For any collegiate football staff, the vacation does not start after the season ends. As soon as the bowl games are over, the coaching staff hits the recruiting trail, looking for players to fill the gaps left by graduating seniors.
Even tougher, the coaches are looking to fill positions two and three years down the road. As the Blue Raiders started to look at what they had to work with for the 2011 season, it was evident that there were some holes.
The coaching staff did an excellent job analyzing areas of need, and then finding players to fit those needs. The first need obviously was a quarterback. With the departure of Dwight Dasher, the Blue Raiders have four horses in the stable that are looking to step up and lead the team.
Many people may feel that standout Logan Kilgore is a foregone conclusion to win the starting job. While his strong arm and ability to read defenses make him an early favorite, new offensive coordinator Willie Simmons has mentioned several times that healthy competition for the job is good.
After Dasher’s horrendous season, the Blue Raiders will be looking for someone to make accurate passes and smart decisions. In an interview last week, Simmons mentioned that the goal for this year was to “eliminate turnovers.”
The coaching staff is going to give the nod to the guy who they feel has the best grasp of the offense, as well as the tools to effectively attack the defense.
With several leaders on the defensive side of the ball gone, the need to sustain long drives and put points on the board is at a premium. New freshmen recruits Timmy Byerly and Shaun White, along with senior Jeff Murphy, will all get consideration leading up to the season.
Byerly and White both have good size, but are at a disadvantage when it comes to the playbook. They will only have the summer and fall camp to get familiarized with a new system, and the learning curve from high school to college is steep. They both have a lot of potential and athletic ability, but I would be surprised if we see them this first year.
Some folks have talked about utilizing Byerly’s dual-threat potential in goal-line and fourth-down situations, but I’m not sure about that. It would be an interesting wrinkle, but at 6’1”, 218 lbs, he isn’t exactly going to be able to dominate the DBs like he did in high school. Maybe we’ll see this down the road, but I would expect at least one of the two to be red-shirted before the season begins.
Jeff Murphy, on the other hand, has experience in the system but his average performance on the field has not wowed coaches or fans. He played in three games last season, starting one against Austin Peay. In those three games he completed 31-of-53 passes for 395 yards, with one score and one interception.
Logan Kilgore also played last year, starting three games against Minnesota, Memphis and Louisiana-Lafayette. In those three games he was 50-of-80 for 540 yards and three touchdowns. The downside was that he threw five interceptions, three coming in the game against Memphis.
Despite this, I feel that he has the best shot to win the starting job. He has a stronger arm than Murphy, and has shown a good ability to read defenses. His downside is the Brett Favre “gunslinger” mentality that can lead him to force passes into tight windows, often resulting in interceptions. A full year of practice and maturity will hopefully temper this and improve his decision making.
In the end, no one knows exactly what will happen, and I think we are all anxious to see how our Boys in Blue perform at the spring game.