Spring Game Review: Offense

USA TODAY Sports

We're taking a look at the offense's performance in Saturday's spring game. Sadly, the unit's struggles did not allow answers to most of the questions. Still, we're going to project a depth chart for 2013. Considering the unit's struggles last year and this weekend, much of this may change. But these are the best bets at this point in time.

Year after year, the spring game is disappointing. This year was no different. The OL struggled. There were dropped passes, missed blocks, some poor throws and a lot more sloppiness. Mostly, this is to be expected, because of the constantly changing personnel, and the fact that game plans aren't fully instituted yet. Because of all the coaching turnover, the sloppiness was possibly even more expected this year.

Today we're looking at the game from the perspective of the offense. What we're going to do is look at each position, and project the depth chart for 2013. There will almost definitely be changes, due to everything from injuries to grades to performance. Also, this does not include any of the incoming freshmen.

Quarterback

We saw action from all 3 contenders, and yet there wasn't much to be gleaned. For starters, the two hand touch rule for QBs really changes things. Beyond that, the QB performances are so reliant on the performance of the OL and the receivers.

It was clear to me that Greyson Lambert was the best QB out there. That, of course, does not mean that he will be the best in the fall. In fact, while I think Lambert will play this season, I believe David Watford will be the starter for the opening game against BYU. Watford was hurt the most by the two hand touch rule, and yet still showed his game breaking ability to take off and run. For an offense that struggled for much of last season, his ability to make plays with his legs will be needed. The ability to run the read-option could be huge for this team next season. That said, I was disappointed in Watford's arm. While his accuracy was better than it had as a true freshman, his downfield passes tended to flutter. I remember his arm being stronger than it looked on Saturday. If that doesn't improve, he won't be able to throw the ball downfield.

Lambert looked good. Very good. He controlled the offense and the huddle. He seemed to know where to go with the ball. And he threw some pretty passes. He also threw some poor passes and missed some guys. On 2 occasions, he was aided by spectacular grabs from his WR (one by E.J. Scott and one by Adrian Gamble). To be fair, he was hurt by some drops as well. He also looked good running the 2 minute drill, something we had gotten used to with Michael Rocco. Lambert's arm is strong, his pocket presence is good, and he is athletic enough to get away from the pass rush and make plays outside the pocket. He is going to be very good, but I am not sure he is quite ready.

And then there is Phillip Sims. With Rocco's transfer, Sims was the clear leader in the clubhouse. However, he just looks lost. His demeanor on the field was off. He sat by himself on the sidelines. His teammates didn't seem interested in him. He also threw some great passes. Of the candidates, he easily has the strongest arm. He easily has the most physical ability. But being a QB at this level requires so much more than ability. If Sims wants the job, he has to earn it, and he doesn't appear to be doing that. Barring injury, I cannot see Sims getting on the field this season unless his attitude changes.

Projected Depth Chart

David Watford
Greyson Lambert
Phillip Sims

Tail Back

None of the running backs really showed much during the spring game. Mostly, this was due to a lack of holes. But each had some chances, and nobody really outshone the competition. I continue to be impressed by Kevin Parks' nose for the endzone. I am also continually impressed by Khalek Shepherd's ability to change direction on a dime.

Having not seen much of Kye Morgan prior to this game, I was particularly interested in seeing what he brought to the table. I thought he combined some attributes from both Parks and Shepherd. He isn't quite as stout as Parks and probably not as quick as Shepherd. But he showed a good nose for the hole, especially on a few short yardage carries. His 18 yards on 11 carries is not impressive, but he still showed me that he's earned some touches.

Clifton Richardson led the team in yards and in yards per carry. His size gives his an advantage, especially when holes aren't there. He can just make a hole. I thought he looked tentative at times, and a bit too willing to turn horizontal and look outside. With his size, he needs to just hit the hole hard and pick up what he can. Still, if our OL can't open up holes, Richardson gives us the best chance to pick up yards.

Again, there are a lot of candidates at the RB position, and all of them can play. While I believe Richardson to be our most dangerous back, I think Parks will be the starter. Shepherd will mostly fill the role of third-down back. His receiving ability out of the backfield makes him a big-time weapon on third downs.

Projected Depth Chart

Kevin Parks
Khalek Shepherd
Clifton Richardson
Kyle Morgan

Wide Receiver

Similar to RB, there are simply too many talented WRs on the roster for everybody to get the opportunities they deserve. Last season, a lot of WR saw the field. At times, it became too easy to guess what we were going to run based on which WR package was on the field. This simply can't continue. This isn't Pee Wee football. The best players need to be out there for a majority of the plays.

The best WR on the team is still Tim Smith. He's big, he's fast, and he's become a very good route runner. He had 5 receptions on Saturday, and could've had more. He has had some trouble staying healthy, but he is still our #1.

The duo of Darius Jennings and Dominique Terrell were the other two starting WRs last season. Both had their moments, but were also inconsistent. Jennings led the WRs in receptions last season, and showed a lot of promise. Terrell had a few moments, but still seems tentative and struggled with reads and routes. And both of them dropped far too many passes. There is too much talent behind them to live with the dropped passes and mistakes.

Among that talent is Adrian Gamble. Gamble led the team with 82 yards on 5 receptions. He also made some outstanding catches, and made them look easy. His size (6'1") also gives a different look from the rest of the WR group. Gamble is truly big play threat, and could end up starting.

The other big weapon was E.J. Scott, who also had 5 receptions and totaled 76 yards. Scott has improved game in and game out and has turned himself into a big weapon for this team.

We didn't see a ton out of Jennings or Terrell on Saturday, but they both still possess athleticism that isn't available elsewhere, so they will still be in the mix. There's other guys, such as Canaan Severin, Jamall Brown, Miles Gooch and Kyle Dockins. But, as I said, there aren't enough plays to go around for everybody to get chances. If Tim Smith is our best WR, he needs to be out there making plays for us. Not watching an inferior player make mistakes.

While I expect the starting lineup to have just 2 WRs, I'm going to list 3 different sets (an X, a Y, and a Z/slot).

Projected Depth Chart - X

Tim Smith
Miles Gooch

Projected Depth Chart - Y

Darius Jennings
Adrian Gamble

Projected Depth Chart - Z

E.J. Scott
Dominique Terrell

Tight End

Coming out of last season, I was concerned about the TE depth chart. The return of Zachary Swanson helped to alleviate some of those concerns, but I remained skeptical. Jake McGee, of course, returns and will lead the unit. But he isn't much of a blocker and sometimes gets lost. Swanson is now a junior and has just 8 receptions. And he isn't any more of a blocker than McGee.

I was impressed by what I saw in the spring game. Rob Burns, a 6'7" former DE, looked very good. He was able to get out and make some plays. He was able to break some tackles and pick up some tough yards. He also caught a TD.

I am still concerned with our TEs ability to block. Especially considering the struggles the OL had on Saturday, finding a TE who can help out as a blocker is imperative. I'm just not sure that guy is on our roster right now.

Projected Depth Chart

Jake McGee
Zachary Swanson
Rob Burns

Offensive Tackle

I am breaking the up into separate positions, because I really want to spend some time talking about this unit. The OL as a whole was pretty much awful, although they did some good things. Certainly some of the 14 sacks wouldn't have happened if not for the two-hand touch rule. But many of them were cases of unblocked pass rushers who could've decapitated our poor QBs.

The OTs were responsible for most of those occurrences. Morgan Moses moved over from RT to LT and didn't look much different. When he gets his hands on a guy, he tends to neutralize them. He is too big, too strong and too physical to get beaten. But he misses things. I can recall at least 2 or 3 cases where he simply let somebody get past him, and then just stood around watching. Still, I'm not concerned about Moses. He is going to be our LT and he's going to be fine there. He'd better be, because there isn't much behind him.

It is the other side that I am concerned about. Both Sean Cascarano and Jay Whitmire struggled in this game. They missed blocks. They got beat. They failed to hold blocks. They basically just failed. Cascarano moves over from RG, where he struggled at time last season. He is more suited to OT than to OG, and I am writing off much of his struggles as lack of experience at the position and part of the overall OL problems which remain from last season.

Whitmire is an OT, through and through. While it looked, to me, like he saw some snaps on the inside, I simply can't see him being successful there. He is too tall and lanky.

All 3 were better in the ground game than the passing game. The blitzes seemed to confuse them, almost as if they weren't ready. It is possible, of course, that they simply weren't ready for the different blitzes they saw. That is, after all, the goal of Jon Tenuta's defense.

Unfortunately, there isn't much behind these three. I like Michael Mooney, but he struggled even facing (mostly) 2nd teamers. Trent Corney, in particular, abused him over and over again. He simply isn't ready to be on the field at a critical position.

ProjectedDepth Chart - LT

Morgan Moses
Jay Whitmire

Projected Depth Chart - RT

Sean Cascarano
Jay Whitmire

I realize I'm cheating a bit there, but Whitmire would be the first OL off the bench regardless of which side.

Offensive Guard

This position is far less set than OT. The interior of the line was pretty much terrible this weekend. Brent Urban and David Dean basically lived in the backfield all game long. Urban had 3.5 of the team's 14 "sacks". Dean had a couple as well. They also blew up many of our short yardage runs, and didn't allow the RBs to get anything going at all.

At LG, Cody Wallace was the starter this week, but he was merely holding the spot for Connor Davis, who beat Wallace out last season. Wallace will still be in the running for both OG spots, but he was simply lost out there this weekend. He couldn't seem to hold a block or keep his man in front of him. I was highly disappointed in his performance.

The starter on the other side was Ross Burbank. Burbank didn't have the same problems Wallace had, but he had his own problems. I don't recall Burbank getting beat at all. I do recall there being some plays where he didn't block anybody. Along with the rest of the OL, he seemed to be misreading the defense on some plays. The stunts from the DL seemed to confuse him.

We also saw Ryan Doull and Sean Karl get some time at OG, and neither of them impressed much. The 2nd string DTs weren't quite as dominant as the 1st teamers were, but then again that's why they are 2nd teamers.

Projected Depth Chart - LG

Connor Davis
Cody Wallace

Projected Depth Chart - RG

Ross Burbank
Ryan Doull

If Jay Whitmire wins the job at RT during fall camp, Sean Cascarano could end up being a factor back at RG. I don't expect this to happen, for a variety of reasons, but it is possible. Especially since Whitmire could absolutely win the RT job.

Also, while I put Doull is as the backup at RG, Cody Wallace would likely be the first OG off the bench for either OG spot.

Offensive Center

This was the one position we were supposed to be ok at. Luke Bowanko was solid at OG in 2011 and was expected to lead the OL last year. Didn't happen. Bowanko struggled with his reads all year, and those struggles also caused him to struggle with the physical part of the game. I had hopes that Bowanko would improve, but I can't say I was impressed this weekend.

The lack of cohesion on the offensive line was appalling. There were so many missed blocks I stopped counting. There were untouched defenders on pass plays and run plays. There were linemen just standing around. Ultimately, this is on the OC, since he is the one making the line calls. I don't want to place all of the blame on Bowanko, especially since he was playing with some inexperienced linemen. But Bowanko needs to be better, or our offense isn't going to be any better than it was last year.

The depth chart behind Bowanko is all walk-ons. Jackson Matteo got the majority of the 2nd team OC snaps, and didn't really look the part. He's undersized and simply wouldn't be able to block a good college DT. If Bowanko goes down, we're in trouble, but Ross Burbank would be the most likely candidate to snap the ball.

Projected Depth Chart

Luke Bowanko
Ross Burbank

Again, maybe this is cheating since Burbank isn't officially a center, but he'd be the guy, so I'm putting him there. In this case, Cody Wallace would likely step in at RG.

Final Thoughts

Most of this isn't groundbreaking. The QB position is far from settled, the OL sucks and we're pretty well set at the skill positions.

With the exception of Bowanko and Moses, all of the OL spots are up for grabs. A guy like Sadiq Olanrewaju could come in and fight for early playing time at either OG spot.

At RB, Parks/Richardson/Shepherd are all pretty much even on the depth chart. And let's not forget about Smoke Mizzell, who will come in a fight for snaps right away.

There is so much depth at WR, it nearly impossible to guess how much anybody will play. We know what Tim Smith can do, and we know that Adrian Gamble and Canaan Severin provide a size advantage that the other guys simply do not have. That is really about all that we know.

I didn't even discuss FB. We have just one scholarship FB on the roster, although he wasn't the guy who caught a TD pass in this game. Vincent Croce will be our "starting" FB, but I'm not sure we'll be using the FB all that often. Sammy Macfarlane caught the TD pass, but he not big enough to be real FB. Croce is, and could be a weapon in the passing game, but I haven't seen enough to know if he can be a capable lead blocker.

If the OL comes together, the offense could be good. David Watford can read-option teams to death and use play action off that to hit some big passes. We have enough talent at RB, WR and TE to be explosive all over the field. But right now, I don't see the OL working well together. I don't see Watford making throws downfield. And I don't see this offense being much better than last year's.

I hope I'm wrong.

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