UCF Knights Football 2018 Pre-Season Camp
As the 2018 season approaches not nearly quick enough, UCF’s August Football Pre-Season Camp is in full swing. And not a moment too soon for UCF fans it seems! UCF Football has quickly become a year round obsession with it’s massive and exponentially growing fan base. In the wake of it’s National Championship last year, UCF has never been more popular, or more of a target.
But with success comes heightened expectations, which couldn’t be much higher right now for the Knights. These expectations also bring questions. Before the season starts, the Knights needs to have answers for these questions to meet their own expectations. That education will begin and hopefully end during UCF’s Pre-Season Football Camp.
The UCF Knights, of course blessed as they are, have nearly all of the #1 offense in the nation back. Heisman Trophy hopeful, McKenzie Milton leads the potent offensive attack at QB, with Darriel Mack Jr as a solid #2. Mack, the Starter-In-Waiting, and should see significant backup duty, especially if the vaunted UCF offense builds some big leads.
There are literally a half dozen talented options waiting to fill the spot vacated by now NFL New Orleans Saint, Tre’Quan Smith. Dredrick Snelson and Gabriel Davis return as starters. Marlon Williams, Cam Stewart, Tristan Payton and Ole Miss transfer Tre Nixon also look to make an impact. This WR group will be a daunting task for any defensive backfield in the nation to cover. Payton should reassert himself during camp in his last season at UCF and a possible shot at going pro.
At RB, the Knights lost two talented recruits via off-season transfer, including a former starter. Even with the departures, UCF has talented options and speed galore. Speed demon Adrian Killins Jr and RB/WR hybrid Otis Anderson will be the returning starters. Look for Taj McGowan, Greg McCrae, and Bentavious Thompson to all see time in short yardage or goal line situations.
The departure of NFL bound TE’s Jordan Akins and Jordan Franks was lightened slightly by the return to camp by 6 year veteran Michael Colubiale. He will be joined by the talented 6’7” Wisconsin transfer Jake Hescock, who will battle for playing time in with the first unit. Incoming Juco transfers Brett Bell and Chris DeLoach will competing with Anthony Roberson in an August push to see playing time as well. There may be plenty of it at this position as new Head Coach Josh Heupel apparently loves to use his TE’s a lot.
The “Big Uglies” up front who protect Milton and blast holes for Killins, Anderson, and company, will be led by two returning All-American Conference starters in C Jordan Johnson and OT Wyatt Miller. Look for highly touted transfers Parker Boudreaux at OG and Trevor Alberts at OT to lock up starting spots in August as well. If Tyler Hudanek is finally healthy, after recovering from knee injury, and returns to his previous stellar play, he should compete with returning starter Jake Brown for the other OG position.
Veterans Luke Palmer, Boman Swanson, and JuCo transfer Josh McMullen will lead a group off very talented Fr to give the Knights a very good two deep rotation needed in Coach Heupel’s up tempo offense. UCF lost rising star Samuel Jackson to a knee injury in the spring so he will take a redshirt year.
On the defensive side of the ball the UCF must replace stars LB Shaquem Griffin, CB Mike Hughes, and DL Jamiyus Pittman, who all graduated to the NFL. Moreover, Griffin was the emotional leader of the team and an inspirational force of nature to everyone he met. Leading the LB’s and the defense this year, will be returning Sr and last years leading tackler, Pat Jasinski, in the middle at the MIKE LB spot.
As new Defensive Coordinator Randy Shannon switches to the 4-3 defense, returning veterans Gabriel Luyanda and Nate Evans at the SAM LB, with Shawn Burgess-Becker and Eric Mitchell at the pass rushing WILL LB, will all look to compete to fill out spots with the first unit. A very talented group of freshman, including highly touted recruits Eric Gilyard and Randy Charlton, will look to push for playing time with the 2nd team.
Our defensive line this year is experienced and deep, and will be anchored by All-Conference DT Trysten Hill at one of the spots in the middle of Shannon’s new 4-3 scheme. Fifth year Sr’s Joey Connors and A.J. Wooten should split time at the other DT position, and spell Hill when he needs a breather. Returning starter Titus Davis should be at Strong-Side DE position.
If he has fully recovered for a knee injury, Shaquem Griffin protege Dedrion Bacote-Sweat will look to replace his mentor on the edge at the Weak-Side DE position. Both he and Davis moved over to the DL from their LB positions. Returning veterans Brendan Hayes and Aaron Cochran will be pushed by a very talented group of true and redshirt Freshmen, including top recruits T.J. Pitts, Jeremiah Zio, and Ike Walker, providing a strong two deep rotation.
Defensive back will be a key position to watch in camp as UCF loses All-Everything CB/KR Hughes. Grad transfer Tre Neal, who started last year but was running with the second unit in the spring, also leaves. We thanks him for his tremendous contributions to UCF over the years. It’s not the worst thing though when returning starters from an unbeaten team have a hard time keeping their spots. This year, incumbent SS All-Conference Kyle Gibson will lead the way for the DB’s. Neville Clarke should be a lock at one of the CB positions, with returning starter Brandon Moore a favorite at the other.
Moore may see significant pressure for that starting spot. It will come from veteran four star recruits Rashard Causey and Aaron Robinson, the Alabama transfer who is now eligible. One of those three will also most likely backup Clarke on the other side. At the other Safety position, look for Peach Bowl hero Antwan Collier to battle it out with veteran Richie Grant to replace the departed Neal. Veterans Byron Brown, Keenan Johnson, and Jonathan Gebka will be pushed by a slew of talented freshman to fill out the two – deep rotation, as UCF has recruited well at this position the last two years.
Special teams should be in good hands, as steady if not spectacular. Seniors K Matthew Wright and P Mac Loudermilk both return as starters from last season. Fifth year Sr Caleb Perez should be handing the snaps on special teams, with Loudermilk once again holding for kicks. In the kick returns department, there are plenty of speed and talent options to handle kickoffs and punts.
Two likely candidates to replace Hughes on kickoffs are Tristan Payton, who was impressive two years ago, and Tre Nixon. Even incoming speedster Ke’von Ahmad is a possibility, if he does not take a redshirt. Punt return candidates SHOULD be either Adrian Killins Jr or Otis Anderson, if Coach Heupel is willing to risk them. If not, Nixon would be the best candidate in my opinion. Historically, this goes to a DB, but I can’t think of who the obvious candidate is in our two-deep unit.
All these questions ideally will be answered before camp ends. Overall though, UCF is in an enviable position entering the season. The biggest questions won’t be about talent, but rather whether the mental fortitude is still there. The same toughness UCF showed through hurricanes and coaching departures, to remain undefeated against the most unlikely odds. They will need to once again embrace the grind to meet their own high expectations for the 2018 season. Here’s hoping they do! #GoKnights #ChargeOn!!