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Wayne State Preview 2007: The Offense August 13, 2007

Posted by City Hoops in Previews, Wayne State.
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Joique Bell heads toward the endzone last year against Ashland. Bell finished the season with 2,065 rushing yards, a NCAA Division II freshman record, and returns to lead the WSU offense this season. (Photo by Ron Harper)

OVERVIEW

Last season was, potentially, the first of many successful gridiron campaigns for Wayne State.

In his third season as head coach, Paul Winters made more progress in his transformation of a program with an apathetic culture and losing identity into one capable of contending for an NCAA playoff berth and competing for a GLIAC Championship.

Winters’ club enters 2007 looking for the next big payoff. Is this team – which will sport, by all accounts, one of the most explosive offenses nationally – ready to contend in the top-heavy GLIAC?

WSU finished a modest 6-5 (6-4 GLIAC) last year but was in contention for an at-large postseason spot all the way down to the season’s last week at Ferris State, where the Warriors stood inside the FSU 20-yard line with under two minutes left, trailing by four but poised to punch in a go-ahead touchdown.

The ensuing Chris Middlebrooks fumble and eventual 21-17 loss was another case of an inexperienced team enduring the inevitable bruises along the path to becoming a consistent winner.

There was also a 17-10 loss against a beatable St. Joseph’s (Ind.) team, a 39-17 mauling at the hands of Indianapolis when the Warriors didn’t come to play, and a 48-34 defeat at Northwood where the defense couldn’t stop a soul.

Those three setbacks, coupled with losses to Ferris and No. 1 Grand Valley State, doomed the Warriors to the middle of the GLIAC pack.

Perhaps a veteran team wins two or three of those games. Maybe a team that has spent 365 days under a Winters structure, learning how to win every day, comes away with tight wins instead of close losses.

We’ll find out this season whether that holds true. The Warriors are optimistic that with all the returning pieces on offense, with a collection of impact freshmen, with a full year under the strength and conditioning regimen of Paul Harker, they will play another sequence of meaningful games well into November.

The schedule remains the same with only the venues changed. And, again, many of the same teams – Northwood, Ferris State, Indianapolis – share the Warriors’ aspirations to compete in the upper echelon of this competitive Division II league.

While this season will present challenges – the defense will have to replace the entire secondary and the team will be very young on the defensive line and at wide receiver – Warrior coaches and players are confident they will measure up.

Wayne State Football Preview 2007: Offense

QUARTERBACKS

WSU enters camp with, essentially, a two-man quarterback competition.

Redshirt freshman Zach George started the first two games of last season before hurting his knee in the second half Week 2 against St. Joseph’s. He has the ideal combination of arm strength and mobility and added 20 pounds in the weight room as a result of his injury. He was held out of spring practice but is ready to compete again for his old job. In two games, George was 18-of-34 for 320 yards and one touchdown.

Sophomore Trent Pohl took over for George, starting Week 3 against Mercyhurst, and did not disapoint. Pohl has good mobility and has worked to improve his accuracy. Pohl is listed first on preseason depth charts and Winters said that if the season were to start before camp, Pohl would be the starter based on his experience last season. He was 5-4 as the starter, throwing for 1,233 yards (93-of-184) and eight TDs against eight interceptions.

While preferably Winters would like one quarterback to emerge from the competition as the clear-cut starter, it is really a no-lose situation as both Pohl and George are capable quarterbacks at the GLIAC level.

The coaching staff also likes redshirt freshman Josh Rouhan, who has the strongest arm of the three. He has ideal size (6-4, 227) and will compete for playing time in fall camp. Senior Nolan Martin (17 starts, but just 3-13) and redshirt junior Mickey Berce add depth.

NEWCOMERS: With the relative youth of this position, and the fact that two quarterbacks redshirted last year, the Warriors did not sign a QB in their 2007 recruiting class but will target one again next year, as Winters said, ideally, they would like one per class.

POSITION STRENGTH: 3 (out of 5)

RUNNING BACKS

WSU has Bruno Shkreli, who topped 100 yards in the spring game, Smith Julmisse, Neil Mitchell and true freshman Linzie Robinson, seemingly a capable stable of GLIAC rushers. None of those players, however, will see much other than mop-up duty or a backup role.

(How’s that for not leading with the most highly-touted backfield tandem in the GLIAC?)

WSU is ecstatic about the prospects of the running backs position because, in addition to the depth provided by the previous players, AFCA All-American Joique Bell returns for his redshirt sophomore season and junior transfer Darryl Graham is finally eligible.

All Bell did during his redshirt freshman season was run for 2,065 yards, a NCAA Division II freshman record, and rack up 2,462 all-purpose yards. He is a very unique back who runs with a special combination of power, speed and elusiveness. He has to be gang tackled as very rarely will the first hit bring him down. He is equally competent as a slot receiver, a kick returner, or even as a quarterback (40-yard touchdown on a halfback pass against Northwood).

His sidekick, Darryl Graham, is a native Detroiter (DePorres) who came back home from Michigan Tech last year and sat out the season because of GLIAC transfer rules. Graham was just under 1,000 yards each season at MTU (987 in 2004 and 905 in 2005) and torched Gannon for 307 yards and four TDs on 36 carries in 2005. He ran up 100 yards on Wayne State his sophomore year and is excited to take the field with his new mates. Graham is a tiny (5-8, 168), jet-quick runner that stays low to the ground and is an excellent cutter.

Graham and Bell were featured on the cover of WSU’s 2007 Media Guide and are good friends off the field.

The challenge for Winters will be to utilize his duo to their full capability. This most likely means a wide variety of looks and formations to get both players on the field at times. It will be a coach’s dream to use one to spell the other as the feature back.

And while Winters said that neither will be happy with limited carries, there is a relief to having a second option to remove some of the rushing burden from Bell, who was approaching Joe Gough’s WSU record for rushing attempts in a season (Bell finished last year with 348, still a bit away from Gough’s 385).

Fullback Luis Gomez is a tailback’s best friend as the redshirt senior plows open holes and will be an instrumental part of the running game along with an experienced offensive line.

NEWCOMERS: With a top-three of Bell (sophomore), Graham (junior) and Shkreli (sophomore), WSU didn’t feel running back was a pressing need and signed just Robinson, who prepped at Monroe St. Mary’s Catholic Central. He is a potential candidate for a redshirt. With only the graduation of Julmussie, next year should be another light-to-moderate year recruiting running backs (read: one or two).

POSITION STRENGTH: 5

OFFENSIVE LINE

The offensive line went from a patchwork bunch at the beginning of last season to a refined, experienced unit to start this year. The OL loses one senior (Grant Fodor, who started all but two games at left tackle last year) but gains 330-pounder Muhammad Abdullah, who missed last season because of family issues. Abdullah has already blocked for a 1,000-yard rusher (Chris Middlebrooks) and has already been penciled in at right tackle.

Remarkably, Bell rushed for his 2,000-plus yards behind one of WSU SID Jeff Weiss’ favorite tidbits – an offensive line consisting of one senior (Fodor), one junior (center Frank Lietke), a redshirt sophomore (left guard Ryan Cue), a true sophomore (right guard Chris Ostosh) and a redshirt freshman (right tackle Ray Rocheleau).

Lietke (6-3, 285) returns for his senior season and will anchor the line. Cue (6-1, 313), Ostosh (6-2, 284) and Rocheleau (6-6, 277) are all stronger and more experienced, although sophomore Ryan Jonik (6-3, 302) supplanted Rocheleau as the starter at left tackle on pre-camp depth charts.

Merrick Steele (6-2, 295), Brandon Yohnicki (6-2, 315) and David Dunomes (6-5, 290) are big athletes that will provide depth.

Already a large group by GLIAC standards, the lineman worked hard over the offseason to gain strength but not too much weight in order to maintain and improve mobility and technique. Look for this group to be devastating run blockers and a cohesive unit with the fullback and tight ends. They also should give either Pohl or George plenty of time to throw the ball and, despite a transition to new line coach Terry Heffernan (replacing Max Glowacki), coach Winters expects no dropoff and this unit will definitely will be a team strength in 2007.

NEWCOMERS: WSU will always look to add quality lineman and they signed a headliner this year in Joe Long, brother of U-M tackle Jake Long. Joe Long, a Lapeer East grad, has a good frame (6-6, 267) entering college but will need to improve his intensity and mean streak to develop into an All-GLIAC lineman. Other offensive lineman entering in 2007 include Tim Brinson, Nick Haggerty, Will Khoury and Joe Rencsok, who will all supply depth in future seasons.

POSITION STRENGTH: 4

WIDE RECEIVERS

Nick Body and Jake Weingartz, the unit’s top two producers from last year, are gone, but the talent level behind the departed senior duo has the coaches optimistic that two or three players will emerge right away as go-to receivers.
Chris Alsina has good size (6-3, 180) and has game experience despite spending a portion of last year injured. Despite a lack of game experience, the coaching staff is optimistic about the potential of this next wave of young WSU receivers.

Ed Sanders (6-1) and Adrian Dawkins (5-9) are two short, quick redshirt freshmen that the coaches are excited about. Dawkins had a standout performance in the spring game, catching a touchdown and making a few nice adjustments and catches on deep balls. Matt Verley (6-3), Chris Ratcliff (6-5) and Aaron Higginbottom (6-2) are taller wideouts who are all expected to contribute. Travis Campbell (6-1) is from Ohio and redshirted last year.

The challenge will be turning all this young, exciting talent into performance on the field. Expect the WRs to shuffle through camp scrimmages and the first two or three regular season games until a pair of dependable pass catchers emerge.

NEWCOMERS: A position of need because of graduation and uncertainty, the Warriors followed the pattern of their preivous two recruiting classes and signed a quartet of highly-touted WRs including Don Brown (6-2), Dante Davis (6-3), Troy Burrell (5-10) and David Mosley (6-1). All four bring their own combination of size, speed and strength and will factor into future WSU plans but will probably redshirt to build strength. The future of the position is bright with these four athletes.

POSITION STRENGTH: 3

TIGHT ENDS

WSU uses two tight ends often as an integral part of both the running and passing game. Those two starters are two of the best in the conference in redshirt seniors John Rehberg and Kenny Schmidt, who have been around the program five years. Both have ideal size, are devastating run blockers and capable recievers. Rehberg hauled in a pair of TD catches last year and Schmidt has caught one in each of his three years. WSU will look for the tight end over the middle and off play-action in the passing game.

Michael Finch filled in for Grant Fodor on the offensive line last year but has moved to TE. Dale Knuth has battled injuries his entire career and is entering his redshirt senior year.

NEWCOMERS: For the first time in three years, WSU recruited a pair of tight ends – Cory Zauner and Greg Oberstaedt – who will learn from the best and compete for playing time as early as next year. The coaching staff will probably look to add another in 2008.

POSITION STRENGTH: 4

Coming soon: Previews of the WSU defense, special teams, coaches, and overall forecast.

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