Veteran players are back for another season. Incoming freshmen are all moved into dorm rooms. It’s time for another season of Governors football as head coach Kirby Cannon will lead his troops through training camp beginning on Monday.
But they won’t be reporting to Governors Stadium. With the turf laying process pushed back, players and coaches will borrow Morgan Brothers Soccer Field for a couple weeks until a playing surface is put down at the stadium across campus. Meetings and a walk-through will take place on Monday, while the first full practice will be Tuesday at 9 a.m.
With a roster filled with young players, the Govs will prepare to move on from an 0-12 mark last season. Obviously, there are going to be many areas of concern after a win-less season, and those issues will try to be resolved in camp.
Here are five questions that need answers:
1. How will the offensive line hold up?
The heart of the team for the past two seasons has been the offensive line, with Ben Stansfield, Gavin Willisson, and Kyle Harrison being the leaders in the trenches. But they are gone, meaning there will be some new faces stepping up and some shifting of positions. There will be three seniors up front, led by Isaiah Tuiasosopo and Nathan Sanders, while Julian Virgo will start after receiving a minimum amount of reps as Stansfield’s backup. The Govs were unfortunate to lose center Travis Williams for the season after injuries from a car accident, so Tuiasosopo will handle the snaps. The other two positions are up for grabs, with both returning players and newcomers in the mix to start. Once the line is established, can they continue to be the backbone of the team?
2. Can a consistent passing game be established?
When Coach Cannon came to the program last year, he envisioned an air raid offense with Andrew Spivey finding receivers down field. But as inconsistency and injuries plagued Spivey, the Govs offense turned into a track meet, averaging 133 rushing yards compared to 97 passing per game. Much of that can be attributed to two natural scramblers in Timarious Mitchell and Jacob Sexton filling in once Spivey was sidelined. For 2014, APSU appeared to have a quarterback equipped to play in multiple sets as Trey Taylor, a transfer from Central Arkansas, will be under center. Taylor put on a show in the spring game — 17-for-22 on passes for 142 yards and two scores — and has the ability to scramble outside the pocket as well. He’ll be able to use his legs on read option-type plays, but the real question is, can Taylor be the guy who can make big plays with his arm?
3. Who will emerge as a play-making back?
Last season, the running back position became open to opportunities as senior Tim Phillips was ruled out for the season early in conference play. No one made better use of the opening than Omar Williams, who rushed for almost 700 yards. But Williams is no other on the team after academic issues forced him out, meaning a spot is there for someone to step up. At this point, it appears Rashaan Coleman has earned the role of lead back after three touchdowns last season, all coming against SEMO in the final home game. But this will be Coleman’s first full season as a running back, so there are concerns on how much of a workload he can take. If the Govs can’t accomplish question number two, it will be another season where they rely on the rushing game. So, who will be the next in line when Coleman has to come off? Can Julian Franklin become a play-maker in his sophomore season? Can Justin Roberson make a successful transition from defense to offense? Or will a newcomer emerge out of nowhere?
4. Can improvements be made in stopping the run?
If you had to point to one area last season where the Govs were outmatched, it would be the front seven on defense. APSU allowed their opponents to gain 5.6 yards per carry, averaging out to over 230 yards per game, with a whopping 44 touchdowns. If you know the conference well, you know there are many talented backs, with Jacksonville State’s DaMarcus James coming to mind first. Yes, he had a field day on APSU last season with five touchdowns, but overall, the Govs could not bring down ball carriers. Replacing guys like Reese Bulmash and Craig Salley will be tough, yet Antonio Turner (67 tackles) and A.J. Gray (54 tackles) played well last season at the linebacker position. Senior Johnathan Shuler will be back as the team’s defensive leader to come up and help make stops, but the real question mark lie up front on the defensive line.
5. How effective will a new field goal kicker be?
Regardless of who kicks field goals for the Govs in 2014, it will be someone new. Chase Dunlap was solid last season for the Govs as a freshman, but due to hip problems, Dunlap has been forced to end his career on the football field. APSU has just two names on its roster to take over, and neither has attempted a field goal in a collegiate game. Evan Toby took 28 of 29 place kicks last season, and will return as the leading candidate to be the full-time kicker. There’s also freshman Dakota Vincil who could come on if there is an opening. Either way, there are definite question marks in the kicking department, which could be a key issue moving forward.