Team Preview: Richmond Spiders

Maryland opens its 2015 campaign Sept. 5 with a noon bout against FCS opponent Richmond of the Colonial Athletic Association.

Maryland opens its 2015 campaign Sept. 5 with a noon bout against FCS opponent Richmond of the Colonial Athletic Association. The Spiders, headed by Danny Rocco, a former Terps’ linebacker coach who was actually on the same Boston College staff as UMD headman Randy Edsall in 1991, finished 9-5 and made the playoffs for the first time since 2009 last season.

Now, based on that 2014 campaign, Richmond looks to be a potentially potent foe, especially offensively. The Spiders, who threw more than any other FCS team last year, ranked eighth in passing offense at 314 yards per game; 20th in total offense (461 yards per game); and scored 31 points per (40th in the FCS). The Spiders’ defense, meanwhile, was a respectable 33rd in yards allowed per game (352) and 50th in scoring (25 points allowed per).

But gone is former Virginia transfer Michael Strauss, a spread-option quarterback who, after two years starting at Richmond, ended up as the school’s record holder in completions; yards; and touchdowns in a single season. Also gone are 23 seniors, including 12 starters, the majority on the defensive side of the ball. And, perhaps most notably, gone is offensive coordinator Brandon Streetor (now Clemson’s quarterbacks coach), the orchestrator of the Spiders’ high-flying attack.

What remains are 12 total seniors, around 10 starters from last year, and little experienced depth. The Spiders still could make some noise once conference play hits and the young talent develops, but 2015 might be a transition year for the CAA mainstay.

Offense

After Streetor left for Clemson, Richmond promoted associate head coach Charlie Fisher to offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Based on both personnel and personal philosophy, Fisher will be ditching the spread offense in favor of a traditional pro-set. In a 180-degree turn from 2014, the Spiders, with two running backs in the backfield, should be primarily a running team this season. Look for Richmond to shorten games, grinding out yards and methodically moving the chains with their two experienced runners.

Quarterback

Replacing Strauss is redshirt sophomore Kyle Lauletta (6-3, 208), a pocket passer who actually played at the same high school as current Maryland commit Michael Clark (Downingtown East/Exton, Pa.). Lauletta saw some time as a true freshman, but wasn’t needed last year and ended up red-shirting. Therefore, not much is known about him other than what reporters have witnessed during camp.

Word is Lauletta is a stationary quarterback, who is not a threat to scramble or run the read-option. He does his best work off of play-action and play-action rollouts, as he’s had some issues telegraphing throws when dropping straight back.

Lauletta has average arm strength and accuracy, so while he’s developing, he’ll likely be more of a game manager than a gunslinger. Expect him to hand the ball off the majority of the time, at least early during the season.

Running Backs

It would behoove Lauletta to let his backs do the work, because seniors Seth Fisher (6-2, 232) and Jacobi Green (5-9, 192), two of the squad’s most prolific offensive performers, are back for one last go-around.

The thunder-and-lightning label has become a cliché, but that’s basically what this duo is, Fisher grinding out the tough yards inside and Green providing the open-field speed. Against FCS defenses, though, both have been physical, tackle-breaking runners who can burst into the second and third levels.

Green averaged 5.2 yards per carry and gained 634 yards last season, while Fisher averaged 4.6 yards a tote and tallied 776 yards. The latter racked up a dozen touchdowns, the former four.

The third running back, speedy sophomore Jeremiah Hamlin (5-10, 221), should garner some carries as well after seeing 51 touches last season (5.5 yards per carry).

Receivers

If the quarterback can get them the ball, the Spiders actually have a pair of big-play wideouts to complement the backs. Senior Reggie Diggs (6-4, 200) and junior Brian Brown (6-1, 198) both return, the duo leading the Spiders in receiving.

Diggs, who combines size with solid speed, ended up with 85 receptions for 1,157 yards and seven scores in 2014, while the field-stretching Brown hauled in 79 passes for 1,089 yards and four touchdowns. Many consider Diggs to be the best NFL prospect the CAA has this year.

Beyond those two entrenched starters, it’s unclear who will step into the third receiver role as fall camp nears its conclusion. And while the Spiders will employ a tight end in their new pro-style, none of the three contenders have emerged as a clear-cut starter, although sophomore Nick Holloway (6-6, 254) has an intriguing frame.

Offensive Line

While Richmond has some experienced skill players returning, the offensive line is, for the most part, a question mark. Three starters graduated off last year’s formidable front, leaving tackle Nick Ritcher (Sr., 6-6, 304) as the one mainstay. Ritcher is a solid all-around blocker, a steady contributor the last two seasons or so.

Also returning is senior guard Caleb High (6-4, 299), who started every game last season, and, like Ritcher, has been a consistent presence. High isn’t as reliable or potent as Ritcher, but he’s mostly done the job as both a run and pass blocker.

But beyond those two, the jury is out on who will fill the right tackle and right guard spots. Marius Young (6-2, 274), a true sophomore, will be taking over the center position, but he’s had some issues during camp, according to reports. His ability to make the calls, set the line and hold his blocks is a primary concern.

Defense

The Spiders aren’t switching defensive coordinators this year -- Bob Trott is back for his fifth season – but they are switching schemes. After losing almost their entire starting defensive line from a year ago, Richmond is shifting from a 4-3 base to a 3-4 in 2015.

Not that the Spiders won’t throw in a few different wrinkles, Trott stressing the need to become more multiple. Richmond will morph into a 3-5-3, employ a “bandit” linebacker, a “rover” safety and so on and so forth.

The main worry, though, is the defense as a whole lacks depth. Not only did the unit graduate seven starters from a year ago, but many of the key backups are gone as well, leaving inexperienced defenders across the board.

Defensive Line

The Spiders racked up 24 sacks last year, but 18 of them came from players no longer on the roster. They’ve been searching for effective pass rushers all offseason, and so far the only one who has proved he can consistently reach the quarterback is junior Winston Craig (6-3, 294), who had three sacks in 2014. A versatile end, who can play with his hand in the dirt or standing up, Craig is arguably Richmond’s best defender overall, excelling at stuffing the run and busting into the backfield.

Richmond should get a boost from senior defensive end Devin Cook (6-4, 240) too. A Pittsburgh transfer who sat out last year, Cook has flashed a high motor and a potent first step during camp. Ultimately, he might just be the team’s most effective pass rusher.

The battle for the nose tackle spot is still on-going, though junior Nick Velardo (6-2, 262), who had 12 tackles in 2015, may be in line for the job. The rest of the contenders are mostly first and second year players who have to develop quickly.

Linebackers

The key cog in Richmond’s defense is inside linebacker Omar Howard (Jr., 6-0, 231), a tweener type who plays with reckless abandon. A fleet-footed, powerful backer, he’s considered the team’s “energizer.” Howard finished second on the team with 92 tackles, six tackles for loss and three sacks last season.

The rest of the core, though, has much to prove.

Senior Trevor Jones (5-10, 188), a hybrid type, who saw action in parts of 12 games in 2014, will have to step up and claim one of the inside linebacker spots. The undersized cover backer had 19 stops and a tackle for loss a year ago.

Junior Selton Hodge (6-2, 233), a former Friendship Collegiate (Washington, D.C.) standout who played in 14 games last year, should slide into the starting outside linebacker role this season. Hodge recorded 15 stops and recovered a fumble during the last campaign.

Another ex-DMV standout, Kieran Gregory (Jr., 6-2, 230), who played at Quince Orchard (Gaithersburg, Md.), could garner more time after totaling six tackles in 14 games, mainly on special teams, last season.

Defensive Backs

Richmond’s No. 1 defensive back is corner Ayo Aguniye (Sr., 6-0, 193), a former star at Westlake High (Waldorf, Md.). A physical, fast corner who has a nose for the football, Aguniye racked up 55 tackles, three picks and nine pass defenses a year ago. More than likely teams will shy away from Aguniye in 2015, preferring to pick on the team’s more inexperienced defensive backs.

The second cornerback spot should go to sophomore Tafo Mainsah (5-10, 200), a nine-game starter last season. Mainsah has had some issues locking down receivers so far, but he did have eight breakups and 37 tackles in 2015. The staff is expecting him to raise his game, although he’s received mixed reviews during camp.

Senior Dominique Miller (5-8, 175) should see plenty of time too, as he played in 12 games last year but received no starts. And sophomore Jarriel Jordan (5-8, 172) has shown flashes this August as well, the former DeMatha (Hyattsville, Md.) star trying to make a name for himself in his second season at Richmond.

The safety spot, meanwhile, is in flux. Richmond graduated both its starters and is searching for able replacements. Senior David Herlocker (6-2, 214) has been one of the more impressive camp performers and may seize one of those slots. He played in seven games last year and had 16 tackles.

The second spot could be claimed by one of Richmond’s two transfers, junior Lemond Johnson (6-1, 200), who started his career with Tennessee, and senior Kameron Jackson (5-11, 195), who comes over from North Carolina. Neither has separated themselves during camp, however.

If the two former FBS talents don’t rise to the occasion, junior Charles Mack (6-1, 200) may slide into a starter’s role after playing in 13 games last season. But Mack’s classmate, David Jones (6-1, 187) -- 33 stops and two interceptions last year -- has seen the most game-action, which could give him a leg up in the competition.

Regardless, the Spiders will enter the campaign with two safeties having much to prove.

Special Teams

Richmond’s special teams unit might best be described as “so, so.” The Spiders have a good punter, an OK field goal kicker, and a return game that hasn’t generated much production.

Sophomore D.J. Helkowski (6-0, 231) handles the punting duties, last year averaging 38 yards per boot and placing 10 kicks inside the 20-yard line. A left-footer, Helkowski excels at angling his punts and spinning them in order to get a favorable bounce. (Oddly enough, Helkowski, who can kick too, attempts field goals with his right foot).

The kicker, Peter Yoder (Jr., 6-4, 180), is accurate inside of 40 yards, but tends to waver beyond that distance. He was 10-for-10 from 20-30 yards last season and 3-for-4 from 30-40, but just 6-for-13 from 40-plus. Yoder had a long of 43 yards last year, while one of his kicks was blocked.

As far as the return game is concerned, Richmond may allow starting running back Jacobi Green to handle the kick return duties. The No. 2 last season, Green had 12 bring-backs and averaged 24.2 yards per. He’s a solid if not spectacular option, possessing above-average speed and field vision.

Meanwhile, the aforementioned cornerback Dominique Miller has the most experience returning punts. He handled 11 boots last season, though he averaged just 3.4 yards per return.


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