Sophomore Thomas Rawls is making a push for more carries this fall.
This Saturday marks the Spring Game, when we all watch a glorified scrimmage and make snap judgments like "Mark Moundros is going to start at middle linebacker," and "Tate Forcier has the Heisman in his future." (Okay, I admit, I said both of those things, but luckily the evidence has been wiped from the internet.) Nevertheless, it's the only semi-competitive football we'll see until the fall, providing us our lone peek into the progress of the team and the various position battles.
Here's what I'll be hoping to see from the offense on Saturday:
Mediocrity. I know, right? This is actually more of a defensive point, but I want to put this here: in the spring, the defense should be ahead of the offense in terms of installing their schemes and playing cohesively. It's no coincidence that we saw the offense absolutely wreck the defense in the 2009 and 2010 games, then look downright ugly at times in last year's edition. I don't need to tell you how those respective seasons turned out. After just two weeks of practice, the offensive line won't have gelled like they will in the fall, the timing between quarterback and receiver is often a little off, and the playbook is still very much in the installation phase. This plea may fall on deaf ears, but don't freak out if the offense isn't marching up and down the field; in fact, feel free to be a bit encouraged.
Gardner Gardner Gardner. All eyes will be on Devin Gardner, though the odds of the coaches trotting him out at receiver for a nationally-televised scrimmage are somewhere between zero and zero. He will be playing quarterback, however, and it's time to see a big step forward from him in the passing game. Practice accounts have been positive in that regard and it sounds like he's the clear-cut #2 QB ahead of Russell Bellomy, though we'll see how big of a gap there is between those two. If Bellomy looks like a passable second-stringer, you can keep hope alive for some Denard-to-Devin connections in the fall. If not, the coaches may find it too risky to split Gardner out wide.
Bowling Ball Rawls. I was pretty high on Thomas Rawls when he came out of high school, and after a freshman year spent mostly on the bench, he's impressed practice observers with his power as a running back and is making a strong push for the backup job. Vincent Smith will inevitably see snaps on third down, but there's still room for a back to spell Fitzgerald Toussaint on occasion and provide a different look in the backfield. Though Rawls won't make many people miss, he can knock them over, and if he shows that against the first team defense we can start thinking of him as a change-of-pace/short-yardage back. Redshirt freshman Justice Hayes has also drawn praise in the spring, though he'll have to prove he's either a more effective runner than Rawls or a more explosive receiving option than Smith to carve out a role; neither is out of the question given his athleticism.
Number One Target? The general assumption is that Roy Roundtree will be the top receiver this year, but I'm not sold on that. His production dropped dramatically last season as he played more on the outside and was no longer the beneficiary of numerous QB OH NOES as a RichRod slot receiver. Jeremy Gallon flashed a lot of talent last season, and I think he'll be a very capable second option, but he's 5'8". Hope may come in the form of redshirt sophomore Jerald Robinson, who's been lauded as a potential go-to guy this spring despite never recording a collegiate catch. This may be your standard Johnny Sears-type spring hype, but let's withhold judgment until we see him on the field. If nobody looks like a solid #1 option, there's going to be a lot of pressure on Amara Darboh come fall.
My Kingdom for a Tight End. This is the scariest position group on the roster, and that's taking into account the fact that the offensive line has almost no depth. Redshirt senior Brandon Moore is the starter by default; he's had issues with drops in the past, so hope he holds onto the ball if it comes his way. Converted wideout Ricardo Miller will get time as an H-back (the "U" tight end in this offense), and he must prove he can hold up as a blocker if he wants to see much time. Behind them are redshirt senior walk-on Mike Kwiatkowski and converted DE Jordan Paskorz. If this unit isn't a total liability, I'll take it, especially with A.J. Williams and Devin Funchess providing reinforcements in the fall. If they are, Al Borges is going to have to get very creative with his schemes.
O-line Depth: Do We Have Any? The first-team offensive line should be just fine, with projected left guard starter Elliott Mealer the only unknown quantity. Mealer is a redshirt senior who's currently beating out a highly-touted (and massive) redshirt freshman in Chris Bryant, so I'm not too concerned about his ability to fit in. Ricky Barnum has reportedly adjusted well to his new role as starting center; again, I'm optimistic about the first team's ability. PANIC! will set in, however, if a starting lineman goes down, especially a tackle. The second-team line this spring features three(!) walk-ons, and while redshirt sophomore guard Joey Burzynski has impressed practice observers, color me skeptical of any 6'1", 284-pound walk-on being anything but a frightening liability in a game situation. The backup tackles are all walk-ons, at least until Kyle Kalis hits campus for the fall, so expect Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield to be encased in bubble wrap until September.
Kickers. Make your field goals, please and thank you. That is all.