The Miami University football team opens its 127th season on Saturday against Presbyterian College. Head coach Chuck Martin enters his second year at Miami’s helm with a young squad — 62 members of the 110-man roster are either redshirt or true freshmen.
The RedHawks finished the 2014 season 2-10 (2-6 Mid-American Conference), after finishing 0-12 (0-8 MAC) in 2013.
Below is a position-by-position preview for the season.
All three QBs will play — that’s the short-term plan. Fifth-year senior Drew Kummer is the current starter, while red-shirt freshman Gus Ragland and true freshman Billy Bahl need time to mature. Martin said it’s probably unlikely to have all three play all year, so for long-term, if one guy clearly wins the job or two of them are dead-even, that’s the direction the team will go.
Each quarterback has different skill sets: Kummer is a traditional QB, Ragland is a runner, Bahl is a 6-foot-4, 248-pound threat in every way. Each can be used to attack a defense in different ways, so until conference play, Martin may play each on a case-by-case basis. As for who’s looked the best in practice, it’s drill-by-drill. Ragland and Bahl have never seen a varsity snap, while Kummer has completed 22-of-58 passes for 320 yards and one touchdown during his Miami tenure.
Martin said the QB situation is unique because two of the possible starters are freshmen. If two older players were competing for the job, there might be a clear-cut winner. But for now, Martin wants to keep developing them and avoid stunting their growth.
The receiving core consists of five playmakers: redshirt juniors Rokeem Williams and Fred McRae IV, redshirt sophomore Jared Murphy, sophomore Sam Martin and redshirt freshman Chris Hudson. Murphy (42 catches, 600 yards, four TDs) and Williams (35 catches, 682 yards, three TDs) had the most production last year. McRae took off at the end of last year, and Sam Martin had a breakout rookie year.
Hudson is young and extremely talented. He has great ball skills and always finds a way to get open — but that may be because of his 6-foot-6, 226-pound stature. NFL scouts are already after him. He’s a big-time threat down the field and in the redzone, but needs to keep developing. After all, Hudson has not played a varsity game yet. All five have a chance on any given read to be the go-to guy.
Other noticeables include redshirt senior Alvanta Jenkins and redshirt junior Sam Shisso. Both Jenkins and Shisso have fewer playing opportunities, but are more than capable of making plays. They’ll also be on the field every week.
Redshirt freshmen Alonzo Smith and Kenny Young and redshirt junior Spencer McInnis are the starters. Martin compared McInnis to Kummer and the QB situation: “Spencer is our Kummer. He does a lot of things right, but we have two redshirt freshmen that are talented and every time they get out there, they gotta get reps.” McInnis rushed for 249 yards on 64 attempts in 2014. Young fights his way through holes and can haul in short passes.
Freshmen Leonard Ross and Maurice Thomas will get touches too. Four RBs have four years of eligibility left, which means Martin will focus on throwing them into games to develop.
Redshirt freshman Nate Becker, sophomore Ryan Smith and senior Orlando David will start. The team isn’t looking to play freshman Alexx Zielinski anytime soon, but Martin said Zielinski’s time is coming. Becker is probably the best in-line TE, but can also run and catch. David has a presence both on and off the ball, and Ryan can do the same. Martin said to expect to often see two tight ends on the field.
It’s tough to say much at this point because they’ve gotten beat up so much. Redshirt senior Trevan Brown and junior Collin Buchanan will start at tackle, and senior Brandyn Cook is the center. The guards are to be determined. Martin joked that the offensive line has been a “revolving door” because of injuries. Whoever is healthy has been starting at right guard during practice. However, Martin expects to have players back in good health before the opener Saturday.
Six starters from 2014 return: Seniors Mitch Winters, Kert Kern and Bryson Albright, redshirt juniors JT Jones and Jimmy Rousher and redshirt senior Joe Donlan. Jones and Albright are the bookends to this defense. According to Martin, if you’re not noticing Jones and Albright, Miami is probably not having a good game. Winters, redshirt sophomore AJ Burdine and sophomore Ikeem Allen provide good depth inside.
Redshirt junior Austin Gearing offers an interesting storyline: in 2013, he started three games at quarterback. Two years later, his weight has increased from 212 to 250 pounds and he’ll play as a backup defensive end.
Junior Heath Harding and redshirt junior Marshall Taylor are to the secondary what Jones and Albright are to the line. They have experience, and they’re play-makers. In 2014, Harding started every game at safety, notched two interceptions and led the team with 98 tackles. “With the two edge guys and the two guys behind them, if they’re out there and they’re making plays, we got a chance to have a pretty good day,” Martin said.
Redshirt senior Brison Burris returns at safety after missing the entire 2014 with a knee injury. He’s expected to play a major role in the secondary this year. The ’Hawks are counting on Buchi Okafor at field safety. The junior has never played in that position before, but he has a lot of ability and talent. Sophomore Tony Reid will play with starters too.
The entire defense consists of young players, so there’s a chance players will fall out of position at times. However, they’ll also force opportunities to make plays and get off the field, whether it’s a sack, causing a fumble, batting a ball down or an interception.
Kent Kern, Brandyn Cook, Brison Burris, Bryson Albright, JT Jones, Trevan Brown, Rokeem Williams