May 13, 2008

State of the offense address

After finishing second in the nation in yards per game and seventh in the nation in points per game, one would think the Red Raider offense would have little room for improvement. Throw in the fact that the only loss in the starting lineup was now Dallas Cowboy receiver Danny Amendola, and one would wonder if the Red Raiders even needed to practice this spring. However, there is always room for improvement, and many storylines developed throughout the fifteen spring practices.

Perhaps the biggest question mark was who would replace Amendola, who caught 109 passes for 1,245 yards and 6 touchdowns last season. Not only did Amendola graduate, but so did his back up, Grant Walker, so the position was wide open heading into spring practice. True sophomore, and College Station native, Detron Lewis quickly established himself as the starter, beating out redshirt freshman Tramain Swindall. Inside receivers coach Lincoln Riley liked Lewis' explosiveness and consistency, which should bode well for the young receiver's future.

Even though there was only one starting position open due to graduation, several position battles became all-out war for the starting nod as the spring progressed. After a successful first few weeks at Z-receiver, junior Todd Walker was moved to X-receiver to push fellow junior Ed Britton. Walker gave Britton all he could handle, and the two should be considered neck-and-neck going into the summer.

With the offensive line allowing only sixteen sacks all of last season, one would think all of the starters would be safely entrenched at their respective positions. However, junior center Shawn Byrnes lost his job at the end of spring to former walk-on, senior Stephen Hamby. Byrnes, who missed a few games with injuries last season, has had trouble picking up blitzing linebackers, something offensive line coach Matt Moore feels Hamby is better at doing. Somewhat surprisingly, Moore has listed Hamby as the starter heading into the summer, and it should be an interesting competition to follow throughout practices in August.

Another position war that remain unresolved at the end of spring practice was running back. All four backs- senior Shannon Woods, junior Kobey Lewis, and sophomores Baron Batch and Aaron Crawford (the incumbent)- tried to show running backs coach Seth Littrell why they should be the starter. Littrell has maintained that he will keep the competition going until the August 30th home opener against Eastern Washington, if necessary. Many Red Raider fans felt at the beginning of the spring that the starting running back job was schoolboy phenom Harrison Jeffers' to lose, but now it appears Jeffers might redshirt due to the excellent play by the four backs currently on the roster.

Since so many starters are returning, most of the competition during the spring was for back-up positions. Senior Eric Morris showed why he is clearly the second best receiver on the, running precise routes and catching everything thrown to him at the H-receiver position. What was notable at H-receiver, however, was the emergence of redshirt freshman Adam James. Somewhat of an unknown when he inked with Tech back in 2006, James was a greyshirt candidate and redshirted the 2007 season. The son of former SMU great Craig James obviously took advantage of his redshirt season as he impressed many throughout the spring. The lanky 6'3", 208 pounder from Celina, Texas, should not feel comfortable though. Enrolling this summer will be the explosive Cornelius Douglas from Lawton Oklahoma. Douglas, now standing at 5'10" and 187 pounds, brings a different skill set than James and could possibly get some playing time next year in certain situations.

One of the more impressive showings throughout the spring was that of redshirt freshman left tackle Mickey Okafor. The 6'7", 320 pound monster from southwest Houston showed why he was a highly coveted recruiting coming out of Westbury High School. Okafor won his fair share of battles facing Ruffin McNeill's best pass rusher, junior defensive end Brandon Williams. The left tackle position should be in good hands after senior Rylan Reed exhausts his eligibility after the 2008 season.

Senior quarterback Graham Harrell continued to show why he is a candidate for the Heisman Memorial Trophy in 2008, making sound decisions and tossing the pigskin around with precision. What most observers looked for, however, were the three scholarship quarterbacks who will lead the team after Harrell graduates after this season. Sophomore Taylor Potts will undoubtedly be the backup to Harrell this season. Potts had a decent spring, having some great days and some horrible days. A lot of Red Raider fans were excited by the play of 2008 signee and early enrollee Seth Doege (DAY-gee). The Frenship High School graduate showed no signs of his two ACL surgeries bothering him and had a solid spring for a true freshman. Look for Potts and Doege to be the main competitors to take over the reins of the Air Raid.

Last, but not least, is the departure of Mr. Clutch, Alex Trlica. The Tech faithful will remember Trlica for his game-tying kick in the 2006 Insight Bowl and the game-winning kick in the 2008 Gator Bowl. Not only did he provide some timely kicks, but he also was money on PAT's. Trlica connected on 233 out of 233 extra point attempts throughout his career at Tech, an NCAA record. The man to step into Trlica's starting role is 2008 signee Donnie Carona. One of the last players to be offered a scholarship by the coaching staff for the 2008 class, Carona could be the difference between nine wins and eleven wins next season.

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