Training camp is the time of year when every team is undefeated, every player is ready to step up and every coach is full of platitudes. For the Hoos, of course, this year is different because there is a new coaching staff in place. Fans don’t really know what to expect. Will it be a strict environment with little information leaking out, as it was under Coach Groh? Or will it be fun and exciting and ultimately useless, as it was under Coach London?
Ask most fans, and they’ll tell you they don’t care that much. We want to know what’s going on with the team, so we can begin to get our expectations set. If everything is going great and the team is flying high, we’re all going to be disappointed with another .500 or worse season. But if we can’t get any information, then we end up nitpicking and over-analyzing every little tidbit of news and we end up with zero expectations.
So, for this year, he’s a little guide for the team and the coaching staff. This is what we, as fans, want to see during training camp.
1) Pick a QB.
We are so tired of the QB carousel. It has been over a decade since Wahoo fans were comfortable with the guy taking the snaps for the Hoos. It seems that every year, we have a new QB under center for the opening snaps of the season. And year in and year out, it seems that we have a different QB taking snaps at the end of the season than we did at the beginning of the season. Except for 2013, when David Watford took almost all the snaps for the entire season and put together one of the worst QB seasons in modern football history.
So, for our sanity, and the team’s future, pick a QB early on in camp and give him the reps he needs. If that guy is Matt Johns, then we’ll have 2 straight years with the same starting QB. If it is Kurt Benkert, then at least we know there’s a chance of having him under center for 2 years. If Connor Brewer is the best candidate, then so be it. But he’d better be worth it, since he’ll be gone after this year.
2) Everybody stay healthy.
One thing we know about this year’s team is that depth is a concern. Especially in the trenches, where the Hoos are seriously lacking depth on the interior OL and the entire DL. Those are the hot spots, but this team also has no depth at LB, safety or WR.
Look, injuries are pretty much inevitable. Guys are going to get nicked up, and probably some guys are going to suffer more serious injuries. But the Hoos have already lost a pair of OLs (Eric Tetlow and Saqid Olanrewaju) to injury and camp hasn’t even begun. Any more injuries on the OL and that unit going to be in big trouble. As it is, the Hoos can barely fill a 2-deep with scholarship players who aren’t true freshmen. And none of the 3 incoming freshmen appear ready to step in on the OL.
Last year, the Hoos lost WR T.J. Thorpe to a collarbone injury in training camp. Though he returned sooner than expected, he did not have the impact on the season that was expected. Any major injuries this year could be devastating to such a thin team.
3) Young players emergence
This goes hand in hand with #2, because of the lack of experience on the roster. We need to see something from the younger players on the roster. Only Olamide Zaccheaus had any real impact from last year’s freshman class. That is going to have to change, because there aren’t enough upper classmen to fill out the depth chart. We’ve already heard about some of the redshirt freshmen, such as Naji Abdullah, who looks poised to start on the DL.
A number of redshirt freshmen and true freshman are going to find themselves on the 2-deep, especially if there are any injuries. Even when fully healthy, less than half of the 2-deep is made up of players with more than 2 years experience. And yet this team may be more experienced than next year’s will be. As many as 11 starters from this year’s team will be gone next year. And many of those spots will be filled by guys who’ve yet to play a single snap.
And we’d love to see guys like Myles Robinson and David Eldredge expand on their experience from last year. Both guys burned their redshirts with limited return. For it to have been worth it, they’d better be impacting the game this year. Robinson is likely a backup CB and Eldredge is probably on the 2-deep at WR.
4) Offensive identity
Yes, we know that training camp scrimmages don’t mean much. Especially when practices are open, the coaching staff isn’t going to show much out of the playbook. But, as fans, we’d like to get sense of what the new offense is going to look like. For the past decade, it seems like the Hoos have had a new offensive scheme every year. It’s gone from pro-style offense to spread offense to whatever the hell Steve Fairchild was running.
We know from seeing BYU play that Robert Anae will use a spread offense. We know he’ll go up-tempo. But will this be a pass-first team or a run-first team? We don’t know. Last year, BYU threw the ball more than they passed it. The previous two years, they were more of a running team. Was that because Taysom Hill was such a dangerous runner? Or was it because Jamaal Williams was such a great running back? Or perhaps a combination of the two? Hill played in just 1 game last year, but he threw the ball more than he ran it prior to leaving injury. And Williams missed the entire season. We know the Hoos have RBs. Maybe not as good as Williams, though Smoke and Co. are a very strong bunch of RBs. We do not, however, really know what we have at QB (see #1 above).
Though the entire offensive playbook will not be featured during camp, we should get a better sense of what to expect from the offense this season. If we see highlight films full of read-options and inside hand-offs, it’s safe to say we’ll be more of a running team. If we, instead, see WR screens, downfield passes, and blitz pickups then it’s safe to say we’ll be more of a passing team. Wahoo fans don’t necessary care which one, we just want to see some sort of identity that lasts longer than a single drive.
With a new coaching staff beginning a rebuild, we know that this season may not be all that successful. But we want to see progress. And seeing the things listed above will give us a sense that things have changed for the better.