Bustillo, who started seven games as a junior. A grinder with experience playing guard as well, he’s being counted on to be the leader of a unit that’s flush with youth and inexperience. 

Projected Top Reserves: The most experienced member of the second team will be 6-8, 314-pound junior Mike Buxton, Pieschel’s caddy at left tackle. He appeared in a dozen games last season, which gives him an edge over the team’s underclassmen.

If Goins fails to hold on to the top spot at left guard, 6-4, 318-pound redshirt freshman Jarien Moreland will be the one filling the void. Heavily recruited coming out of high school, he remains a raw product, but is a physical drive blocker with a very high ceiling.
Watch Out For…: Brent Key. Even though his name doesn’t appear on the roster, he’s going to play a huge role on the offense in 2009. The Knights’ offensive line coach, it’s his job to coach up this youthful unit before the opener, making sure it doesn’t play like a bunch of rookies when the lights go on.                     
Strength: Tomorrow. With as many as six underclassmen dotting the two-deep, the best days are ahead of the UCF offensive line. Sure, they’re going to take some along the way, but those lessons will really start to pay dividends in 2010 and beyond.          
Weakness: Pass protection. This ensemble is likely to have all kinds of problems, but none bigger than keeping Calabrese off his back. The Knights were dead last in Conference USA in sacks allowed, when Brown was around to protect the passers’ blindside.        
Outlook: The growing pains faced by the UCF offensive line are going to be unavoidable. There’s some nice potential, but there are also warning signs and inexperience just about everywhere. If the unit can endure some early body blows, it should be much better by the second half of the year.                
Rating: 4.5