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Alabama A&M football: 5 QUESTIONS
Alabama A&M practiced for the first time Tuesday night and will hit the field again this morning. With the season opener against Tuskegee a month away, there are a handful of burning questions A&M has to answer during preseason practice if the Bulldogs want to emerge as Southwestern Athletic Conference champions in December.
The Bulldogs return 20 starters, including all 11 on offense. Defensively, A&M lost four of its top five tacklers, including first-team All-SWAC performers Willie Fuller, Corey Hart and Rico Porch. That is where most of the holes have to be filled. Filling them and staying healthy are probably A&M coach Anthony Jones’ two biggest concerns.
Still, quality depth is a problem. Particularly, at running back, quarterback, along the offensive line and in the secondary.
Jones and company have a month to answer those questions before taking on Tuskegee in Birmingham, which is the site of the SWAC championship game.
1. Will Deaunte Mason finally fulfill the immense potential he came here with from Kentucky three years ago or will David Isabelle, a former Johnson High star, be able to unseat him?
Since taking over the job with four games left in 2009, Mason has led A&M to the SWAC championship game two of the last three years. Unfortunately, he came up short in both of them as the Bulldogs lost to Prairie View in 2009 and fell to Grambling last season when he was hobbled by a severe knee injury suffered in the regular season finale at Prairie View.
Mason has mastered the offense, but hasn’t lived up to the billing after transferring from Kentucky. Perhaps, this could be his year with an experienced offensive line, a 1,000-yard rusher in Lacey and a young and talented receiving corp that collectively could be as good as the unit A&M had in 2006 when it won its lone SWAC championship.
Meanwhile, Isabelle, as talented an athlete that A&M has had at quarterback in quite some time, could surprise.
He was highly recruited before signing with UAB four years ago and had some good moments with the Blazers, but failed to master the offense last season. He did come on against Prairie View to help the Bulldogs punch their ticket to the SWAC championship, but hasn’t proven he is totally committed to doing what it takes to wrestle the job away from Mason.
2. Who replaces Corey Hart?
The Bulldogs won’t likely be able to replace Hart, who had 57 tackles, including 32 tackles for loss and 17 sacks, with one player, but the combination of Melvin Payne and Phillip Harvey could do the trick.
Payne, a transfer from Ohio University, and Harvey combined for 53 tackles, 18 tackles for loss and nine sacks a year ago, but are expected to play bigger roles this season. Junior college transfer Reginald Bailey had a great spring and Dee Lett, who missed virtually all of last season due to injuries, could be a factor if he can regain the form he had in 2010.
3. Who steps up to back up Lacey?
A&M rushed for more than 1,800 yards and Lacey had almost 1,200 of them. Mason rushed for just over 500 yards, while the rest of the team managed just 150. Terrell Badie, who backs up Lacey, had just 123 yards rushing. Badie, Brendan Johnson and Brandon Eldemire will get a chance to spell Lacey, but all three are unproven. One of them or all of them or even a newcomer will have to emerge to spell Lacey, who averaged 24 carries per game last season.
4. How will A&M reload its secondary?
Free safety Rico Porch and cornerbacks Clarence Morris and Luther Snipe are gone. They combined for seven interceptions last season. So is will linebacker Vandrick Jackson.
Junior Derrick Harris returns at one corner, while redshirt sophomore A.J. Clark, a part-time starter last season, returns at the other one. Sophomore Jamel Morris, who played sparingly in seven games, has the inside track at free safety and sophomore Chris Ervin, who started some at strong safety last season, is back after undergoing knee surgery. Joshua Udeh, Julius Williams, Marcus Dozier, Darrian Graham, Theron Rice and Nicholas Shoaf could see playing time in different packages.
5. Will a tight end emerge?
Jones, who played tight end in the National Football League with the Washington Redskin, loves to incorporate the tight end in his offense, but hasn’t been able to the last three years.
Kenneth Harris, Bobby Goldsby, Jared Bing, Toriono Upshaw and Alex Coleman look the part, but have been inconsistent.
Harris is by far the Bulldogs’ best all-around tight end, but has been plaqued by injuries. Goldsby and Bing have had some moments, while Upshaw and Coleman are more of A&M’s tight ends of the future.
If Harris, Goldsby or Bing can emerge, it will give A&M a weapon and create opportunities for the Bulldogs’ offense to be even more efficient and explosive than its been in the past few years.
By Reggie Benson, The Huntsville Times