Sun Belt Offensive Question Marks
By Jim Johnson
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Breaking down the main question for each Sun Belt team.
App State -- Tight End
Barrett Burns was a reliable safety valve for Taylor Lamb last year. He is expected to be replaced by Levi Duffield. Duffield has seen a good bit of playing time over the past couple of seasons, but that has largely been in a reserve role, primarily for his blocking prowess. With only one reception in 2016, it is yet to be seen whther or not he can replace Burns' production.
Arkansas State -- Offensive Line
The Red Wolves have won at least a share of the Sun Belt title two years in a row, but they have the unique displeasure of replacing their entire starting offensive line, with the exception of Colton Jackson. With 19 offensive linemen on the roster, currently, there are plenty of options going forward, but most of the starting spots seem fluid for the time being. All three true freshmen have college ready bodies, but there is no indication that they will be able to help out right away.
Coastal Carolina -- Running Back
There are a handful of experienced players but none of them are De'Angelo Henderson. Henderson, a finalist for the Walter Payton National Offensive Player of the Year Award, is off to the NFL, and the Chanticleers don't have another player of his caliber in the stable of backs. A running back by committee may be able to make up for the loss of production, but only time will tell.
Georgia Southern -- Quarterback
Georgia Southern ran a dual-quarterback system in 2016. In many cases that feels like a bad idea, but given the carry burden as a result of the offense, it's similar to the theory of having a committee of running backs. However, with both Favian Upshaw and Kevin Ellison parting ways with the program, a major vacuum exists behind center. Sophomore Seth Shuman and Redshirt Junior LaBaron Anthony are two contenders for the job, but keep an eye on incoming freshman Jaalon Frazier, as well.
Georgia State -- Pass Catchers
Two of the Panthers' three leading receivers from last season are off pursuing their NFL dreams. Conner Manning will be relying heavily on Penny Hart, who had over 1,000 receiving yards as a freshman, but missed most of last season after breaking his foot. Ari Werts will also need to make great strides in the offseason, as he has big shoes to fill, left behind by Keith Rucker.
Idaho -- Tight End
The Vandals' dynamic pair of senior tight ends, Deon Watson and Trent Cowan, were the top two receivers last year. Quarterback Matt Linehan, the 2016 conference leader in passing yards, will have to make some adjustments without those big targets to look to. The receiving corps will have to step up in a big way for Idaho to carry the momentum they took form last year into 2017.
Louisiana -- Running Back
Elijah McGuire's graduation has the Ragin' Cajuns attempting to replace one of the greatest running backs in college football history. Darius Hoggins and Jordan Wright combined 113 carries last year, spelling McGuire, but with less success. More disconcerting for ULL fans, however, is that neither is remotely the weapon in the passing game that McGuire was in his four years.
Louisiana Monroe -- Quarterback
Garrett Smith started for the first half of the season, befoe being sidelined for the remainder of the year with an injury. He was replaced by Will Collins, who was subsequently replaced by Caleb Evans. Even if Smith is slated as the starter again, come fall, he struggled through most of the season, when he played. All three have had problems with turnovers, and the hope is that competition can push one to make strides and win the job outright, because the alternative is a quarterback controversy that's not conducive to winning.
New Mexico State -- Center
New Mexico State was one of the worst pass blocking teams in the country last year, allowing sacks on almost 7% of standard downs and just under 10% of obvious passing downs. Brian Trujillo, who will be a redshirt sophomore is expected to start at center. If that is the case, the Aggies will lack any significant depth along the offensive front, and here is no evidence, as of yet, that Trujillo will be able to captain the group and improve the pass protection.
South Alabama -- Pass Catchers
The Jaguars will be without all four of their leading receivers from 2016. Obviously that is less than ideal, regardless, but losing Gerald Everett, in particular, hurts. Everett was one of the best tight ends in the country, and while Maaseiah Francis is a nice option, he's no Everett. Coupled with the loss of Josh Magee, and the fact that Dallas Davis is going to miss spring practice, South Alabama's receivers are going to have to build a rapport with the Davis on the fly.
Texas State -- Quarterback
The situation behind center in San Marcos is a catastrophic disaster. The Bobcats were the worst offense in the league last year, and if the quarterback position is any indication, that is not poised to change this season. Senior Tyler Jones is gone, and both of the primary backups that saw time, Connor White and Eddie Printz, left the program. Texas State did bring in five guys to compete for the job in this class, headlined by Mississippi State transfer Damian Williams.
Troy -- Tackles
Antonio Garcia is off to the NFL and while it's hard enough to replace a four-year starter, Garcia is also one of the great players in Troy football history. Two-year starter at Right Tackle Tyler Lassiter will leave difficult enough shoes to fill, in his own right. Troy had an incredible run, last season, but without two of their offensive cornerstones, it will be difficult to match that success.