2010 Memphis Preview – Offense
Memphis OG Dominik Riley
Memphis OG Dominik Riley
Posted Jul 24, 2010

CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - Memphis Tiger Offense

Memphis Tigers

Preview 2010 - Offense

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What You Need To Know: The overhaul taking place at Memphis is no more evident than on offense, where the quarterback, top two rushers, and top three receivers have vanished. The Tigers are essentially starting over, with help from a veteran line that seems to perennially outplay its expectations. It's not as if there isn't enough talent to surpass last year's feeble output. It's just that so many unproven players will have to come through at once. At quarterback, there's a tight three-way race between sophomores Cannon Smith and Tyler Bass, and true freshman Ryan Williams. Wisconsin transfer Lance Smith was supposed to spearhead the ground game, but he'll first have to recover from a broken leg in the spring. And while Miami transfer Jermaine McKenzie has the look of a go-to receiver, he hasn't played a game in a couple of years. There are a lot of balls in the air for coordinator Eric Price, who'll eventually want a balanced attack that can set the tempo of the game with its physicality.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Tyler Bass
53-81, 673 yds, 6 TDs, 4 INTs
Rushing: Tyler Bass
42 carries, 180 yds, 1 TD
Receiving: Cam Baker
20 catches, 149 yds, 0 TDs

Star of the offense: Senior RG Dominik Riley
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore QB Cannon Smith, sophomore Tyler Bass, or true freshman Ryan Williams
Unsung star on the rise: Junior WR Jermaine McKenzie
Best pro prospect: Riley
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Riley, 2) Senior C Brad Paul, 3) McKenzie
Strength of the offense: The offensive line, potential at the skill positions
Weakness of the offense: Inexperience at quarterback, lack of proven players, turnovers, red zone scoring


Projected Starter: Wide open. It's the best way to describe a quarterback race that had no clear-cut favorite coming out of spring. Of the three competitors, 6-3, 220-pound sophomore Tyler Bass has the most experience. Unfortunately for the Tigers, it consists of just four games from last fall and a pair in 2008. He actually responded well in 2009 before suffering a shoulder injury, going 53-of-81 for 673 yards, six touchdowns, and four interceptions, adding 180 yards and a score on the ground. The best all-around athlete of the trio, he absorb a lot of contact and is injury-prone.

While sophomore Cannon Smith doesn't have the same physical attributes as his competitors, he represents a steady and reliable option for the new staff, and spent much of the spring with the first unit. The 6-0, 205-pound former transfer from Miami throws with accuracy and has a soft, catchable ball. He's also poised beyond his years, which will help in the event he's coming off the bench in emergency situations.

The wild card in the mix is 6-5, 220-pound true freshman Ryan Williams , who graduated early and impressed the staff in his maiden spring. He ran a pro-style offense in high school, getting rid of the ball quickly and displaying a good feel for the pocket. While he doesn't possess a rifle, he gets adequate zip on his passes, something that should improve as he gets stronger and sharpens his mechanics.

Projected Top Reserves: The staff does not want to entertain thoughts of a committee, preferring instead to name a starter and give him the keys to the offense. Bass, Smith, and Williams are expected to make up the top three names on the depth chart. The exact order, however, won't be determined until August.

Watch Out For … Bass to eventually get the nod. He has more upside and physical ability than Smith, which then begs the question of whether Larry Porter wants to begin his tenure with a true freshman under center. It's certainly possible, but the more likely scenario has Bass behind center when the Tigers travel to Starkville for the opener.
Strength: Clean slates. With a new staff and a new system in Memphis, at least there aren't a ton of old habits that need to be broken. In fact, all five of the quarterbacks on the roster are underclassmen, meaning the position can grow up alongside the program over the next three or four years.
Weakness: Proven passers. When Bass is your veteran, you know that inexperience is going to be an inescapable hurdle throughout the season. The Tiger quarterbacks are going to be learning on the fly in 2010, which is code for a fair amount of turnovers, bad decisions, and emergency timeouts.
Outlook: A microcosm for the rest of the squad, Memphis is almost starting over at quarterback. Ideally, one of the young kids will emerge from the pack in the summer and go on to be the face of the program for the next few years. More realistically, the Tigers will struggle in the passing game and could use multiple players before the end of September.
Unit Rating: 4.5

Running Backs

Projected Starter: Memphis wants to establish a power running game, but doing so will require replacing 1,000-yard rusher Curtis Steele. Finally healthy, senior Gregory Ray has risen to a position of prominence in his second season out of El Camino (Calif.) Community College. The 5-10, 205-pounder mostly played on special teams and logged just four carries for 16 yards, but was sharp in the spring and runs with the kind of authority that the coaches demand.

Projected Top Reserves: It hasn't taken true freshman Jerrell Rhodes very long to rise up the depth chart. Originally committed to North Carolina, he was unable to clear admissions because of conduct violations. A 5-10, 195-pound ACC talent playing in Conference USA, he has the open field moves and ability to squirt through defenders to make an immediate impact.

Third on the pecking order is 6-2, 195-pound sophomore Marcus Hightower, a letterwinner who contributed on offense and special teams in his first season. A versatile all-around playmaker, he has soft hands out of the backfield, which could increase his number of snaps as a third down option.

Watch Out For … the health of 5-11, 205-pound senior Lance Smith . The projected starter and team's best back broke his leg in April. There's hope that the injury occurred early enough that it won't impede his ability to play this fall. A Wisconsin transfer who's worked hard to turn his life around, he ran for 149 yards and a score on 46 carries last year to go along with his 774 yards and eight touchdowns in two seasons as a Badger.
Strength: Upside. Assuming Smith is at full-strength when it counts, this is a sneaky deep collection of backs. The former Badger has 1,000-yard potential with enough carries, Rhodes was slated to be a Tar Heel, and Ray brings some pop between the tackles now that he's healthy.
Weakness: A proven workhorse. Smith is the closest thing, but he's trying to bounce back from a leg injury. As much potential that this group has, Rhodes is still painfully young and Ray must prove he can make it through a season without ending up on the trainer's table.
Outlook: This unit has feature back material. It's up to the staff to determine which player best fits the role. If the injury isn't an issue, Smith is a 200-carry guy who can give the program another 1,000-yard rusher. If he's less than 100%, Ray and Rhodes are liable to split the touches.
Unit Rating: 5.5


Projected Starters: After leaning on a deep receiving corps for years, Memphis is rebuilding, losing a pair of all-stars and last season's top three pass-catchers. Despite the fact that he's yet to play a down for the program a lot of faith is being put into 6-2, 185-pound junior Jermaine McKenzie, the starter at "A" or inside receiver. A former Miami recruit and polished all-around receiver, he's waited patiently for this opportunity, sitting out 2009 per NCAA transfer rules. The potential playmaker this passing game needs, he shared scout team MVP honors with QB Cannon Smith, another one-time Hurricane.

At "X" receiver, 6-4, 180-pound sophomore Marcus Rucker is itching at the opportunity to start after lettering as a reserve in his first season. A fluid glider, who's able to elevate well above defensive backs, he impressed in limited chances, turning 18 receptions into 241 yards and a pair of scores. The potential is in place for him to become the team's deep threat on the outside.

Flanked on the other side at "Z" receiver will be 6-0, 185-pound sophomore Curtis Johnson. One of the fastest players on the squad, he did an apprenticeship on offense and special teams, catching eight passes for 72 yards and handling a portion of the kick returns. A threat to get behind the secondary, he now needs to sharpen his routes and improve his hands.

At tight end, Memphis will turn to a familiar face, 6-8, 250-pound senior Deven Onarheim, who has lettered in each of the last three seasons. He caught nine passes for 82 yards in his first year as a regular, earning nine starts. With his imposing size and big hands, he's capable of providing support to both the running game as a blocker and the passing game as a receiver.

Projected Top Reserves: The Tigers' leading returning receiver is actually 6-0, 155-pound junior Cam Baker, currently the backup to Johnson at "Z" receiver. He's a blur, but because of his limited size, needs to get into space as much as possible and avoid being jammed at the line. Somewhat underutilized a year ago, his 20 catches produced just 149 yards.

The South Florida flavor continues with 6-2, 205-pound junior Dejarrius Adams , a Miami product who spent the last two seasons at El Camino (Calif.) Community College. He's itching to go after failing to qualify academically in 2009, possessing the size and physicality to cause problems for smaller defensive backs.

Watch Out For … 5-10, 185-pound junior Billy Foster . The old staff thought he could be a poor-man's Dexter McCluster for the program, making plays in myriad different ways. However, a broken right ankle last August shut him down for the year. Healthy again, the former College of the Sequoias transfer is pointing toward a breakout debut.
Strength: Athleticism. Purely in terms of athletic ability and explosiveness, Memphis has an exciting collection of receivers for the new assistants to mold. As a group, they've got good size and the jets to make plays after the catch.
Weakness: Consistency. The receivers have undeniable upside, but they also have plenty of room for growth with the little things associated with the position. McKenzie stands out as an exception within a raw collection of athletes, who need to get on the same page with the quarterbacks and reduce the number of drops.
Outlook: Although you don't get better by losing Carlos Singleton and Duke Calhoun, the staff believes it has the makings of a talented set of holdovers. Unfinished products, they'll make as many mistakes as they do big plays in the early going. McKenzie could be a star out of the slot, catching at least 50 passes and instantly becoming the quarterback's best ally.
Unit Rating: 5

Offensive Linemen

Projected Starters: The Tigers return virtually intact up front, the closest thing to bedrock on this rebuilding offense. The leader of the group will be 6-5, 310-pound senior Dominik Riley, a rock at right guard and the only lineman to receive all-star recognition in 2009. A versatile and durable blocker, he's one of the strongest players on the team, allowing him to bully his man off the ball on running downs.

Over at left guard will be 6-3, 325-pound junior Joel McCleod, who made a successful switch from defensive line a year ago. A 12-game starter in 2009, he relied on his intensity and strong lower body to carry him through the early stages. With that first season in the rear view mirror, even better things are expected from him in 2010.

At center, 6-5, 290-pound senior Brad Paul is looking to build on his first season out of Blinn (Tex.) College. Despite being lightly recruited, he was a rock in the middle for the Tigers, starting 11 games, rarely taking a ply off, and being the team's Offensive Lineman of the Year. An unsung hero of the offense, he's a steady force on the interior.

Memphis' best tackle is 6-4, 310-pound junior Ronald Leary, the team's best pass protector and a borderline all-star as he enters his second season as a starter. Strong at the point of attack, he also moves well for his size, sliding down the left side of the line to protect the quarterback's blindside and seal off the edge.

One of the most pleasant surprises of 2009 was delivered by 6-5, 270-pound sophomore Jamie McCoy, who is slotted in at right tackle. He played in six games as a rookie, impressing the coaches with his quick retention of the offense and light feet. Still relatively new to the position and undersized, he has a very high ceiling once he gets more reps and adds another 25-30 pounds of mass.

Projected Top Reserves: If McCoy fails to elevate his game at right tackle, he's liable to get passed by 6-5, 275-pound junior Lionel Henderson , a slightly more experienced player. He's been on campus for three years, even starting a game at center in 2009, but has struggled with injuries. When healthy, he's a long and lean athlete, with the feet to be valuable in pass protection.

Providing veteran depth behind Paul at center is 6-4, 310-pound junior Michael Antonescu . A versatile grinder, with good technique and a great motor, he started three games at right guard last season and can play just about any position on the inside.

Behemoth senior Kindly Jacques will back up Leary at left tackle in his second season out of the College of the Sequoias (Calif.). At 6-8 and 330 pounds, he can block out the sun, but until he improves his overall fundamentals and sharpens his skills as a pass protector, he'll remain a backup until his eligibility is exhausted.

Watch Out For … Paul to start getting some All-Conference USA attention. Although not flashy or on the radar of NFL scouts, he's a microcosm of a line that gets the most out of the talent it has on hand. Considering how well he performed in his debut, he should be able to turn some voter's heads this fall.
Strength: Pass protection. Veteran line coach Rick Mallory perennially did a fantastic job of coaching these kids up. He's gone, but most of his key pupils are back. The Tigers are well-coached at protecting the pocket, allowing just 71 sacks over the last 62 games and ranking 35th nationally a year ago.
Weakness: Uncertainty at right tackle. As impressive as McCoy was in his first season, he's still just a second-year player and is still looking for his first start. He could be raw and vulnerable in the early going, forcing Riley to help out at times from his right guard spot.
Outlook: Without much attention, Memphis has consistently done a nice job of retooling the offensive line and providing support for the skill position players. This season figures to be no different. The Tigers are a big and physical group of veterans capable of controlling the line of scrimmage and helping make those around them better.
Unit Rating: 5.5

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- 2010 Memphis Defense | 2010 Memphis Depth Chart
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