Star of the offense:
Senior WR Ryan
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior C John
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore WR Phillip Payne
Best pro prospect: Junior OT Matt Murphy
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Wolfe, 2) Murphy, 3) QB Omar
Strength of the offense: Wide receivers, Quarterbacks
Weakness of the offense: Running backs, Line depth
Omar Clayton went from
walk-on status to fringe all-star recognition after coming out of
nowhere in 2007 to show excellent potential. Last year he showed he
wasn’t a fluke throwing for 1,894 yards and 18 touchdowns with four
interceptions before getting knocked out for the year with a knee injury
in the ninth game of the season. Only 6-1 and 200 pounds but with a
strong arm and excellent mobility, he can do a little of everything for
the offense but stay healthy. He broke his hand two years ago, to go
along with last year’s knee issue, but he knows the offense and he has
proven he can improve. Interceptions were a bit issue two years ago, but
he worked hard on making quicker decisions and it showed. Now he has to
lead the way to more wins.
Projected Top Reserves: 6-2, 210-pound sophomore Mike
Clausen was able to see action throughout last season before taking
over the full-time role when Omar Clayton went down for the year. A
better pure spread quarterback than Clayton, Clausen threw for 767 yards
and five touchdowns with two interceptions in his time, and he ran for
87 yards and two scores. The star recruit of two years ago has good
size, tremendous athleticism, and big-time upside as shown by a
26-of-40, 316-yard, two touchdown (with two pick) performance in the win
over San Diego State.
On the way is Caleb Herring,
a 6-4, 175-pound pure passer who led Citrus Hill High in California to
back-to-back state titles. He’s not going to be any threat to take over
the No. 2 job, but he’ll be the clear-cut No. 3 and will be in the mix
for the starting job two years from now.
Watch Out For ... Clausen to be more than just a backup.
Clayton is the starter and will have to crash and burn to be knocked out
of the top spot, but that doesn’t mean Clausen won’t see plenty of
action. He’s too good to keep off the field.
Strength: The twosome. Clausen and Clayton are each starters who
can lead the way to wins. Each has had enough time in the system to
produce and be a leader for the attack, and each can be counted on.
Weakness: Clayton’s health. Can he last a full season? Just when
he was able to hit his stride, he got hurt. Between a broken hand and a
knee injury, he hasn’t been able to get through unscathed. Of course,
having Clausen will help, but it would be nice if the team can rely on
Clayton for 12 games.
Outlook: The quarterback situation was considered a
potential problem going into last season until Omar Clayton proved he
could play and proved he could be good in the clutch. Mike Clausen
proved he could produce when thrown into the starting mix, and now the
Rebels have two good players to count on in what should be one of the
Mountain West’s better quarterback situations. They’ll have more
responsibility heaped on them now that they know what they’re doing.
Gone is Frank “The Tank” Summers and his
740 yards and eight touchdowns, but the cupboard isn’t bare. 5-11,
195-pound sophomore C.J. Cox doesn’t have anywhere near the power of Summers, but he’s a
quick back who finished second on the team with 191 yards and a
touchdown. Even though he didn’t see a ton of work, he’s a home-run
hitter who should add another element to the attack.
Projected Top Reserves:
Almost certain to be the No. 2
back, if not take over the starting gig, will be
Bradley Randle, a 5-8,
195-pound recruit who was one of the team’s top pickups. Lightning fast
and a tremendous returner, he’ll be used in a variety of ways. Even
though he’s not big, he’s tough around the goal line and can crank out
yards in chunks.
5-8, 200-pound junior Channing
Trotter is a powerfully built back who finished fourth on the team
with 110 yards and a touchdown. While not necessarily a speedster, he’s
quick with excellent straight-line speed. He could grow into more of a
role if he can break off more big runs. Last year he had the team’s
longest run with a 58-yard dash against TCU.
While he’s only 5-7,
Chris Brogdon brings a little
bit of power at 215 pounds. He has decent power between the tackles in
practice, but his worth is mostly on special teams making six tackle and
recovering three fumbles.
Watch Out For ... Randle. He’s not going to be handed the
starting job, but if he’s half as good as the hype throughout the
off-season, he’ll be a key back in the rotation.
Strength: Speed and quickness. Throw in
Imari Thompson in the mix and the Rebels have five very quick, very
speedy backs who could be very productive with a little bit of room to
Weakness: Power. Some of the backs, especially Trotter and
Brodgon, are tough for their size and will pound away when needed, but
there’s no tank in the backfield. The Rebels will have work to do to get
the hard yards.
Outlook: Frank Summers was the running game last season as
the quarterbacks didn’t take off enough and there wasn’t enough
production from the reserves. This year there will be more of a rotation
to keep everyone fresh with C.J. Cox, Chris Brodgon, and Channing
Trotter all getting work to keep the ground game moving, while top
recruit Bradley Randle will be given every opportunity to be the star.
Even with so much speed and quickness to burn, don’t expect the Rebels
to crank out more than 122 yards per game unless the quarterbacks do
Back again as the team’s top receiver is
Ryan Wolfe after catching 88
passes for 1,040 yards and six scores. The school’s all-time leader in
catches and yards with 209 grabs for 2,735 yards and 13 scores, he was
consistent, clutch, and ultra-productive with five 100-yard games
highlighted by a 167-yard performance against Nevada. At 6-2 and 210
pounds he has good size and he has just enough speed to create
separation. He’s also tough as nails with a willingness to sacrifice his
body to make a grab. The coaching staff loves him and he should find a
way to get the ball in his hands at least seven times a game.
Trying to take the place of Casey Flair, a tremendous veteran who caught
49 passes for 560 yards and four touchdowns, will be
Michael Johnson, a 5-8, 170-pound sophomore who caught two passes
for three yards. He has tremendous speed and should flourish as the No.
4 target, but he’ll have to prove he can produce on a consistent basis
when he gets the ball in his hands.
6-5, 230-pound senior Rodelin Anthony has the potential to be a
matchup nightmare, and he needs a bigger role in the attack. It took him
most of the season, but he started to produce late ten of his 17 catches
coming in the final three games. While he averaged 13.4 yards per grab
and came up with three touchdowns in the final four games, he hasn’t
been a regular part of the offense. That should change with Flair gone.
The new star could be Phillip
Payne, a 6-2, 210-pound do-it-all target who’s a killer around the
goal line. He averaged 15 yards per catch as he finished third on the
team with 29 grabs for 436 yards, but he did his best work from short
range with a team-leading seven scoring grabs. The sophomore has had
concussion problems and can’t be counted on for a full season, but he
should be deadly when he’s in.
When the Rebels use a tight end, and it should be more often this year,
Kyle Watkins will get the
first look. The former JUCO receiver is built more like a fullback at
6-2 and 240 pounds, but he has tremendous speed and can become a field
Projected Top Reserves: Senior Jerriman Robinson
can hardly be called a backup after catching 15 passes for 236 yards and
a touchdown in his first year with the program. The Texas Southern
transfer has 6-2, 190-pound size and will combine with Rodelin Anthony
at one spot.
Senior Renan Saint-Preux hasn't been a total bust, but he's been
close. A star recruit who hasn't been able to find his niche, he
redshirted last season and will now try to produce in his final season
after making 35 career grabs for 254 yards and no scores. A phenomenal
athlete, he was the Florida state high school triple jump champion, he
hasn't been able to make his skills translate to the field even with all
Three players will combine with Kyle Watkins at the tight end spot.
Austin Harrington is a 6-4,
230-pound sophomore who started his career at defensive end. 6-4,
240-pound Alex Young is more
of a blocker and 6-5, 215-pound redshirt freshman
Gordy Cooper is a former wide
receiver who’ll likely be seen only in two tight end sets.
Watch Out For ... more from the tight ends. The tight end
hasn’t been a big part of the Rebel offense over the last few years, but
that will change. There isn’t any experience whatsoever, but Mike
Sanford will give his quarterbacks more safety valves to work with.
Strength: Experience. The receivers are loaded with Ryan Wolfe
leading a veteran group with four of the top five targets returning.
There’s plenty of speed and lots of different options.
Weakness: Tight end experience. There are four tight ends who
will all get an equal look for the job, but there isn’t one game of
experience to count on.
Outlook: Losing Casey Flair won’t hurt all that much with
Phillip Payne and Rodelin Anthony sure to get more work as the running
mates next to Ryan Wolfe. There are more than enough receivers to work
with and more than enough returning production to be among the league’s
better corps. But it all comes down to Wolfe, the team’s all-time
leading receiver who should be close to a 100-catch season.
One of the big concerns last year was
the move of Joe Hawley from center to guard. All he did was turn in an
all-conference caliber season at both spots starting out at right guard
before moving back to center for the final six games. The 6-3, 310-pound
senior will move back to right guard, his better spot, and he should
shine. Athletic and quick, he turned down places like Wisconsin and
Arizona to be a Rebel.
With Hawley moving spots, that means
John Gianninoto will move
back to his job in the middle after starting five of the first six games
last year. The 6-3, 310-pound junior has size and he has potential as
the standout of a good class of linemen brought in a few years ago, but
he didn’t get the job done last year.
Along with Hawley, the other star up front is
Matt Murphy, a big, tough 6-4, 300-pound left tackle who was the
surprise of 2007 and has grown into the anchor up front. A rock with 21
stars in the last two years, he’s been terrific for the running game and
has improved by leaps and bounds in his pass protection. He earned
honorable mention All-Mountain West honors two years ago and will only
6-7, 300-pound Evan Marchal
won the battle for the right tackle job and started every game but one
last year. He’s still developing and still getting stronger with room to
add even more weight to his frame. The junior is a smart player who
doesn’t make many big mistakes. He’s also growing into a top pass
The one big open spot is at left guard where redshirt freshman
Sean Tesoro will step into
the opening. At 6-2 and 290 pounds he’s not all that big and will be in
a battle to get the job. The Hawaiian is tough and talented with
Projected Top Reserves: Pushing hard for both starting
jobs job will be junior Ramsey Feigai, a massive 6-2, 340-pound
run blocker who provides some serious power. While he doesn’t do too
much against the lightning quick tackles, he steamrolls over the
smallish ones when he's able to lock on. He could also play center if
Sophomore Thomas Wren has hit
the weights hard over the last year to bulk up to 280 pounds on his 6-6
frame. While he’s not going to push for a starting job, he’ll be a key
backup at right tackle behind Marchal.
Watch Out For ... the coaching staff to have a hard time
figuring out what to do with Hawley. They’d really like to keep him at
guard, but he could prove to be too valuable at center to not switch
positions at some point.
Strength: Pass protection. One of the team’s biggest problems
going into last year, the line came up with a tremendous year allowing a
mere 14 sacks. With Murphy and Marchal back at tackle, expect more of
Weakness: The running game. The Rebels don’t run the ball enough
with the offense mostly relying on the passing attack. It’s not that the
line can’t run block, it’s that it doesn’t do it on a consistent basis.
Outlook: The lines have been an issue in the Mike Sanford
era, but it finally started to come together last year as it did a great
job in pass protection. Now the front five has stars to build around
with Matt Murphy an all-star tackle on one side and Evan Marchal a
strong blocker on the other. Joe Hawley is a big hitter no matter where
he is on the inside. The depth is lacking; it’ll be a disaster early on
if there are any major injuries, especially at tackle.