What to watch for at the Wildcats’ Spring Game

The 2012 Spring Game will be played on April 21st at 4:00 p.m. at Municipal Stadium

In less than 72 hours, the maroon and gold faithful will receive their first glimpse at the 2012 version of the Fighting Wildcats.

I must admit that the actual Spring Game means very little in the grand scheme of things.  Coaches only install a fraction of their offensive and defensive systems during Spring drills, the starters receive fewer reps than they normally would during the regular season, and half of this year’s recruiting class have yet to even graduate from high school.   However, the Spring game is the best and only real football-like barometer that we can use to measure our favorite football squads in late April.

So with that disclaimer, here are some of the players and positions that I will be paying keen attention to during Saturday’s glorified scrimmage.

Anthony Jordan (Running Back) —  The 230 pound bruiser from North Atlanta High School led the squad with 9 rushing touchdowns last season.  He has been one of the most raved about players in Spring drills this year.  Jordan, who  has an exceptional work ethic, is trying to prove to the coaching staff that he can be more than just a short yardage back.

Lavon McCoy (Offensive Guard) —   BIG Lavon McCoy; and by BIG I mean almost 400 pounds BIG, was a highly touted prospect with offers from USC, Oregon, and the University of Washington coming out of high school.  He is one of those players that Coach Jenkins has mentioned that we’re very fortunate to have.  Last year, McCoy played exclusively on the defensive side of the ball.  He demonstrated very good foot work and quickness at defensive tackle.  This year he is moving to the offensive side of the ball and is expected to play offensive guard.  His Junior College highlight film shows him playing both defensive tackle and offensive guard.  McCoy looks great as a defensive tackle prospect but even better as an offensive guard.  It will be interesting to see how productive McCoy can be against FCS competition.

Tavarus Dantzler (Linebacker) — Tavarus Dantzler has been penciled in as the next big thing at linebacker for the Wildcats.  He has good size at 6’3″, 230 lbs, but his game is built on speed.  Dantzler can flat out fly.  Defensive Coordinator Yogi Jones has stated that he believes Dantzler can be a very special player and an all conference performer.  Let’s hope that Dantzler rises to the occasion and fulfill his potential.

Defensive Line Ryan Davis was simply the best defensive player in HBCU football last year.  I am not quite sure that one player will be able to fill the void left by Davis’ departure.  Instead, the Wildcat defensive front may look to maintain last year’s productivity levels by committee.  Harold Love, Anthony Woodard, and Tevin Toney all had very good campaigns last year.  Erik Williams rejoins Coach Earl Lane’s defensive unit after being sidelined with an injury a season ago.  Brandon Bryant and LeBranden Richardson are UCF transfers who will look to have an impact on the defensive line as well.

Jim Pry (Offensive Coordinator) — Okay, so we will not be able to make any legitimate or rational assessments about new offensive coordinator, Jim Pry’s, play calling after Saturday’s contest.  But what I hope to see is Pry’s influence on the passing game; and how the quarterbacks and receivers are understanding the principles of Pry’s passing attack.  Pry is a disciple of the vertical passing game.  His route combinations are not stagnant or predefined.  Instead, receivers have options on each route (think Mike Leach and the Air Coryell offenses).

Quarterback —  Jackie Wilson ended last season with a 66% completion rate and showed tremendous growth as the Wildcats primary signal caller.  But Wilson is not a shoe-in to be the starting quarterback in 2012.  Former Florida Mr. Football, Quentin Williams, is competing with Wilson and Broadrick Waters (La Tech transfer) to be Brian Jenkins’ trigger-man come September.

Coach ’em up

Football Factoid #480—a good assistant coach can be as valuable to a team as an All-American quarterback.  After all, the assistant coaches provide the bulk of the daily instruction, technique corrections, real-time feedback, game planning, and in-game adjustments.  Coach Brian Jenkins deserves a ton of credit for quietly assembling a staff of outstanding assistants at Bethune. 

New Offensive Coordinator Rob Spence

Rob Spence replaces Marc Orlando as the Cats’ new offensive coordinator.  Spence has coordinator experience at both the FCS and FBS level.  Toledo, Hofstra, and Clemson enjoyed some of their most productive offensive seasons in school history under Spence’s guidance.  He inherits the second ranked FCS offense from a year ago, but the Cats still have much room for improvement.   The Wildcats averaged just 21 points against the MEAC’s top teams a year ago (14 vs. SCSU, 21 vs. NSU, 23 vs. Hampton, and 27 vs. FAMU).  That was 17 points lower than their season average of 38 points per game.  The Wildcats hope to increase their scoring output this year, specifically against upper echelon competition, under Spence’s leadership.

Autry Denson and Joe Dailey join Spence as new additions to the offensive coaching staff.  Denson, a former standout running back at Notre Dame and in the NFL, will coach the same position for the Wildcats.  Dailey, who started at quarterback for Nebraska before transferring to North Carolina, is listed as the new quarterbacks coach.  Allen Suber, Lawal McCray, and John Powers return as second year offensive assistants and will coach the wide receivers, tight ends, and offensive line respectively.

Earl Lane - BCU defensive line coach

New coaches on the defensive side of the ball include graduate assistant Buddy Collins and defensive line coach Earl Lane.  While Collins is a coaching neophyte, Lane brings with him a wealth of coaching experience and a proven record of accomplishment.  Lane served as defensive line coach for LSU during their 2007 BCS Championship season. He helped Glenn Dorsey win the Lombardi, Outland, and Nagurski awards in that same season.  The remaining defensive coaches are the same as last year: Yogi Jones—defensive coordinator and linebackers, Terry Sims—special teams’ coordinator and secondary, Terry Williams—defensive backs.

Old and young, sustained success and hot newcomers; the Wildcats’ coaching staff has it all.  Brian Jenkins will look to this diverse group of assistants to “coach up” his talented squad and hopefully deliver postseason success.

Offensive and Defensive Line preview

It’s only fitting that we start our preseason preview by highlighting the units that are traditionally the most overlooked; the offensive and defensive lines.

Offensive Line—Grade B-

All-American Center (#70) celebrating with teammates

While QB Matt Johnson received much of the praise last year for the success of BCU’s vaunted “Speedway Offense”, it is the offensive line that deserves much of the credit.  All American Center Natiel Curry leads the men upfront.  The Senior from Miami Norland appears on numerous preseason All-American and “Watch List”.  Tackles Marquell Rozier and Alex Monroe join Curry as returning starters on the O-Line.  The Cats will have to replace both starting guards from last year’s squad. Expect Junior College transfers Stavion Lowe and Blake Pritchard to compete for starting positions and add depth in the trenches.  Lowe, a 4-star recruit who originally signed with LSU in 2009, projects well at both guard and tackle.  http://rivals.yahoo.com/ncaa/football/recruiting/player-Stavion-Lowe-64825

The Wildcat offensive line had their share of struggles inside the Redzone in 2010. It’s hard to know if their redzone woes were a result of play-calling, scheme, or execution.  What is known is that this unit must iron out their redzone issues and produce better results inside their opponents’ 20 yardline if they hope to improve upon last year’s success.

Defensive Line

2010 FCS playoffs vs. UNH

Last year’s defensive front was solid.  They didn’t get pushed around, but they didn’t make as many “splash plays” as the faithful would have liked.  They also seemed to struggle getting lined up properly from time to time.  However, this description of the group does not describe the play of defensive end Ryan Davis.  The stud from Tampa Blake led the team with 6.5 sacks and shared the team lead for the most ‘tackles for loss’ with 14.   The coaches believe he has next level talent and that offenses must account for him at all times. Erik Williams and Eugene Solomon are solid players who could blossom into difference makers in their 2nd year in this defense.

The greatest void along this front a year ago was the lack of a consistent inside push against the pass and an interior anchor against the run.  Harold Love, a Feather River Community College transfer, may provide the type of consistent productivity missing from the tackle position a year ago. He seems to possess the type of off-the-ball explosiveness required to be a disruptive force in the middle.  But Love may not have been the biggest addition to the defensive line this past offseason.  The Wildcats signed Coach Earl Lane to be their new defensive line coach.  Yes, that Earl Lane; the former LSU defensive line coach who helped the Bayou Tigers earn a BCS championship and helped Glenn Dorsey win the Lombardi and Outland Awards in 2007.

Fueled by the off the field leadership of Lane and the one the field play of Ryan Davis, we expect this bunch to be the most improved unit on the Wildcats’ squad.  Our grade; C-

Upcoming preview–Backs and Receivers