Pre-Preseason Rankings: AAC East
The Ten Pre-Preseason American Athletic Questions
Tom Herman was brought on to crank up the offense, and he has an interesting quarterback situation with John O’Korn coming off of injury to battle with Armed Forces star Greg Ward Jr. Three starters are back up front including LT Travis Cross and LG Ben Drew, but who’s the No. 1 target? Deontay Greenberry is leaving early for the NFL and Markeith Ambles is gone, but Demarcus Ayers and Steven Dunbar are back. Running backs Kenneth Farrow and Ryan Jackson are back, and Ward will be one of the team’s most dangerous runners.
Leading tackler and key linebacker Efrem Oliphant has to be replaced, and two starters are gone from the front four, but Steven Taylor and Matthew Adams are two solid outside linebackers to work around, and DT B.J. Singleton should help ease the loss of Joy Mbu inside. Three starters are back in the secondary including safeties Adrian McDonald and Trevon Stewart, but corner William Jackson took off early for the next level. The punting game needs to be stronger, and Logan Piper will give it a try after averaging under 40 yards per pop.
2. What’s next for Navy
The Midshipmen were loaded with experience coming into the year, and they get back quarterback Keenan Reynolds to what should be another humongous statistical season. Fullback Noah Copeland will be missed, but Chris Swain brings some experience – and about 30 more pounds – to the position. Three starters are gone on the O line, and backs Geoffrey Whiteside and Ryan Williams-Jenkins are finished, but the backfield is still loaded. Leading receiver Jamir Tillman returns after catching 20 of the team’s 59 receptions.
Leading tackler Jordan Drake is gone, but it’s still a strong-looking defense with Bernard Sarra and Will Anthony returning to the defensive front and corners Brendon Clements and Quincy Adams are back. Safeties George Jamison and Parrish Gaines will be sorely missed, and linebackers Chris Johnson and Obi Uzoma are gone, along with Drake, but there’s depth. Kicker Austin Grebe is back, but punter Pablo Beltran is gone.
With QB Paxton Lynch returning along with almost all of his top targets, the Tiger passing game should be terrific from the start. Four starters are back to a good O line that only loses right tackle Al Bond, and while leading rusher Brandon Hayes is done, Jarvis Cooper and Sam Craft should be able to pick up the slack. Lynch can run a little bit, too.
The outstanding defense takes a massive hit with the top five tacklers gone including linebackers Tank Jakes and Charles Harris. Ends Ernest Suttles and Jackson Dillon are gone from the outside, but tackles Martin Ifredi and Terry Redden will be missed. Free safety Reggis Ball is the only returning starter to the secondary that has some major reworking to do. Kicker Jake Elliott and punter Spencer Smith are both back.
Ten starters are back on an offense that had its moments. New head coach Philip Montgomery wants to kick the O into high gear, and it starts with QB Dane Evans, who’s back after throwing for over 3,100 yards. 101-catch all-star receiver Keevan Lucas is back, but he’s not alone with every player who caught a pass last season returning. Leading rusher Zack Langer returns along with backup James Flanders, and four starters are back up front, only losing RG Davis Walton.
The defense that had a hard time stopping anyone loses key safety DeMarco Nelson and LB Jake Sizelove, but leading tackler Michael Mudoh is back in the secondary and LB Craig Suits is a keeper. DE Derrick Alexander should be one of the league’s premier pass rushers, helped out by a line that returns three starters. P Dalton Parks earned all-conference honors after averaging over 42 yards a kick, but PK Carl Salazar is gone after connecting on 12-of-18 field goal attempts.
After a rough season offensively, Tulane needs QB Tanner Lee to grow into more of a difference-maker. He should have time to work behind a line that returns four starters and only loses RT Sean Donnelly, and he gets back all his top backs with Sherman Badie, Lazedrick Thompson and Dontrell Hilliard forming an excellent trio. The receiving corps is another story with two of the top three targets gone, but leading receiver Teddy Veal is back and the running backs can catch.
This was a good defense at getting into the backfield, but leading tackler – S Sam Scofield – has to be replaced along with nickel defender, Brandon LeBeau. Fortunately, the linebacking corps should be great with Nico Marley leading the way and three of the four best defensive backs return including corners Lorenzo Doss and Parry Nickerson. PK Andrew DiRocco returns after a rocky year, hitting 8-of-15 field goals, and P Peter Picerelli has to be far better after averaging under 38 yards per kick.
New head man Tom Mason has a ton of work to do, but he gets back plenty of experience on offense with all four starters returning up front. Matt Davis leads a deep group of quarterbacks, and even though leading target Der’rikk Thompson is gone, most of the key receivers are back including Darius Joseph and Deion Sanders, Jr. Davis led the team in rushing, but Prescott Line has to add more from the running backs.
The defense gets five starters back in the back eight, but it loses the two top tacklers, safety Hayden Greenberry and LB Stephon Sanders. More of a pass rush is needed from Mason Gentry and a front three that loses NT Darrian Wright as the anchor, but the departure of Sanders is the biggest problem. Corners Jesse Montgomery and Horace Richardson are young and should grow into their respective jobs. PK Cody Rademacher is done, but he only hit 9-of-17 field goals. Punter Jackson Koonce returns after a good year, averaging close to 41 yards per pop.
2015 Pre-Preseason AAC West Rankings
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