In a little over a week, the Texas State Bobcats will be taking on the 10th ranked Florida State Seminoles. Throughout fall camp, our BI Staff has been to nearly every practice, watched numerous snaps, position drills, and had a sideline seat to how the Bobcats have looked so far. The Texas State offense returns several key members from last season, including quarterback Tyler Jones, running backs Robert Lowe and Chris Nutall, wide receivers Brandon Smith, C.J. Best, and Jafus Gaines, offensive lineman Adrian Bellard and tight end Lawrence White. The offensive side of the ball also has several new faces that that are primed to make an impact throughout the season: wide receiver Kwamane Bowens, running back Steadman Mayberry, and offensive lineman Guiliano Cattaneo, figure to see key reserve roles, or possibly even 1st team reps if needed. As Coach Franchione stated earlier in camp, this offense was one of the four most improved offenses in all of division one football last season, and they hope to improve upon last year’s success. Here’s our breakdown of how the "2 Deep" will look come Week 1: Quarterback: Starter: Tyler Jones Two Deep: Connor White Junior quarterback Tyler Jones returns for his third season as the signal caller for the Bobcat offense. Jones has put in a lot of work this off-season to improve his physical stature to increase his stamina throughout games and withstand the punishment. Coach Franchione has said that he is bigger and faster than last season, is making stronger throws across the field, and is making decisions in the pocket more quickly. The coaching staff has also said that Jones has become a more vocal leader this off-season. Jones has looked the part in camp, but he has mostly been throwing against guys in shorts and shoulder pads. The real test for a quarterback is in between the lines, in live game action against an opponent. Jones and the receiving core have shown to be on the same page for much of camp, and he has been running well on designed quarterback runs. The biggest thing for Jones this season is to trust his receivers down field. He is very good at hitting guys on the numbers while running short and intermediate routes, but throwing the ball down field will help open up the offense. The receiving core has the size and speed to get down field, but their needs to be a more consistent connection on big down the field plays for this offense to go to the next level. Running Backs: Starter: Robert Lowe Two Deep: Chris Nutall Leading rusher Robert Lowe returns as the starter for the Texas State offense. Lowe has looked very good in camp. He is running well in between the tackles, catching passes out of the backfield and has done well in pass blocking situations. Lowe finished up last season very strong, with his two biggest games to end the season, but when I spoke to Lowe earlier in camp, he said that the main thing he has been working on is consistency. Off of the top of my head, I can’t remember seeing a Lowe fumble in camp (I cover Tuesday/Thursday practices) and ball security is crucial for the running back position. Look for Lowe to improve upon his 1000-plus yard, 12 touchdown season. Chris Nutall will also see significant playing time at running back this season. Nutall missed last season due to academic reasons, but he does not look to have lost a step. Numerous times I have seen Nutall make a quick juke move to shake a defender to pick up extra yards. He hasn’t been afraid to put his head down to try and run through a defender to get in the end zone. He has been very good catching passes out of the backfield and quickly turning up field for a positive gain. Nutall will provide a change-of-pace back to Lowe. He provides a unique combination of speed and quickness. Last year the Texas State offense had the 18th best rushing yards average per game in division one. This year, the offensive line is bigger and the backs are more experienced, so look for this to be one of the most productive units on the team. Wide Receivers: Starters: Brandon Smith, Demun Mercer
(Slot): C J Best OR Jafus Gaines
Two Deep: Kwamane Bowens, P.J. Anderson, Justin Gamble
The wide receiver position returns its top three pass catchers from last season in Brandon Smith, CJ Best, and Jafus Gaines. The experience of these three, plus Jones at quarterback, should improve the Bobcat passing game. Several coaches have spoken about the improvement of Brandon Smith as a player and a leader this off-season. Both Gaines and Smith have been consistent catching the football throughout camp. Last season, Gaines led the wide receivers in touchdown receptions. It has shown in camp that he and Jones have a good feel for each other when the ball is near the end zone.
Mercer, who has drawn from high praise from Head Coach Dennis Franchione, singling him out as the most consistent receiver, is also poised for a big role in the Texas State offense. He possesses good size, athleticism, and deceptive speed. Whether it's trying to get down field or taking the ball on an end-around, look for the 'Cats to get him involved in the offense.
Outside of this group, transfer Kwamane Bowens and Justin Gamble have impressed not only the BI staff, but also their fellow receivers and coaches. Both have been running with the second team and look like they will probably get a chance to see the field at some point this season. Brice Gunter had begun to show improvements throughout camp, but suffered a torn ACL on a great catch on a go route up the sideline and will be out for the season. His size and athleticism will be missed, so look for a few of the young guys to step up to help cover his production.
Starter: Lawrence White
Two Deep: Ryan Carden
The Bobcats lost Bradley Miller to graduation, but the tight end position this season has very good size, athleticism and blocking ability. Both Lawrence White and Ryan Carden saw the field last season. It has been a close competition throughout camp between the two, but White has pulled away as of late because of his performance in the passing game. White has been used as the move tight end; playing off the line and moving in motion to create mismatches with his size and speed. The coaching staff has also moved him out wide in three receiver sets working from the middle of the receiver bunch. Last season, he had the highest yards per catch average on the team, so it will be interesting to see if Jones looks to him deep down the middle of the field. This offense runs a lot of two tight end sets, therefore Carden will be used very frequently alongside White. Carden has shown to be the stronger run blocker and is being used as the in-line tight end. Though he isn’t as big as White, he has shown the ability to catch the ball in traffic and is someone Jones has used as a safety blanket when in trouble.
Starters: Adrian Bellard, Felix Romero, Jackson Hoskins, Brandon Sarabia, Ryan Melton
Two Deep: Will Copa, Kannon Mackey, Giuliano Cattaneo, Zach Crawford, Tryston Mizerak
At Texas State Media Day, Coach Franchione expressed that this is the first time during his tenure as head coach that he’s felt like he has a division one offensive line. This season, the starting offensive line will average about 6’3’’ 300 pounds, consisting of Adrian Bellard, Brandon Sarabia, Jackson Hoskins, Felix Romero, and Ryan Melton. Prior to his injury, Hoskins had been working with the first team offense at the
center position. It appears that Hoskins will be ready for September 5th at Florida State, but in the meantime, transfer Giuliano Cattaneo has been working with the first team. The center position will be the biggest question mark for the Bobcats, with Hoskins never playing a down of division one football and Cattaneo having not played center since his junior year of high school. This offensive line has experience, size, and talent. Several of the lineman have spoken about the time it takes for a line to really get to know each other’s tendencies and get in sync on the field. The BI staff has definitely seen an improvement since day one of camp.
September 5th is the day all Bobcat fans have been waiting for. It is time to see what this team can do against a real opponent. Coach Franchione has said that he wants the offense to be even faster this season, snapping the ball within 15 seconds on the play clock. He wants to establish a strong running game and have Jones spread the ball around to the variety of play-makers the Bobcats have on the roster. It will be up to Jones to take this offense to the next level. He is in his third year, and should be given more freedom within the offense and a more open playbook. The pieces seem to be there for an improved offense from last season, but it all comes down to execution.
Fall Camp Rewind: Offense
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