The Sun is shining. Birds are singing, and flowers have begun to bloom and display their brilliance and beauty again. You know what that means.
Finally, we can begin talking about football again. Spring ball officially began today at Arkansas State University, so that means, naturally it’s time for a preview.
Well first off, one HAS to take a long look at the coaching staff. You might rub your eyes a couple of times, and squint, but yup, there’s essentially been a complete overhaul of the staff. Some were given the ax (maybe unfairly), while others simply moved on – mostly to bigger schools and opportunities.
Gone is the defensive coordinator and assistant coach Joe Cauthen, corners coach and assistant head coach Trooper Taylor, plus renowned defensive line coach Brian Early. Joe Cauthen left for the same position at the University of Houston and took Brian Early with him.
Trooper Taylor headed north to Duke, where he will return his roots – on the offensive side of the ball as wide receivers’ coach. Special Teams coordinator Norval Mckenzie left for Louisville to become the new running backs coach
The Red Wolves hired David Duggan who was formerly of Western Michigan University as the linebackers coach and special teams coordinator as the new defensive coordinator the last couple of years.
He has a rapport with Head Coach Anderson from a previous stint with him. A former player and baller at that – Brandon Joiner (who also once won Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year) got a promotion from GA to defensive ends coach. Coach Allen Johnson goes from safeties coach to overall defensive backs coach.
In also is new offensive coordinator Keith Heckendorf, a quarterback whisperer who was quarterback coach over budding NFL star quarterback Mitchell Trubisky at North Carolina. Also in, is offensive line coach Sean Coughlin and outside wide receivers coach Malcolm Kelly.
Player wise, the immediate holes that must be filled, start at the quarterback position. Star Justice Hansen will leave shoes the size of a T-rex for someone to fill in, leaving the Arkansas State as the school’s all-time leader in passing touchdowns, and second in passing yards.
So you’ve got over 10 thousand yards and 83 touchdowns worth of production that must be replaced. Junior Logan Bonner is the current leader in the clubhouse to take over, but expect the battle to be headlined, as he saw limited time in five appearances last season.
Running back gets a little thinner with the departure of steady workhorse Warren Wand. Two big-time receivers (both in size and skill) in Justin McInnis and Kendrick Edwards also move on. The staple at the blindside of the quarterback and another first-team Sun Belt player, left tackle Lanard Bonner also moves on.
Defensively, the Sun Belt Player of the Year Ronheen Bingham moves on after a phenomenal year, continuing the Red Wolf tradition of winning Defensive Player of the Year. Justin Clifton a first-team all-Sun Belt player, and steady hand in the defensive backfield moves on. Defensive end Dajon Emory, probably one of the biggest snubs from the Sun Belt all-conference teams, also moves forward. (Kevin Thurmond also was DEFINITELY snubbed)
The most explosive receiver (and arguably player), as well as reigning Sun Belt Newcomer of the Year Kirk Merritt, returns. He led the conference in receiving yards and catches this past season and should remain a focal point of the offense.
Whoever wins the quarterback battle has a safety valve on the outside as well as returning Freshman of the Year, in star running back Marcel Murray who should also take pressure off of the new starter under center.
Add in the return of injured Oklahoma transfer Dahu Green, and the outside weapons look very formidable. The offense looks to continue humming right along as one of the nation’s best.
Defensively, the defensive line looks like the best in the conference, and one of the best position groups in the entire country. Two players return that made all-conference upfront in William Bradley-King and Forrest Merrill plus conference snub Kevin Thurmond.
They’ll stop the run and get after the passer while defensive backs Jerry Jacobs and Darreon Jackson also boast a wealth of talent after making the all-conference squad last year. The defense was strong this past season but could become truly elite this year. Expect the defense to earn even more accolades, and maybe carry the team early on.
Oh yeah, Cody Grace and the Red Wolves set an FBS record -15 yards allowed on his punts. That’s correct, negative. If dude isn’t a Ray Guy Award finalist this year, I’m going to lose my head.
The cupboard is definitely far from bare, so expect the team to try and avenge an underwhelming 8-5 season, in what looks to be Coach Anderson’s make-or-break year coaching the Red Wolves. This certainly will be an interesting year. Let’s see what transpires.