The succession plan of Coach Brooks is something that has been talked about and debated ever since Joker was named the coach in waiting. But I see a different kind of succession plan implemented by Brooks this decade, one that has made the success of the team more consistent than it has ever been. Coach Brooks and his staff have been able to develop fundamentally sound back-up and incoming players so that (to use a standard coaching cliche) the team is reloading more than rebuilding in the off season. Beyond that, the coaching staff has been recruiting talented athletes able to play more than one position and fill in as needed. That’s not to say there aren’t holes at times, but on the whole the level of talent and skill at all positions has been relatively stable during his reign, a trend I hope will continue with Joker and allow us to continue to reach our full potential.
This season, Joker is faced with the loss of 11 starters, 6 on the offensive end and five defensive. Add in Lones Sieber at kicker, and there are 12 positions waiting to be filled. I’ll take a look at each one and the players projected to take over.
1. Fullback- With John Conner’s exit, the fullback starting position seems to belong to Senior Moncell Allen who will transition from running to full back. Allen played in all 13 games last season, racking up 228 yards on 47 carries and caused a huge fumble to begin the comeback against Georgia. He’s been limited this offseason in practice due to knee surgery but is expected to make a major contribution.
2. Tight End- Junior Nick Melillo is expected to take over for Ross Bogue this season, hoping to add to the 44 yards on 5 receptions he put up last year. Melillo will be relied upon from day one, as he is the only tight end on the roster with game experience. Ryan Wallace, a transfer from Colorado is eligible behind him along with two freshmen.
3. Right Tackle- Senior Brad Durham has seven starts over the last two seasons and is expected to take over for the departing Justin Jefferies, whom he shared starting duties with last season. No big surprises here, but yet another example of the development and forward thinking of the coaching staff.
4. Center- I have to say, the center is my favorite position in football and I don’t even know why. Anyway, Jorge Gonzalez is out and the battle to replace him hasn’t been settled yet. On one hand you have Senior Marcus Davis, coming back from an ankle injury last season. On another hand you have Sophomore Matt Smith and redshirt freshmen Sam Simpson nipping at his heels. And just for good measure, you can throw in Jake Lanefski, who is expected to transition from offensive guard to the center position when he gets back in August. Joker had this to say about the Center position:
“There is competition between Marcus Davis and Matt Smith but the big competition will begin when Jake Lanefski comes back (from injury in August). We are trying to get out best five on the field and throwing Jake in the mix at center gives us a chance to do that because we feel really good about the two guards.”
5. Left Tackle- Billy Joe Murphy, a junior with most of his experience coming on special teams, will most likely take over for departing senior Zipp Duncan. He had three starts back in 2008 and will contend with junior Chandler Burden for the spot, who will be transitioning from defensive end.
6. Left Guard- Christian Johnson’s graduation paves the way for Stuart Hines’ transition from right to left tackle, where he earned All-SEC honors last year. The depletion of the offensive line means that Hines will be called on for leadership this year with his extensive starting experience.
I’ll be back later for a look at the defensive side and also special teams.