Neil Callaway, a graduate of the University of Alabama, was hired as the successor to long time head coach Watson Brown, who resigned. Callaway had been the offensive coordinator at the University of Georgia for the previous six seasons, after serving stints at 'Bama, Auburn, and Houston, as well as Wyoming and East Carolina. Although he accumulated an ocean of experience as an assistant coach, Callaway had never served as a head coach before he was hired at UAB.
Because of heavy graduation losses Callaway had a perfect opportunity to promote a youth movement. This was evident in the Blazers' 2007 opener at Michigan State, where 12 true freshmen played. Fifteen other players saw the first action of their UAB careers, making a total of 27 players who were seeing their first playing time with the Blazers. And of the 70 players listed on UAB's travel roster for the season opener at Michigan State, more than half had never played for the Blazers.
And the youth movement has continued, as two more true freshmen WR Mario Wright and DB Brock Ferguson, saw their first career action in the games since the opener. In all, 14 true freshmen have played this season for the Blazers.
Labor Day weekend the Blazers travelled to East Lansing, Mich. to face the Michigan State Spartans in a payday game and fell to the Spartans 55-18, giving the Calloway era a rocky start.
The next weekend as the Blazers marched to Tallahassee, Fla. for another payday contest, this one against the Florida State Seminoles. The Blazers lost this one 34-24.
The home opener, a contest with Alcorn State, a 1-AA program, was next and Calloway got his first win, 22-0. After an open date, the schedule resumed with a trip to Tulsa where the Hurricane prevailed 38-30.
Last weekend the Blazers moved on to Starkville, and despite taking a lead deep into the fourth quarter the Blazers succumbed to the Bulldogs rushing attack, allowing two fourth quarter rushing touchdowns. The Bulldogs also scored a third TD on an interception return in the final minutes to push the score to 30-13.
The Blazers handled the Bulldogs pretty well and basically out played played them even until State rolled up their sleeves and got after them them.
This team has scored 9 touchdowns through five games.
In some respects the Blazers and Tulane are in similiar situations, both teams making adjustments under new coaching staffs while playing through a tough schedule.
One thing to keep in mind about the Blazers is that Calloway's defensive coordinator is former Green Wave defensive coordinator Eric Schuman. 'Zo Costantini is the Blazers d'line coach, reprising the role he played under Schuman at Tulane.
And the Blazers are trying to recover from heavy losses from the 2006 team, especially on offense.
Due the graduation thirty players left the program after the 2006 season and only four starters returned on the offensive side of the ball.
The Blazers changed both starting offensive tackles after the Tulsa game and Willie Thompson, 6-foot-6, 285-pounder, and Terrence Edge, 6-3 265, started against State. Both are true freshmen.
One of the players they replaced was Terrence McCants, 6-7 295-pounds and another true freshman. The other former tackle starter, Adam Truitt, a 6-3 300-pound senior, was the Blazers most experienced and versatile linemen.
True freshman Caleb Thomas, 6-3 and 280-pounds, started the opener at right guard but has been relieved since by senior Jo Arnold, a 6-3, 300-pound transfer from Louisiana-Monroe.
Sophomore Jake Seitz, 6-2 300-pounds, lines up at center.
The left guard is Adam Hollifield, a 6-3 300-pound sophomore.
The receivers are Joseph Webb, 6-4 220-pounds; and Mike Jones, 6-1 180-pounds, and a red shirt freshman. Webb moved to receiver and started the first four games after losing the starter quarterback job to Sam Hunt and has played both positions this senior.
This season Webb has 16 catches for 270 yards and 2 touchdowns, and he's completed 11-of-27 passes for 123 yards and a touchdown. He's rushed for 104 yards on 23 carries.
Redshirt freshman Frantrell Forrest, 6-2 195, is the team's leading receiver with 18 catches for 217 yards and three touchdowns despite having started only one game.
The starting running back, Rashaud Slaughter, is third with 14 catches for 66 yards.
Fullback or H-back David Sigler, a 6-3 and 250-pound senior, has 11 catches for 178 yards and a touchdown.
The Blazers do not often utilize a tight end but redshirt freshman Jeff Anderson, 6-3 and 220, gets the call when they do. Anderson's made one start and has 2 catches for 29 yards.
Junior Sylvester Mencer, 5-11 185-pounds, and the team's leading returning receiver started the first two games but has only 1 catch for 5 yards.
Senior Sam Hunt, 6-3 215-pounds, is the starter at quarterback. Hunt's completed 74-of-151 passes for 897 yards and six touchdowns against 4 interceptions. Hunt has pretty good mobility.
Sophomore Rashaud Slaughter is the top running back. Slaughter's speedy but a wee bit small at 5-9 185-pounds. He's the Blazers leading ground gainer with 178 yards on 51 carries.
Brandon Thornton, Slaughter's backup, goes 5-9 190. He's rushed for 124 yards on 31 carries.
There's a youth movement on defense also because the losses weren't limited to the offense. Altogether the Blazers defense lost seven of their top 10 tacklers from the 2006 team. Only three starters returned on the defensive side of the ball.
The best part of the defense is the back seven, with the weakest part being the front four.
UAB's best defensive player is probably senior free safety Will Dunbar. WD stands 6-1 and weighs 195-pounds. Dunbar has the reputation of being a big hitter. He was the team's top tackler last season, his first as a starter, and is again this season with 41 tackles. He's also picked off 2 passes. Dunbar missed the opener but started the next three before missing the Mississippi State game.
The other secondary starters include cornerback Kevin Sanders, a 5-11 185-pound junior, who has 18 tackles and made 3 interceptions. The rest of the secondary has been a jumble.
Matt Taylor, 5-11 and 185 and a junior started the opener in place of Dunbar but has started the four games since at strong safety. Taylor's logged 28 tackles.
Senior Darrell Fuqua, 5-11 185, has made 2 starts. He started the opener at strong safety and replaced Dunbar in the starting lineup at free safety in the Mississippi Stat game. Regardless of the number of starts Fuqua's made 31 tackles, good for fourth on the team.
Carlisle has made 20 tackles, and Britten's made 22 tackles.
The secondary has allowed opponents 243 yards through the air. Some of this may result from the youth and inexperience of the front four.
Three veteran starters departed from the defensive line making reconstruction there an absolute necessity. New defensive coordinator Eric Schuman is using an overshfted or odd 4-3.
Brandon Jeffries, a senior who shifted back to defensive end after playing tackle in 2006. Weighing only 250 pounds, Jefferies posted 22 tackles, including 5.5 tackles for loss and was expected to be a candidate for post-season all-conference honors, but despite playing in all 5 games he's not made a start although he's posted 11 tackles, including 3.5 tackles for loss, 2 of them sacks.
There has been more change at defensive tackle than in the secondary.
Senior Jerrickus Speights, 6-5 255-pounds, started the opener but was replaced in the starting lineup by true freshman D.J. Reese, 6-3 and 265. Both have played in all 5 games, Reese has made 17 tackles and Speights has six.
At the nose tackle position true freshman Tim Davis, 6-0 260-pounds, started the opener but 6-3 310-pound senior Ladarius Stanley started the next two before Davis returned to start the last two. Both have played in all 5 games, Davis has made 12 tackles, including 2 tackles for loss with one sack, while Stanley has made 3 tackles.
Yes, this is a small starting defensive front. And Michigan State chewed them up for 298 yards and five rushing touchdowns. For the season UAB is allowing 221 yards per game on the ground and a 5.1 yard per carry average.
The linebackers are a good unit.
Linebacker Joe Henderson, 6-2 220-pounds, was expected to be the anchor of the front seven. He started the first four and ranks third on the team with 34 tackles, including 4.5 tackles for loss, including 3 sacks. Henderson has also grabbed 1 interception for 26 yards. He led the Blazers with 12 tackles against Michigan State.
The other starters are sophomore Josh Tauanuu, 6-2 230-pounds, and freshman Mike Tashman, 6-2 220-pounds. Tashman, who prepped at Hoover High and spent the 2006 season at the U.S. Military Academy Preparatory School, starts at the middlebacker position.
Tashman is second on the team with 38 tackles. He actually leads the team with 6 tackles for loss with one sack.
Tauanuu has made 16 tackles. He and Tashman have started all 5 games.
Sophomore B.J. Steed, 6-1 and 230, started the Miss. State game in place of Henderson. Steed's played in all 5 games and made 16 tackles.
Punter/placer kicker Swayze Waters is pretty good at both jobs. He's averaging 41 yards on 30 punts, with a net punting average of 34.6. The Blazer cover units are allowing more than 13 yards per punt return.
Waters is perfect on 9 PAT attempts and is 14-of-16 on field goals. Waters is a perfect 7-of-7 from beyond the 40, with 2 of those field goals coming from 52-yards out and another from 50.
Only a junior, Waters booms kickoffs for about 66 yards, which puts the ball around the 4-yard line.
The book on teams like the Blazers, under a new coach and playing a lot of new and very young players is that they will improve as the season wears on. So be forewarned that the team that the Green Wave is facing in week six of the season is not the same team that played against Michigan State in the opener but the reverse is also true, Tulane is a better football team than the one that opened the against Mississippi State. Both teams are at a cross roads in their respective seasons.
Thursday we'll look a little deeper at the Blazers, including taking a look at how both UAB and Tulane fared against their common opponent, the Mississippi State Bulldogs.