Obviously the focus this week is on these guys, and for good reason. A 4-seed in Denver is nothing to sneeze at, as we wind up our best 2-year run ever in terms of NCAA appearances. I won't get too deep into it here, but as we commented yesterday, the message this week is simple - ENJOY this while it lasts. Tomorrow is guaranteed to no man, and that applies to this hoops program. We don't know what the future holds, so try to enjoy the gift that is the "precious present". That's easier said than done, and around 4:20 on Thursday many of you will be gnawing the fingernails and gnashing the teeth, but do everything you can to keep things in perspective!
But today isn't just about hoops. Since it's March, we're also talking about FOOTBALL! Unbelievable. Yep, spring ball is set to roll. Here's a link to the official Spring Primer from the school. It's a pretty good read. But we've got a LOT of questions that need to be answered. We'll go through a few areas the rest of the week, so check back as things roll on. Without further adieu, here are the top-3 questions for the offensive skill positions this spring:
1) Who's the QB?
The leader in the clubhouse at this point is Gary Rogers. Great size at 6-7, with an arm so strong Jack Thompson raves that he could throw it through a car wash and have it come out dry on the other side. Thompson also says he's Carson Palmer, but with better feet. Uh, OK. That's kind of a stretch, but hey, it's March. Optimism runs wild this time of year. It's not so much Rogers and his whopping physical size and tools, but my question is how will he fit into this offense? While much is made of the idea that this offense is the spread/read option offense, you don't need Dennis Dixon or Pat White as a runner back there. This is really a modified version of that offense, NOT a true read-option where the QB fakes a handoff 80% of the time with the idea that he can tuck it and run. The challengers are Cole Morgan, Kevin Lopina and the young dark horse, Marshall L (I'll refrain from constantly misspelling the last name, so he'll simply be Marshall or Marshall L going forward).
2) Who Will Be the Running Back(s)?
This is a big question that needs to be addressed. New OC Todd Sturdy said it a few times at the football dinner a few weeks ago, but despite being a no-huddle shotgun offense, we WILL run the football. In fact, the goal is a 50-50 run-pass ratio, so healthy bodies are going to be a premium for the offense. With Dwight Tardy out with the knee injury suffered while celebrating vs. UCLA (I don't care what anyone says, he hurt that knee after scoring the TD vs. the Bruins), Chris Ivory will be the undisputed starter from the opening practice.
Tardy however got the starter nod with the first depth chart released in the Paul Wulff era, so things might be different in the fall. I will say this however - Chris Ivory, at least to me, looks to have more upside that Dwight Tardy. Not to say that I don't like them both, and I think combined, if they are both healthy this fall, that's a heck of a one-two punch. But Ivory appears to me to have more explosion than Tardy, both in the short runs with more punch and he even has an extra gear that could make him pretty special. A couple of other kids in the mix are Marcus Richmond, who's had very little opportunity at this point to do much, and Logwone Mitz, a powerful 6-0, 230-pounder who came in with some recruiting buzz last year but didn't play. Hard to say now, but by the opener this position could be one of real strength on the offense, and we may end up being a true 50-50 run-pass offense after all.
3) How About the WR's?
We all know Brandon Gibson will bless this team with his return next year. After losing Bumpus, Charles Dillon and Jed Collins, all I can say is THANK YOU Brandon. And from the early talk, it sure as heck sounds like Wulff and company are going to do all they can to reward him for his return. Wulff even mentioned, albeit briefly, that you are going to see them get the ball to Gibson in all sorts of creative ways. The leading receiver in the conference from 2007 and a guy who's big plays won us the Apple Cup, Gibson is poised to have a gigantic Senior year. Just hope that he clicks early in the offense and most of all, STAYS HEALTHY this spring! We all know what he can do, so let's just handle him with kid gloves, hmmm?
Jeshua Anderson showed a tremendous upside as a frosh last year, and he's truly got "world class" speed as he will completely miss spring ball, instead working on his track team skills. Anderson is rumored to be a true candidate for the Olympic team, so it's hard to bet fully on his return to football at this point. We'll see how it all shakes out. Benny Ward is back, and while he's experienced, he hasn't exactly been a world-beater. But he'll team with Gibson as a senior starter at one WR spot. At flanker, promising sophomore Daniel Blackledge is back as a raw, yet talented youngster. Outside of those three players, the depth is thin. At least it's thin based on past production, but that doesn't mean they aren't any good. They had some good players ahead of them the last few seasons, so the opportunities haven't been there. The good news is Mike Levenseller has stuck with the new staff, and can concentrate solely on coaching up the WR's. No need to worry about calling plays or bickering with the OC Mike, just coach up these youngsters and let's see how much we can improve this spring!