Rob Ianello's first season will have uncertainty because of the players lost, the new scheme and another training camp without a proven starting quarterback.
His first spring was marked by bringing the returners up to speed on a new offense, defense, set of terminology, and -- apparently most difficult -- the snap from under-center.
Here is my outlook for each position:
Quarterback -- With Matt Rodgers still recovering from a knee six months before, Patrick Nicely took most of the competitive snaps. The good news is, Akron has depth with two players who have shown they're capable of playing. The bad news is, the Zips enter another season without having "the guy," which often retards offensive development. Nicely's spring was up-and-down. He struggled mightily with the under-center snaps. He made some good throws, but his weakness was clear: touch passes. It's hard for me to imagine Nicely not playing, at least some. The question, therefore, would be: Do the quarterbacks split time -- a notion that Ianello refused to dismiss during the spring game press conference? Outlook: Bright
Running back -- This is a position of strength for the Zips. Alex Allen looked quicker and stronger than ever. Broderick Alexander and Dale Martin (if healthy) can take some carries as his eventual successors. None of these three backs is a bruiser, so the emergence of a pounding fullback will be important, not just for lead blocking, but also for short-yardage situations. Don't dismiss LeVon Morefield as that person. Outlook: Very bright
Offensive line -- You can't complain with how J.D. Brookhart kept the offensive line cupboard stocked. For the past three years, there has been a nice mix of experience and talent. Mike Ward (at either center or guard) and Corey Woods (left tackle) are the stalwarts and potential All-MAC performers. Run blocking and pass protection are great, but the team cannot afford fumbled snaps. I hope that gets fixed before August. Outlook: Bright
Wide receiver -- The Zips have a clear No. 1 target in Jeremy LaFrance. They have a hopeful No. 2 in Jalil Carter. If Akron's track record in converting players to receiver continues (Domenik Hixon, Andre Jones), he will be a good one. But that's more uncertainty than you want out of a No. 2. Also, there is a dropoff after Carter. Anthony Meriwether played well at times last season. Nadir Brown has the physical tools if he toughens up and improves his hands. Curtis Brown has looked great in scrimmages, but he hasn't done anything when it matters. Gary Pride has not found his niche yet. The list goes on. Ianello might look to a true freshman to get serious minutes if these underclassmen don't figure it out by the end of August. Outlook: Dim
Special teams -- We have the usual suspects back at place kicker: Igor Iveljic and Branco Rogovic. They've both had their chance to claim the job, but neither had done it. Josh Couch or Zack Campbell will punt. Campbell, a junior, showed a big leg at times last year, but he is a walk-on. Couch grayshirted last season. It appears Jeremy LaFrance and Nate Burney will be the primary returners, unless a true freshman steps in. Outlook: Mixed
Defensive line -- The 4-3 scheme will allow Akron to take advantage of its depth along the line and open more playmaking opportunities for players like Shawn Lemon and Almondo Sewell. At tackle, Dan Marcoux, Joe Rash and Cowles Stewart will see time, along with the anchor, Sewell. At end, Lemon is the best pass rusher, and you'll also see plenty of Shane Shead, Hasan Hazime and Deni Odofin. Outlook: Very bright
Linebacker -- Brian Wagner, Sean Fobbs and Mike Thomas make up the best linebacker corps in the MAC -- and I'm not even bothering to look at other rosters. They are all big-time playmakers, and Wagner should be a Defensive Player of the Year candidate. Matt Little, Will Fleming and Troy Gilmer are more than capable of providing depth. Outlook: Blindingly bright
Cornerback -- Manley Waller is a shut-down corner by MAC standards. The other corner appears to be Diamond Weaver, who has played OK. Ideally, one of the younger players, such as Marvase Byrd, will earn time as the year progresses. Outlook: Bright
Safety -- Taking Carter from this position hurts. Only five players on the roster are listed as safeties (Kevin Davis, Thomas Miller, Jared Province, Doug Richardson, and Josh Richmond). By my count, only two are scholarship players. None has contributed significantly before. Three-star recruit Anthony Holmes might see playing time sooner than desirable. Outlook: Very dim
Overall -- The Zips won't be rebuilding next season. There is plenty of talent on the roster. The three critical questions are: 1) Whether a receiver or two will emerge to make the passing game effective. 2) Whether the weakness at safety can be masked by an uber-effective front seven and decent cornerbacks. 3) Whether Ianello can motivate the team to provide a consistent effort throughout the 12-game season. Outlook: Bright