|« Four questions for Montana State||Austin Peay not happy with 8-game skid of 2010, spend plenty of time working in offseason »|
Snap is one of The Citadel's top priorities
It’s one of the basic building blocks of football, the act that triggers nearly every play during a game – when the center snaps the ball to the quarterback.
Yet mastering that simple act proved elusive for The Citadel last season as the Bulldogs struggled to a 3-8 record, the center-quarterback exchange accounting for many of the Bulldogs’ 44 fumbles and 32 turnovers.
That issue is just one of many Citadel coach Kevin Higgins must address as the Bulldogs begin fall practice today in preparation for his seventh season. Here are five storylines that bear watching:
1. Smooth operators
It was a perfect storm of sorts for the Bulldogs last season. The switch to the triple-option offense, a freshman center new to the position and two freshman quarterbacks all combined to make getting the ball snapped safely an adventure, never mind getting it handed off and pitched correctly.
The low point came in a 20-0 loss to Georgia Southern, when the Bulldogs turned the ball over nine times.
New offensive coordinator Bob Bodine is hoping that a year in the system – and countless offseason snaps – can help center Mike Sellers and quarterbacks Ben Dupree and Matt Thompson, all sophomores now, operate much more smoothly.
“Last year, Mike felt like a fish out of water,” Bodine said of Sellers, who was a standout fullback at Fort Dorchester High School. “This year, he’s the guy coming in on his own time and he and the quarterbacks have developed a bond where they are inseparable. They’ve been out on their own, getting snaps in, to make sure to erase the ghosts of Christmas past.”
2. Reading it right
Once the snap is mastered, it’s up to quarterbacks Dupree and Thompson to make the right read in the triple option – hand it off, keep it or pitch it. Too often last year, the right read wasn’t made, one reason the Bulldogs averaged just 14.9 points per game.
Spring practice, summer workouts and the addition of quarterbacks coach Craig Candeto should help Dupree and Thompson improve their “reading” skills. Candeto played QB in the same system at Navy, under option guru Paul Johnson, now at Georgia Tech.
Correct reads will open up the entire offense, including the passing game, which accounted for just 569 yards and three touchdowns last season.
“We made so many mistakes on the reads, on center exchange, so many of those little things that play-action opportunities just were not there,” Bodine said. “The secondary didn’t have to support the way they would have if we’d a little more success running the ball. Once we start executing better, those play-action passes will be a little bit easier for us.”
3. On the line
Higgins thinks Mike Sellers, now up to about 280 pounds, has All-SoCon potential at center. And the move of defensive tackle Keith Carter (6-0, 268) to offensive guard should add athleticism and attitude to the line.
“He’s got an intensity and a real maturity that I think we were lacking a little bit last year,” said Bodine, who also coaches the offensive line. “That’s huge for us.”
Redshirt senior Tyler Thornton and redshirt junior Neal Strange are back at tackles, and the health of senior Jameson Bryant at the other guard could be crucial. Plagued by shoulder and other issues, he played in six games last year.
4. Calling all playmakers
The Bulldogs have eight starters back on defense, but the three they are missing – Erik Clanton, Cortez Allen and Demetrius Jackson – were three of their biggest playmakers. Replacing them will be key.
Clanton, a defensive end now in NFL camp with the Steelers, had nine tackles and 14 tackles for loss last year. Allen, a cornerback and a fourth-round pick by the Steelers, had two of The Citadel’s 10 interceptions. And Jackson, a safety, had three picks and 47 tackles.
Redshirt junior Chris Billingslea (6-5, 249) is the best bet to emerge as Clanton’s successor as a play-making defensive end; he had 47 tackles and 2 1/2 sacks last season. Brandon McCladdie, Jamal Allen and Sadat Jean-Pierre are young corners who must emerge in Allen’s wake. Junior safety Joseph Boateng has all-conference potential.
5. Kickin’ it
If The Citadel’s defense can keep the Bulldogs in games this season, the kicking game will be vital. Kickers Sam Keeler and Ryan Sellers combined to make 8 of 14 field goals last season, ranking sixth in the SoCon.
This year, the burden falls on Sellers, a redshirt senior who took over place-kicking duties about midseason in 2010. Sellers was 5 of 9 overall but a respectable 4 of 6 from 20 to 39 yards. The Bulldogs will need Sellers to produce consistently from that range.
By Jeff Hartsell, The Post and Courier