Spring Football Preview: The Offense
March 19, 2013
On Wednesday, March 20 Old Dominion University football will begin spring practice. The Monarchs went 11-2 in their last season in the CAA and will begin transitioning to FBS in 2013.
ODU will use the spring to improve on last year and work in the improvement of the younger players.
"The number one thing is to develop some depth with the younger guys," offensive coordinator Brian Scott said. "We want to keep learning the scheme, work on our fundamentals and tempo. We want to keep playing faster and faster."
Taylor Heinicke is coming off one of the most prolific seasons in FCS history after winning the Walter Payton Award as the top player in the FCS. The sophomore quarterback broke Steve McNair's 18-year old FCS record with 5,076 passing yards and set the record for most completions in a season with 398. Heinicke and the Monarchs look ahead to bigger challenges in 2013 as ODU is transitioning to the FBS, playing five FBS teams on the road in the fall.
"At this point in Taylor's career it's more about leadership. He's proven he can play on the field, it's getting everyone else to play at a high level," quarterbacks coach Ron Whitcomb said. "He has a very good grasp of the offense, in our system it's important to remind yourself to play within the system."
Just a sophomore, Heinicke has thrown for 7,461 yards and tossed 69 touchdown passes in just 22 career games. A native of Atlanta, Ga., Heinicke rolled in the accolades this fall, earning CAA Offensive Player of the Year and winning the Dudley Award given to the top Division I Player in the state of Virginia. He earned six All-America honors and was named the Male Athlete of the Year by the Portsmouth Sports Club and also the Norfolk Sports Club.
A pair of freshmen in Colin McElroy and David Washington redshirted in the fall and will compete for the backup quarterback position. Washington is the biggest quarterback on the roster, at 6-3, 220 pounds, Washington is a versatile player for the Monarchs. McElroy is an intelligent quarterback who knows the playbook well and sticks with his strengths.
"David is probably the flashiest of the three, he can do some different things," Whitcomb said. "Colin is very intelligent, very accurate with the football. Both had great off-seasons and both have a ton of potential."
ODU has five running backs on the spring roster led by Tyree Lee, who was the teams leading rusher in the fall with 864 yards and eight touchdowns. Lee took over the starting role in the middle of the season and finished with four 100-yard games, including three-straight.
Senior to be Colby Goodwyn had 671 yards and seven TD's in the fall and put together one of the best off-seasons of any Monarch. He also returned 21 kickoffs and had a long of 47. The tandem also caught 54 passes out of the backfield, which is also a key part of an ODU running back, as well as blocking in the passing game.
"The position is wide open. Last year we had three guys rotating in, this year we'd love to have one guy win the job," running backs coach Brad Watkins said. "Colby had a great off-season and all the guys are hungry for competition. We are really looking for consistency."
Tight End (1)
The wide receiving core lost senior All-American Nick Mayers to graduation but returns everyone else, including All-CAA honoree, Antonio Vaughan, Blair Roberts, Larry Pinkard and Jakwail Bailey. Vaughan caught 60 passes for 885 yards while Roberts had 56 receptions, Pinkard 55 and Bailey 23. Vaughan, Roberts and Bailey all had seven TD grabs. Also returning is Marquel Thomas, who had 27 catches and Kirk Spellman who had 20 catches as a redshirt freshman.
"It starts with Antonio, he'll end up being the leader now that Nick has graduated," wide receivers coach Zohn Burden said. "He has the experience, he started every game last year and I think his work ethic will carry over to the other guys."
As a sophomore, Bailey started seven games and played in all 13, making 23 catches, but did not have a reception the final three games of the season.
"Jakwail was Nick Mayers' backup the last two years. He had a breakout game against New Hampshire (9-89, 1 TD) to burst onto the scene. His role is going to increase as well. I think this will be a good year for him," wide receivers coach Zohn Burden said.
Pinkard had a tremendous off-season and was noticed by the coaching staff.
"I'm not sure I've seen the type of off-season he's had, from a skill position player, since I've been here," Burden said. "The way his numbers went up, I'm hoping those numbers translate to spring practice. He started last year for us inside and we're moving him outside. We're just looking for him to do it consistently."
Also returning are Phil Dickens, who saw action on special teams as a true freshman, and Aquante Thornton. Zach Pascal and Rashawn Proctor redshirted this season. Also in the mix for playing time is tight end Connor Martin, who also redshirted this season.
"This spring is huge for the younger guys, trying to simulate as much game speed as you can. Proctor is a speed guy, he learned last year by just watching and studying film. Pascal is a bigger guy, he will begin the spring as an inside receiver," Burden added.
ODU returns 4-of-5 starters on the offensive line, including All-CAA performers David Born (left guard) and Jack Lowney (left tackle). The seniors to be are joined by right guard D.J. Morrell and center Josh Mann. Redshirt freshman Connor Mewbourne appeared in nine games this past year while several others will vie for playing time, including junior college transfers Ely Anderson and Kyle Bottoms.
Scott talked about the need for the unit to develop some depth behind the returning four.
"We need to keep developing our young guys, to develop some depth at the position," Scott said. "If we can get the young guys going, we'll be ok."
Born and Lowney have a wealth of experience, starting 26 and 31 consecutive games, respectively.
"David is a big part of what we do here, he brings experience and knowledge," Scott said. "Jack is very steady, he's been in the fire and played a lot of different positions. He's been the staple for what we've been up front. He's in great shape and looking forward to spring ball."
Sophomore Josh Mann finished his first year as the starting center, leading the Monarchs up front in all 13 games.
"Josh has a great understanding of what we do, he runs the operation up front," Scott said.
Stay tuned to ODUSports.com for tomorrows preview of special teams.