The theme of Red Wolves Media Day: “We’re very athletic, but inexperienced.”
Like a wolf approaching a bear, Arkansas State coaches exercised caution when discussing the 2017 season. While coaches acknowledged that the roster was loaded with athletes, there seemed to be a concerted effort to temper expectations. The media was reminded that departed talent like Chris Humes, Chris Odom, Money Hunter and Waylon Roberson would not be easily replaced. Rather than pump up the arrival of new talent, the staff was quick to say that newcomers were still learning schemes and blending in.
“Lot’s of athleticism,” said Coach Blake Anderson. “Lot’s of inexperience.”
The Offensive Line and Defensive Backs are under the microscope.
Last season, the offensive line featured the most experience in the Sun Belt (and, surprisingly, the unit struggled). This season, it returns only one lineman with actually playing time, sophomore Troy Elliot (6’5″ 297). Senior leadership like Joseph Bacchus, Colton Jackson and Jemar Clark are gone. In their place, a collection of untested underclassmen, JUCO talent and transfers. Inexperience is the bad news. Size is the good news.
“On paper, it looks like we have an upper echelon G5 offensive line,” said Coach Anderson. “It will look as good or better as many Power Five lines, but we need experience.”
The Red Wolves is certainly meatier in 2017, with newcomers like Nour-Eddine Seidnaly (6’5″ 300), Marvis Brown (6’3″ 337), Lanard Bonner (6’5″ 330) and Jaypee Philbert (6’5″ 313) all expected to contribute. Add them to the meat already on the roster – Jacob Atnip (6’5″ 325), Cameron Davis (6’4″ 303), Jamal Fontanot (6’4″ 302) and Dwayne Fisher (6’4″ 345) – and the Red Wolves project to be among the conference’s largest O Lines.
On the other side of the ball, the defensive line was praised as the team’s most stable unit (even with the losses of Waylon Roberson and Chis Odom), but the defensive backfield was a work in progress. “In a way, the defensive backs are in the same situation as the offensive line,” said Coach Anderson.
With the departure of All-Sun Belt players Chris Humes and Money Hunter, a great deal of responsibility is being placed on Blaise Taylor and Justin Clifton. But the team has also added some intriguing JUCO transfers to the mix, like 6’4″ Jefferie Gibson (Arizona Western College) and 6’1″ Michael Johnson (Mt. San Antonio).
Also expected to contribute, 6′ senior Nehemiah Wagner, who Coach Anderson listed as one of the team’s rising stars.
No quarterback battle (this year)
Make no mistake, Coach Anderson really, really digs redshirt freshman signal caller Logan Bonner, the 6’1″ fireball from Texas. Anderson believes that Bonner is ready to assume the huddle at a moment’s notice. But the man behind center is the Sun Belt conference’s leader in QBR, Justice Hansen (6’4″ 207). Anderson praised Hansen for limiting his INTs in Spring practice, and his starting running back Warren Wand notes the improvement.
A comfy Hansen should build nicely on a 2,700 yard, 19 TD season. He’ll have some rangy wide receivers to throw to in 2017 – 6’3″ Omar Bayless and 6’6″ Justin McInnis return, and 6’5″ Kendrick Edwards (transfer from Arkansas) is drawing praise from the staff. The wide receivers corps, which seems to be floating beneath the radar this season, also returns solid leadership with Chris Murray and Dijon Paschell. If the offensive line holds, the Red Wolves passing game should be improved over last year’s model.
Coach Blake Anderson is set for taking over the offense
After a frustratingly inconsistent season on the offensive side of the ball, the program announced that head coach Blake Anderson would assume in-game play calling from OC Buster Faulkner. As the OC for Larry Fedora’s North Carolina Tar Heels, Anderson’s offense produced 485.6 yards per game in 2012, finishing the season ranked 8th nationally and setting over 35 school records. In 2013, Anderson’s offense gained 432.4 yards per game. Last season, the Red Wolves totaled 379 yards of offense per game.
I guess the season is officially begun because…
Time to make the donuts, as the Red Wolves begin a full slate of practice beginning July 29. On August 11, the team will host a Fan Day that will feature a scrimmage, giving us an idea if Arkansas State is prepared to defend its s
hared Sun Belt title.