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www.dnj.com | THE DAILY NEWS JOURNAL | Sunday, Aug.

24, 2008 | C11


Speed, injuries to dictate offense

By ADAM SPARKS sparks@dnj.com

12 Joe Craddock (or) 9 Dwight Dasher Senior Sophomore Junior Junior Sophomore Freshman Sophomore Freshman Senior Junior Junior Freshman Sophomore Junior Sophomore Freshman Sophomore Freshman Junior Freshman Sophomore Freshman Freshman Sophomore 5-11 5-10 5-8 6-0 6-2 6-0 6-1 6-3 5-10 5-9 5-9 5-11 6-3 6-5 6-3 6-4 6-3 6-3 6-4 6-1 6-4 6-3 6-3 6-3 197 202 165 205 230 225 184 197 180 169 173 182 230 255 265 260 295 310 307 265 318 310 295 285

RB MTSUs offensive output will depend on how fast players can run and heal. Third-year offensive coordinator G.A. Mangus may finally have enough speed at the skill positions to expand his offense. But its effectiveness will ultimately depend on the health of offensive linemen. Starting center Jake Padrick is already out for the season with knee injury, and tackle Mark Fishers return will be slow and steady while recovering from a shoulder injury. As many as four other linemen could be limited by minor injuries early in the season. Tackles Mike Williams (redshirt) and Alex Stuart could be among three freshmen on the starting line in the seasonopener. Mangus understands where his offenses chances at success lie. If were good, we have to stay healthy on the offensive line, Mangus said. Thats the easy answer. Thats the obvious answer. We have to be healthy up there to be good. One possible compensation for a fledgling offensive line is speed on the outside, where skill players can take short plays for long gains. Four first-year wide receivers could fill that role. Junior college transfers Eldred King and Chris McClover and freshmen Malcolm Beyah and Sancho McDonald all tout more speed than MTSUs offense has had in the last two seasons. Junior running backs Phillip Tanner and Desmond Gee also have big-play ability. Gee is a two-time all-conference selection as an allpurpose performer, serving as MTSUs most electric weapon the last two seasons. Tanner has had a handful of long runs and kickoff returns, but was slowed late last sea2 Desmond Gee 21 Phillip Tanner

42 Jacob Longoria 40 Wesley Hale

81 Wes Caldwell 15 Sancho McDonald

13 Michael Cannon 83 Eldred King

17 Patrick Honeycutt 4 Malcolm Beyah

82 Alvin Ingle 16 Gene Delle Donne

70 Mike Williams 77 Derek Cardaci

76 Jamal Lewis 60 Brandon McLeroy

72 Mark Thompson 63 D.J. Ryder

50 Colin Boss 60 Brandon McLeroy

65 Alex Stuart 74 Mark Fisher

DNJ file photo by Aaron Thompson

MTSU offensive tackle Mark Fisher, right, has been sidelined by a shoulder injury suffered in spring practice. His return could help stabilize a line drastically trimmed by injuries and departures.

98 Chris McCoy 11 Jamari Lattimore Junior Sophomore Senior Junior Sophomore Junior Senior Sophomore Senior Freshman Junior Junior Senior Sophomore Sophomore Junior Junior Senior Senior Sophomore Sophomore Freshman 6-4 6-3 6-1 6-1 6-2 6-1 6-2 6-1 6-2 5-11 6-0 6-0 6-0 6-1 5-11 6-0 5-9 6-0 6-2 6-1 5-10 5-11 250 235 287 270 265 318 240 230 215 220 240 223 213 212 180 190 165 180 215 199 184 181

son by a nagging knee injury. MTSUs speed, both old and new, must stretch the field to take pressure off inexperienced linemen. We have to get some explosive plays, more explosive plays, head coach Rick Stockstill said. Its just so hard to drive the ball down the field, so we need big plays to get us there. I think we also need to do a good job of protecting the football. MTSU had no problems with that last season, especially because of its quarterback play. Joe Craddock and Dwight Dasher combined to toss only eight interceptions last season, the fewest

in the Sun Belt. The same two signal-callers return this season and both will play. Craddock, a senior, led the Sun Belt in passing efficiency last season and notched a school record 471 total yards against LouisianaMonroe. Dasher, now a sophomore, led MTSU in rushing (530 yards), ranked third in the Sun Belt in passing efficiency and broke a school record for single-game rushing yards by a quarterback (180) versus Memphis. Based on what weve seen so far, I hope (our strength) is having multiple playmakers, Mangus said. Depth at quarterback is a strength. Depth at wide receiver for the first time is a strength, albeit its

very young. Those young guys have come a long way, and they still have a lot more to learn. Ultimately, I think well be good if we can run the football and if we can get healthy on the O-line. Junior wideouts Patrick Honeycutt and Michael Cannon and sophomore tight end Alvin Ingle should be MTSUs most reliable targets in the passing game. The trio had a combined 50 catches last season. Tight end Gene Delle Donne and wideout Wes Caldwell will also factor into the aerial attack. Speedy redshirt freshman D.D. Kyles moved to running back and could give MTSU one more big-play threat.
Adam Sparks, 615-278-5174

97 Trevor Jenkins 51 SaCoby Carter

47 Dwight Smith 92 Brandon Perry

56 Wes Hofacker 91 Emmanuel Perez

55 Andrew Harrington 43 Gorby Loreus

44 Danny Carmichael 30 Cam Robinson

27 Ivon Hickmon 52 Antwan Davis

6 Rod Issac 3 Marcus Udell

7 Alex Suber 25 Ted Riley

8 Anthony Glover 33 Kevin Brown



Kicking void filled by frosh

By ADAM SPARKS sparks@dnj.com

Defense focuses on front, back

By ADAM SPARKS sparks@dnj.com

20 Jeremy Kellem 24 Derrick Crumpton

38 Alan Gendreau Freshman Junior Senior Sophomore 5-10 5-10 5-10 5-8 172 190 198 215

37 David DeFatta

MTSUs special teams was feast or famine last season. The Blue Raiders coverage teams and punting were among the most consistent in the nation, but their placekicking was worst in the conference. Freshman Alan Gendreau was signed simply to correct those kicking problems. Gendreau, a Florida high school all-state selection, has a big leg. He made field goals from 55 GENDREAU and 57 yards in high school and has made similar kicks in preseason camp, but MTSU simply needs him to nail short to medium range kicks. MTSU made only 3-of-7 field goals in the red zone last season, the worst mark in the Sun Belt, and missed kicks that may have cost the team as many as two wins. Junior David DeFatta returns as one of the conferences best punters. He led the Sun Belt with 28 punts placed inside the opponents 20-yard line. MTSU has scored four touchdowns by kick returners, punt returners or punt blocks in coach Rick Stockstills two seasons. To try to continue that trend, a handful of players could assume the returner roles. Running backs Phillip Tanner and Desmond Gee will likely start the season as kick returners, and sure-handed wide receiver Patrick Honeycutt will return punts.
Adam Sparks, 615-278-5174

MTSUs plan for defensive success is two-sided: Stop them short, and stop them long. Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz hopes his unit can limit opponents running game and big-play capability. His defense returns five starters. We need to get back to where we were, Diaz said. The first things are that we need to be good against the run and not allow the long play. I think well always pride ourselves on making big plays the negative plays like sacks and (tackles for loss) but we first have to stop the run and limit the big play via run or pass. MTSU strayed from its identity last season, especially in stopping the run. The Blue Raiders allowed 200 rushing yards per game, much of it late in the season when injuries plagued the lineup. But concerns over the teams rush defense linger. We have to tackle better and stop the run, head coach Rick Stockstill said. We didnt do that last year, and injuries had a lot to do with it. Our trademark defensively will be and needs to be creating turnovers and especially stopping the run and being good tacklers. But we have to stop teams from running the ball on us. That feat could be reachable, as MTSUs defensive line may be better than expected. All-conference defensive ends Erik Walden and Tavares Jones, two of the schools all-time best at their position, must be replaced. Senior Wes Hofacker has moved from starting defensive tackle to end, and junior Chris McCoy appears primed for a breakout season at the other end. Senior defensive tackle Trevor Jenkins is an all-league caliber player, sophomore tackle Dwight Smith has had a superb offseason, and junior tackle Brandon Perry is finally realizing his potential on the interior line. Newcomers like defensive ends Jamari Lattimore and Jarrett Crittenton will be the difference-mak-

37 Matt King

48 Adam Wade

DNJ file photo by Aaron Thompson

for the Blue Raiders in 08

Who is the starting QB, and does it matter?

1 2 3 4 5

Both Dwight Dasher and Joe Craddock will play. They are two of the teams best players, so it wouldnt make sense for one of them to sit on the sideline the entire season. Who plays the first series matters little, but coaches must make in-game choices about which QB should finish the game.

Will the battered offensive line sur vive the season?

Counting MTSUs healthy offensive linemen may be a day-to-day task. Injured tackle Mark Fisher should make a limited return as early as game one, but his recovery will be slow. Freshmen will still have to play. The key will be bringing back players from injury quicker than more linemen are lost.

MTSU linebacker Andrew Harrington, left, is one of only nine seniors on the roster. Seven of those are on defense.

Will an infusion of speed expand the offense?

ers if the defense overcomes inexperience. Linebacker, though projected as a strength, carries depth concerns. Junior Danny Carmichael is a steady middle linebacker with underrated athletic ability. He is flanked by seniors Ivon Hickmon and Andrew Harrington, who both had injury issues last season. Senior Lonnie Clemons is hampered by a foot injury, and freshman Landon Givers career was ended by a back injury. That shifts the spotlight to the secondary, where MTSU hopes for quick maturation of young players. The top 10 defensive backs include three returning sophomores and four first-year players.

But the returning defensive backs are opportunistic. MTSUs 18 interceptions last season ranked second in the Sun Belt. Safety Jeremy Kellem and cornerback Rod Issac had a hand in forcing eight turnovers as freshmen in 2007. Cornerback Alex Suber is a preseason All-Sun Belt selection and likely the teams best cover man. Despite returning some talent, MTSUs defense must replace four All-Sun Belt selections in defensive ends Erik Walden and Tavares Jones and defensive backs Bradley Robinson and Damon Nickson. We dont know who our best players are, but thats somewhat because of the caliber players we lost, Diaz said. We have to find new ones, but usually you count on guys who have been out there before.
Adam Sparks, 615-278-5174

If preseason camp was any indication, the new offensive skill players have more than just fast track times. They can get open and run well after the catch. The larger question is whether or not the newcomers can understand the playbook well enough and compete under the lights.

Will home be sweet or sour at Floyd Stadium?

The good news is that MTSU starts the season with three of its most attractive home games in recent years. The bad news is that MTSU will likley be an underdog for all three. Wins over two of the three Troy, Maryland, FAU would put Blue Raider fans into a frenzy and break attendance marks.

Can the Blue Raiders pull off an upset?

There are four major non-conference opponents on the schedule, but none projected in the top-25. No LSU, no Oklahoma, no Florida. MTSU should still be an underdog in all four games, but stranger things have happened than winning such games. Maryland comes to MTSU, but Louisville may be vulnerable.