The offense again this season will be the difference between the Spartans finishing in the middle of the WAC standings and falling into the abyss of the bottom two or three in the league. Will this be the year the Spartans return to offensive competitiveness or continue the ineptness of the last several seasons? Well, it's not staring out great for coach Mac on the offensive side of the ball. With three weeks before the start of spring ball, the new offensive coordinator, Hugh Freeze left the program for a similar job with Arkansas State University; he had only been with the Spartans for a month. We really don't know if playbooks had been passed out or how much light was shed on any new schemes. As of now, there has been no announcement of a successor with less then a week left before the start of spring ball. Looks like there will be a small lag in the offense right off the bat. We will see if the players are distracted by this set of circumstances or will just shrug it off to having a new staff in place.
Looking at the offensive players, at QB, there are three returners on the roster, Jr. Jordan La Secla, Fr. Cory Murphy and Fr. Dasmen Stewart with LaSecla the odds on favorite to come into spring as number one on the depth chart, abet shaky no one. He has the most experience besides the actual playing time last season and a little before that, he has four years of learning in a D-1 environment. La Secla has the physical tools to play the QB position at a high level but will he be able to add the mental intangibles and better leadership qualities to make him the whole package in his senior season. Some say that whoever was thrown into the Spartan QB position the last few seasons were doomed to failure from the start do to the offensive coaching and play calling, the offensive line and lack of a running game. Generally, this team has not had an offensive identity in quite some time. Stewart is coming off a redshirt season and should be coming into camp to make a statement this spring. He had a good fall camp last season but was also dinged up a bit so he should be ready to compete. Murphy was a walk on last fall and eventually redshirted as well. I did not see him practice but a few trained observers stated that he played as well as Reed, La Secla and Stewart last fall. It will be interesting to see the growth of all three this spring and we should know early on how much they have improved. The wildcard this spring will be the addition of Matt Falkner, the Jr. signal caller from Mt San Antonio College in Southern California. The original Fresno State recruit redshirted for the Bulldogs before transferring to Mt. Sac. Last season his team went undefeated as their offense rolled up huge yards. What is not known is how that experience will translate back to the D-1 level.
Offensive line is the next position we will look at. There are currently 15 OL players on the roster, they will be the player's coach Mac will rely on to protect the QB, and open the holes for what they hope will be some resemblance to a running game this season. There were four offensive linemen that signed on with the Spartans but I see all of them redshirting this year as all were HS recruits and won't be in until the fall. Coach Mac said he liked taller, leaner and faster type of bodies that can add the right kind of weight rather then a big heavy slow type. That is the type he recruited this year but he has a few of them on the roster this year as well. Amar Pal is a 6'4", 275 lb redshirt freshman that fits that mould, as does So. David Quessenberry at 6'5", 275, I see both of those kids making some noise to unseat the projected starters.
The experience on the OL lays with seniors Jon Moreno, Ailao Eliapo, Isaac Leatiota, Norman Romero and center Robbie Reed. Juniors, Andres Vargas and Fred Koloto also have experience due to all of the injuries over the last few seasons to that unit. A couple of other promising players to watch for this spring are Ryan Jones and Pierce Burton. Burton at 6'6" 250 is listed as a DT but there as been talk of trying him on the offensive side of the ball as well as I am sure he has bulked up a bit during his redshirt year. It is well known the biggest problem with the OL has been the conditioning of the players or lack there of. I'm not an offensive line expert but there also seemed like there was a lack of good coaching in both the fundamentals of offensive line play and an actual blocking scheme. Maybe that was due to the talent they had to work with or a combination of conditioning and talent but I don't think that was it. I've seen many line combinations over the years and the talent has been there. Most of Tomey's recruits, although not the same type coach Mac is looking for, were for the most part as highly rated coming out of HS as any we have had. The problem is, they did not improve and the conditioning regiment did not work. It has been reported that one of the first things Coach Mac changed was the offensive line's conditioning program and each had goal weights to report at. By the way, all the newcomers all have goals to reach by summer. We will also see if new OL coach Bernardi can re organize and energize this unit.
The next position we will cover is the running backs. There are six returners listed at RB including Dominic Hunsucker. I know there has been speculation about him moving back to DB but for now, he is lasted as a RB. Sr. Lamon Muldrow and Jr. Brandon Rutley are the odds on favorite to be the go to running backs coming into spring practice. We have seen glimpses of what both can do but I don't think we have seen their best work. Again, with the lack of a blocking scheme to open holes, and play calling that didn't establish anything other then the slow evolving, predictable "loaf of bread" runs, we have not really seen what these young men can do. Muldrow is a tough back and could be the workhorse to get the tough three yards when needed and Rutley is the back that can hit the hole fast and make defenders miss as long as he has grown out of his "dancing" in the backfield. Look for So. Ina Liaina to make some noise coming off a redshirt year if he isn't moved to LB this spring or in the fall. If coach Mac's new offense uses a FB, Liaina will get many reps this year. Hunsucker is a wild card; he was recruited as a RB with tons of potential, has been moved back and fourth most of his career and has never been able to settle in at any one position. We will see if coach Mac can find a spot for him to excel.
The wide receiver position probably is the most known quantity on the offensive side of the ball. Seniors Marquis Avery 6'4" 200 and Jalal Beauchman 6'4 220 lead the pack with Juniors Josh Harrison and Michael Avila backing them up however, look for So. James Orth 6'2" 190 and redshirt freshman Noel Grigsby 5'10" 170 to have something to say before the finish of spring camp. Grigsby was one of the bigger names recruited two years ago and from what we here is bigger faster and stronger after his redshirt season. The Spartan offensive staff has a good WR core if they use them correctly. Harrison and Avila have not been used well by the previous staff, they need to get passes in space and use there speed to blow by the defenders. Avery and Beauchman need to run sideline passes down the field and use there size to come down with the ball but they also need to run more six to ten yard slants across the middle along with the TE position. That gives the QB a big target and opens up the outside a little bit. Speaking of TE, returning is So. Ryan Otten 6'5" 230, Jr. Chris Bryant 6'5" 235 and Sr. Avelino Valencia 6'5" 250. Otten played last season, as did Valencia but as most that follow the team know, the TE position has not been featured in the Spartan offense in quite some time. We will see if that changes this spring and going into fall camp. Looking ahead, this fall will add five more WR prospects and one TE prospect but look for most of them to redshirt. Out of the six, freshman Sean Linton 6'2" 180 may be ready to step in as is Jabari Carr 6'2 180 but Carr has already stated he will redshirt.
As was mentioned earlier, we will evaluate the spring and then take a look at the new recruits and how they may fit in to the team this fall. Next, we will look next at the returners on defense and who will fill the voids on special teams.Follow Inside Sparta on Twitter and Facebook
Phil Paulsen is the Football Editor of Inside Sparta. You may contact Phil with any questions, comments, or tips at firstname.lastname@example.org
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