While there are 197 agonizing days left until the season opener at Virginia (barring more schedule changes), spring practice gets underway tomorrow morning. This is the chance for some of the younger guys to step in and fill the void left by graduating seniors. Let's take a look at some of the Frogs' biggest questions marks as they prepare for their 15 scheduled spring workouts.
1) What changes will come with new co-offensive coordinators Justin Fuente & Jarrett Anderson?
While a lot of Frog fans cheered the departure of Mike Schultz, it certainly has to be for his enigmatic play-calling, because it's hard to argue with his results: 421 yards and 33 points a game on a 60:40 rush to pass ratio, producing season totals of 307 first downs (school record), 437 points (school record) and 5,477 total yards (2nd most in school history). They also led the nation in time of possession by over a full minute. I'd venture to guess that Fuente & Anderson will subscribe to the theory of not fixing things that aren't broken. What they might do, though, is improve situational play-calling and continue to evolve Ryan Christian's role in the offense (which Schultz himself seemed to figure out better towards the tail end of '08).
2) Who steps up to fill the gigantic voids left by graduating seniors on defense?
Henson. Hodge. Phillips. Coleman. Vess. Moore. Panfil. I don't think we ever envisioned Spit Blood becoming wistful, but shit...
Remember though, that the same kind of enormous void was left at DE last year when we lost Chase Ortiz and Tommy Blake. All Jerry Hughes did was blossom from the team's biggest question-mark into a 1st-Team All American. Not saying that we'll necessarily have another player step up THAT much, but I think we've got a lot of potential. Opposite Hughes at DE, look for Clarence Leatch (who showed flashes in '08), Ross Forrest (who contributed as a walk-on true freshman last year) or Braylon Broughton (who has the most upside due to his freakish mix of size & athleticism). The top candidates inside at DT are Kelly Griffin (a starter in '07), Jeremy Coleman (a very promising redshirt freshman), Cory Grant and Henry Niutei (both of whom have playing experience and plenty of size). Wayne Daniels could also contribute at either spot.
At linebacker, Daryl Washington was essentially a starter last year and could challenge Hughes to be the face of the D this year. The favorite to start alongside D-Wash is sophomore Tank Carder, although fellow sophomore Kris Gardner, redshirt freshman Greg Burks and early-enrollee true freshman Tanner Brock could also end up starting and/or contributing.
The early favorites to step into the two vacant safety spots are sophomores Tekerrein Cuba and Sir Demarco Bledsoe, although Cuba will miss spring practice with a knee injury. Former QB and fifth-year senior Marcus Jackson will move over to safety for the spring, and will join a crowded field including Corderra Hunter, Colin Jones and Johnny Fobbs vying for a spot in the rotation.
3) Who backs up Dalton at QB?
With Marcus Jackson at least temporarily moving to safety, it's possible we'll be without the peace of mind that we had when Dalton went down in the early part of last season. Whether or not Jackson returns to QB will probably depend on A) how well he does on defense and B) the extent to which another QB steps up to be a bona-fide 2nd stringer. The two top candidates are #12 Yogi Gallegos, a redshirt freshman, and #4 Casey Pachall, a blue-chip recruit who graduated high school early to enroll for the spring.
4) Will the fans show up in 2009?
Sad to say it, but probably not. Last year, despite having a decade of success behind us and an 11-2 team that flirted with the BCS, ended the year #7 and had the nation's top soul-devouring defense, we still only averaged 30,389 fans per game. That's good for 74th in the nation. I, for one, just don't get it. We have a highly-successful team with a coach who is a legend in the making and recruiting that gets better by the day, and yet fans decide to stay out in the parking lot by the thousands. You aren't going to hear me bad-mouth tailgating, because I think anyone who posts or reads Spit Blood is among the most ardent tailgaters, but isn't tailgating without watching the game a little like leaving the meat off your burger?
Yes, there are other questions- who takes over for AB on kick returns and who picks up his production on offense, who starts in the interior of the O-line, etc. But I'm tired of typing.