With nine starters and 22 letterwinners returning, Head Coach Bobby Johnson expects the Commodore offense will be effective this season.
Despite posting a 7-6 record and winning the Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl, the Commodores struggled on offense in 2008, and turned to one of the Southeastern Conference's top defenses to capture numerous games. After averaging 26.6 points enroute to an impressive 5-0 start, the unit was slowed by inexperience and key injuries as the Commodores reached the heart of its schedule. The unit, without a lineman with multiple game starting experience entering 2008, amassed just 192 total first downs and averaged 19.2 points, the lowest point total by a Commodore offense since 2002.
This season, Johnson and the Commodore coaches expect better offensive results. The unit returns its interior line intact, two talented tight ends, its leading rusher, and two quarterbacks with game-winning performances to their credit. It also experienced with a quickened tempo during spring drills.
"We should be much better (on offense). Just knowing that all our entire offensive line returns intact is reason to expect improvement. We have a couple other linemen that earned starts last year, too," Johnson said. "We have two quarterbacks (Mackenzi Adams and Larry Smith) that are talented guys and know how to win. And I think we're more talented at the running back position than we were a year ago.
"We also have a lot of younger players that are eager to prove themselves, and eager to push for important roles this season. I expect the competition level during camp to be extremely high, and I expect several guys to make a strong case for being on the football field," Johnson added.
As the Commodores prepare to open camp Aug. 7, here's a brief rundown, by position, of the offense.
Redshirt senior Mackenzi Adams and redshirt sophomore Larry Smith both moved forward in spring drills, giving Commodore coaches depth and quality at the key signal calling position entering fall camp. A third candidate, redshirt junior Jared Funk, also showed progress during the spring.
Adams has the most experience of the trio with nine career starts and has shown flashes of brilliance as a dual threat under center over the past two seasons. However, Smith could be considered the favorite after demonstrating calm pocket presence, good decision-making and a strong arm in leading the Commodores to victory in his starting debut at the Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl. Funk has seen no playing time but possesses a strong arm.
Tough-running redshirt senior Jared Hawkins returns as the most experienced Commodore back. Hawkins started 10 games as a junior and topped the team with 596 rushing yards, but missed a late-season encounter and all of Spring Practice rehabbing a foot injury. He is expected to compete for the starting job during camp.
When camp opens, coaches will closely evaluate the abilities and progress of three freshmen tailbacks who have shown talent in summer workouts: Warren Norman, Zac Stacy and Wesley Tate.
The Commodores appear to enter preseason with more uncertainty in its receiving corps than any other position grouping. The staff must replace three key graduates at receiver - starting wideouts George Smith and Sean Walker and contributing tight end Jake Bradford. The team also is expected to be without the services of redshirt senior Justin Wheeler, who suffered a serious knee injury in spring drills.
In redshirt sophomores Brandon Barden and Austin Monahan, the Commodores will feature their strongest tight end tandem in more than a decade. Barden looks to build off a terrific year where he led the nation's freshmen tight ends with 28 catches and four touchdowns. Monahan got off to a fast start before missing the final eight games after suffering an injury against Ole Miss. A third player, redshirt junior Justin Green, also gives the team extra athleticism, and potentially, a difficult matchup at the position.
The top returning receivers are redshirt senior Alex Washington, redshirt sophomore Udom Umoh and redshirt freshman John Cole. Washington is back to his 2007 form when he demonstrated solid skills. Umoh displayed excellent receiving ability during the Music City Bowl. Cole looked like a key player early in the 2008 season, but missed the last 12 games after an injury in the opener.
The veteran offensive line looks to take a big step forward this year with the presence of seven players that enjoyed multiple starts in 2008.
Redshirt senior co-captain Bradley Vierling is a team leader and solid performer at center. He is flanked by redshirt seniors Eric Hensley and Ryan Custer at the guard positions. Redshirt senior Thomas Welch is one of the SEC's most talented tackles. Across from Welch, redshirt junior Reilly Lauer showed excellent skills at tackle, but still needs to add bulk to improve his overall game.
Two versatile contributors, redshirt sophomore Kyle Fischer and redshirt junior Joey Bailey, will compete for starting roles at guard and center, respectively. Another redshirt sophomore, James Williams, impressed during Spring Practice, exiting as a possible starter at right tackle. Redshirt freshman Ryan Seymour also showed potential at tackle during spring drills.