Playing in a suspect conference, Akron knows any loss could prevent a good seed in the NCAA Tournament.
The Zips made their first step against No. 10 New Mexico tonight, winning 3-1 in the opening night of the Westfield Insurance Cup.
Anthony Ampaipitakwong, Elliott Bradbrook and Ivan Sandoval scored against the Lobos' goaltender Mike Graczyk, a preseason All-American.
The Zips will play Alabama-Birmingham Sunday at 5 p.m.
The theme: Stan Brock says he's really excited about the defense. They have a lot of starters back, but that's the bad news. (I stole that line from Lou Holtz.) The team was fifth-to-last in the nation in rush defense. The pass defense was seventh in the nation, but why pass when you can run at your leasure? To show those stats aren't the result of an outstanding secondary, Army only intercepted four balls last season.
Anyhow, theeeey're baaaaaaack! And ready to give up acres of yards once again. The best player is safety Caleb Campbell, who isn't particularly talented, but displays high energy. That's how most of the team is. It's hard to blame the coaching staff because it's difficult to get recruits into West Point.
The key players: SS Campbell, LB Charlie Rockwood
The weaknesses: Defensive line, linebackers
How the Zips can score: Dennis Kennedy will be busy. So will his three backups. With both teams running nonstop, the inaugural Patriot Bowl won't be too exciting, but it should be quick.
According to the recruiting sites, Painesville point guard Alex Sullivan has committed to Akron.
Rivals.com calls it a soft verbal, which seems like a lesser level of commitment. Neither site offers much more insight on Sullivan.
Akron will have five scholarships to offer this recruiting season. Combo guard Anthony "Humpty" Hitchens already has accepted one.
Looking at the roster, the team will need a couple big men to replace Quade Milum and Jeremiah Wood.
The ABJ's Michael Beaven reminded me that Rydell Brooks has transferred from Niagara. He will sit out this season due to transfer rules. No word on whether he will receive a scholarship. If he does, that will make four point guards on scholarship (five if you count Hitchens). And they'll all be underclassmen. Can somebody say "logjam"?
His blog provides Brooks' stats at Niagara, which were unimpressive as a freshmen. Beaven told me he has seen Brooks play and is impressed by the guard's athleticism, jump shot and slashing ability. At 6-foot-2, he will be a good defender in trapping situations.
Under Keith Dambrot, players have never returned from summer in such great shape, according to assistant coach Jeff Boals.
The team opened its conditioning period with a mile run. Cedrick Middleton, who spent his summer interning at ESPN in Bristol, Conn., blew everyone away with a time of 4 minutes, 47 seconds.
Many players have lost significant weight, including Jeremiah Wood, Steve McNees and Nick Dials.
The Zips worked really hard last season to compile an outstanding record. With the way it all disappeared with Penno's Prayer, the team could have responded in two ways: give up or work even harder. Coaches are raving about how their players have taken the latter path, and it all starts with Middleton (who must be considered team captain, in my opinion).
"Coach was talking about how Cedrick has changed the complexion of the program with how hard he works," Boals said.
Another good sign is that every player is solid academically.
Looking ahead, the starting lineup probably will consist of three guards again. You can't keep Middleton or Dials out of the starting lineup, but you also don't want to force either into a true point guard role. Ronnie Steward, a Dru Joyce clone, and McNees, a flashy passer, will platoon at the 1.
The coaches are realistic in thinking the team might not be that great to begin the year. Joyce and Romeo Travis meant a lot, particularly in intangibles. Joyce's graduation leaves a hole for the team's "quarterback" and go-to shooter in the clutch. Travis' offense and rebounding kept Akron alive in many games.
The team has just one exhibition scheduled. Walsh University will visit on Nov. 8.
(The purpose of this post is to deter mass suicide among Zips fans if Akron loses to Army on Saturday.)
The theme: Stan Brock took over this season for Bobby Ross as head coach. As an assumption in recommending Brock, Ross believed his son Kevin would stay on as the offensive coordinator. Army hired Brock; Brock canned Kevin -- possibly a sign that there's a new scheme coming.
David Pevoto won the starting quarterback job over Carson Williams, in what one has to consider an upset. Williams, a sophomore, has upside and played well at times after taking over the job last season. Pevoto, a senior, showed more consistency during camp, Brock said.
In the end, this will be a running team. The new wishbone offense will include three backs, one receiver and a tight end. It makes running the option possible on every play and to either side. It works well to emphasize Army's backfield depth. They also want a fullback on the field to make up for blocking deficiencies among a new offensive line.
The key players: WR Jeremy Trimble, RB Wesley McMahand, QB Pevoto
The weaknesses: Offensive line, wide receivers, quarterback
How the Zips can stop them: Take advantage of the Zips' team speed in ball hawking. It shouldn't be terribly difficult to cover Trimble, keep an eye on the tight end and send everyone else on the field after McMahand on every play. The wishbone offense is not terribly complicated to defend. I would be surprised if Army is able to sustain any drive longer than 40 yards.
If you have not joined Dan Kadar's College Football Pick'em League on Yahoo, please do so now.
It's fun. It can give you bragging rights. It will help you keep up on the weekend's football activity.
Begin by clicking here. The group ID is 7144. The password is kentsucks.
If you already signed up for the league, remember your picks are due soon.
I plan to begin breaking down Army in the next couple days. Today, I will talk about the Black Knights' offense. Tomorrow is defense.
Question: Is Akron equipped with play-making wide receivers after the loss of DH and JL?
Discussion: In the span of one week last spring, the Zips' receiving corps went from tops in the conference to a severe concern. Two players left the team, and that meant the groups consisted of Jabari Arthur and a bunch of guys you probably haven't heard of. Let's begin by introducing those guys.
Stephon Fuqua was a high school teammate of Ted Ginn Jr. at Cleveland Glenville High School. He earned the starting job next to Arthur this fall. He ranked sixth in his senior class academically and only played one year of high school football. That potential made it clear why J.D. Brookhart took a risk on him in his first recruiting class.
The backups, however, I thought performed better in camp. Brandon Williams is a junior from Tampa who chose the Zips over Duke and Iowa State. He excels in making tacklers miss with his moves. He has played parts of three games during his time with the team. Another receiver likely to receive time is Alphonso Owen, who transferred from Malone College, where he was a star. He seems like he could be a good deep threat.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. The team has warm bodies. So what? Can they fill in for their departed teammates?
Answer: My inclination is to say yes. Throughout recent team history, talent has filled in for talent at wide receiver. Before Charlie Frye's senior season, the team needed to replace several receivers. They found Domenik Hixon. When Hixon left, DH and JL showed up. Now that they're gone, someone else should step in. Mid-majors typically are successful in recruiting wide receivers.
Each of the receivers has shown flashes of being an above-average MAC performer. Combine that with Arthur, whose physical presence and speed could make him an NFL draft pick, and the receiving corps looks significantly better than at the beginning of August.
A couple days after the decision, Carlton Jackson sent J.D. Brookhart a text message: "Coach, I just wanted to let you know I'm behind you 100 percent in the decision."
Brookhart did Jackson no favor by refusing to speak about last season's off-the-field problem. I, and most fans, started to assume the worst -- that Jackson is uncoachable, possibly involved with the wrong people or activities. This gesture, however, says a lot about the Zips' backup quarterback.
No disrespect to Chris Jacquemain, who works harder than perhaps anyone on the field, it makes me more confident that this team will be Jackson's by midseason.
Question: Did the offensive line -- full of talent, low on experience -- gel quickly enough to protect a new quarterback?
Akron's offensive line displays a great diversity in terms of geography, experience and the level of recruitment they saw after high school. Will these five guys develop chemistry to prevent a repeat of last season, when Luke Getsy was constantly on the run? The spring was a mixed bag. Run blocking seemed fairly solid, but that wasn't the original concern. It's pass blocking that could ruin the Zips' new quarterback.
During blitzes, Brion Stokes and the Zips pass rushers typically found easy access to the quarterback. Soon, however, Chris Jacquemain found a way to beat it. Like all solid pros know, when the defense sends the house, dump off the ball to a running back or tight end and set up a convoy to take him 30 yards. This play fits perfectly into Jacquemain's skill set and should be an excellent weapon against over-aggressive defenses.
Against the normal base defense this spring, the offensive line held water. Of course, no one really can say whether that means anything. The defensive front couldn't sack a Barbie doll last year. As I have said, though, it proves the offensive line is prepared to stop at least a bad pass rush.
When compared to other head coaches, J.D. Brookhart usually is optimistic. Still, his quote Monday assured me a little more about the line's solidity. "We will have three freshmen starting on the offensive line, and I've said it a number of times -- they are going to be good," he said. (Psst. Coach, you only have two freshmen starting.)
Answer: Not quite, but it improved this spring. And where the pass blocking lacked, the offensive creativity picked up.
Tomorrow: Are there enough playmakers on this team?
Question: Did any freshmen assume key roles this month?
Discussion: Akron keeps bringing in these outstanding recruiting classes. And usually the team sees an impact from one or two true freshmen throughout the season. Many players showed off their talent. Jalil Carter, for example, will be an outstanding cornerback. But it would be hard to justify wasting his redshirt on a position with considerable depth. Then you have players who competed well without necessarily blowing anyone away, but will probably see time this season out of a starvation for warm bodies at their positions. Examples include defensive linemen Shane Shead, Dan Marcoux and Shawn Lemon.
But if you're looking for the next DH, the best chance is Almondo Sewell. In fact, he had been practicing with the team for only two weeks before J.D. Brookhart handed him the starting defensive end job. Given the nature of his position -- a defensive lineman in the 3-3-5 scheme -- you might not hear Sewell's name a lot, but that won't mean he's not making an impact. If you watch closely, Sewell will show his value if the offensive line is devoting two or more blockers to stopping his penetration.
As I wrote yesterday, more freshman could emerge as the season progresses. If both quarterbacks fail, Brookhart won't hesitate to call upon Matt Rodgers. Once Gary Pride's back heals, he could become an option at punt or kicker returner.
Answer: One for sure. Perhaps more to come.
Question: Which quarterback will lead the team?
Discussion: As you probably know by now, Chris Jacquemain will take the Zips first snap Saturday against Army.
The Mentor native entered camp as the implied No. 2. The depth chart showed a tie with Carlton Jackson and Sean Hakes, but Jackson was Luke Getsy's backup last season.
Typically, this would mean Jacquemain must outright beat his competitor and former roommate. Did it happen? I don't think so.
Both passers put up nearly identical stats. Their throwing ability, although somewhat different, appeared comparable. The passers each made critical errors, yet also showed they can move the offense when at their best. So where did Jacquemain overtake Jackson? The coaches pinpointed their main issue in the decision as finding a quarterback who "would not lose the game" for them. That factor did not separate the candidates.
With Jacquemain's victory in the battle, one must assume there was an intangible that propelled him. Perhaps he showed a firmer grasp on Joe Moorhead's new offense in team meetings. Maybe Jacquemain possessed stronger leadership capability.
Regardless, this decision appeared to be one that would reverberate throughout the next three season. With true freshman Matt Rodgers' incredible progression, a second battle could ensue next August.
Answer: Jacquemain will get the first chance. However, the mere mention that Jackson will play in the second quarter shows that the coaches are willing to allow the quarterback battle to continue at least through the early part of the season. My guess is Jackson will eventually overtake Jacquemain.
While quarterbacks wear green jerseys, coaches were in the dark as to which player could elude tacklers in the open field. It is only my opinion, but that is why I think Jackson will be the starter by the Kent State game. And if neither player proves capable, watch for Rodgers to get a chance.
Akron beat Cleveland State 3-0 Sunday afternoon in the final preseason game.
The Zips knocked off Lehigh and Temple Sunday to win the Temple Invitational and retain an undefeated record.
Jennifer Stewart led the team with 25 digs. (Is that a lot?)
The ABJ's Marla Ridenour wrote about how Domenik Hixon won't let injuries deter him again. You'll have to pick up a copy of the paper because I can't find the story online.
Hixon and Charlie Frye both played well last night. Frye's performance solidified his status as the starter -- unless Romeo Crennel is dumber than I thought.
Hixon caught three balls for 18 yards. Frye went 5-of-7 for 68.
Later today, I'll attempt to answer camp question No. 2: What is the quarterback situation?
The question: Can the defensive line hold up?
Discussion: The defensive line was my biggest concern heading into camp. J.D. Brookhart was pretty uncertain, too. Has it changed? Yes and no.
In scrimmage situations, the defense was able to penetrate and rush the quarterback. What does that mean? For one, it shows the pass rush is ahead of last season, when even bad offensive lines were able to protect their passers. Maybe Akron's offensive line is really bad at pass blocking. Maybe the Zips' blitz has improved. It will be hard to decipher the real reason until Sept. 1 against Army.
In terms of run stopping, the line performed fairly well. Sure, the Zips offense moved the ball, but it should have. The ground game will be the focus of the new offense, and the roster is peppered with talented running backs.
As far as personnel goes, the 3-3-5 scheme includes a tackle, nose guard and end on the defensive line. The coaches added a potential four-year starter at defensive end in Almondo Sewell. Don't expect him to be a star right away, but the fact that he displaced Eric Lively should say something. With the injury to Jared Cecchetti (which I will soon discuss further), Lively moves again -- from guard to tackle. Wallace Pendleton will start in the middle of the formation at guard.
Of course, the real concern never has been the starters. It's the depth. Nate Robinson can backup at tackle and guard. Until Cecchetti returns, the rest is a crapshoot. The coaches don't quite know what they have in Mitchell Magloire, Viktor Rajek, Shawn Lemon or the seven true freshmen. Of the newcomers, the most imposing appears to be Marquinn Davis, who stands 6-foot-6, 280 pounds. Brookhart said at least two of the true freshmen will burn their redshirts to help in 2007.
Cecchetti could return from his broken foot by the end of September. That grants Brookhart the flexibility of a five-man rotation, and perhaps six if one the "unknowns" emerges. But that's only if the line hasn't suffered another injury.
So yes, the defensive line's play has been better than expected this month, but depth still is a monumental concern. If I'm defensive coordinator Jim Fleming, I insert and substitute the unproven defensive linemen like a manager switching pitchers in a late-inning nailbiter. He must find a couple more players who will step up and provide energy. I understand the concern of wasting their true freshman redshirt rights, but what good is a bulk of defensive linemen who never see the field until their junior year?
Looking ahead to next season, the starting line probably will include Iowa transfer and consensus "beast" of the team, Ryan Bain, along with Sewell and Lively. By then, the young players should be prepared to add an imposing two-deep field.
But this year, the line's viability depends on health, quick learning on the job and the full recovery of Cecchetti.
UofAZips.com has added a new feature called RooTube (how appropriate).
You can view Zips-related videos on the site or send new clips to site administrator Jason Roberts at email@example.com.
Even without three regulars, Akron beat Michigan State 2-0 in the Zips' first exhibition match.
Ben Zemanski and Elliot Bradbrook scored the game's only goals. Matt Tutich, Ossie Michalsen and Anthony Ampaipitakwong sat out with minor injuries.
Akron will play Cleveland State in the preseason's final game tomorrow at 5 p.m. at Lee Jackson Field.
Waking up at 7:30 on a Saturday isn't ideal.
Getting up for no reason makes it worse.
Without notice to the media, J.D. Brookhart canceled its final practice of fall camp, which was supposed to be a mock game.
Regardless, sometime today, I'll answer the first of my camp questions: Will any defensive line depth emerge?
Recruiting is an exciting business, but what always has fascinated me is which teams a player turns down in favor of their ultimate suitor.
That, in my opinion, is the best way to get a grasp on the player's talent. For example, we knew Almondo Sewell would be an immediate contributor based on Al Groh and Virginia's desire to lock him up. The level of competition should say much more than an arbitrary ranking from a Web site's "scouts."
Well, I screwed up.
Contrary to my report, Chris Jacquemain has earned the "starting" job. I use quotation marks because it seems like the coaches settled on a platoon.
Carlton Jackson will play the second quarter of games, coach J.D. Brookhart said.
I like the idea of giving both a chance to play early. You never really know what an inexperienced quarterback is capable of until you send blitzers who won't yield because you're wearing a different color jersey.
Despite the perception that Jackson is the Michael Vick-type quarterback and Jacquemain is a West Coast passer, both players have shown a similar style during spring and fall. Both scramble quite often. Both rely on passes to the flats.
If you're curious, here's how I screwed this up: A player told me after practice that they made the quarterback decision already. He said he was sworn to secrecy. I did a little snooping and found out how one of the candidates felt about the decision, and that response made it clear, to me at least, what Brookhart decided. That turned out to be false. Sorry.
After a little snooping, I found out that Carlton Jackson took over first-string at quarterback.
He is poised to start Sept. 1 against Army.
After practice, J.D. Brookhart said he's not opposed to a semi-platoon, where the backup (which now appears to be Chris Jacquemain) gets a couple series per game. He also remained open to changing that decision upon future performance.
I am about 90 percent certain that this information is accurate. Brookhart told me he would decide tonight, which apparently wasn't the case. I will confirm it tomorrow at practice.
It's the last day of tryouts for the high school basketball team. Your steady jump shot has devolved into an uncontrolled fire hose. Your crisp passes find more gymnasium walls than open teammates.
Chris Jacquemain and Carlton Jackson commiserate.
With final cuts coming tonight, the performance of both candidates in today's scrimmage only was persuasive to show why they don't deserve the job.
"We looked like a broken machine," said coach J.D. Brookhart, who will decide his starter tonight. "I don't think the quarterbacks, either of them, operated well today."
Aside from one Igor Iveljic field goal, the offense failed to score in the hour-long scrimmage. Jackson was 4-for-7 for 18 yards. Jacquemain was 5-for-10 for 57 yards, including an interception.
The scrimmage began with a dropped pass from Jackson that Brion Stokes returned for a touchdown. A defensive offsides penalty negated that screw up. The offense gave it right back a few plays later on a fumbled option pitch.
Jacquemain's interception came on a deep pass to Alphonso Owen. With defensive back Amin Kabir running stride for stride, both players leaped for the ball and tumbled to the turf. The ball popped in the air without hitting the ground and Kabir nabbed it.
So, in a way, the quarterbacks weren't completely to blame for the huge errors, but they quite simply looked flat. The balls they did complete were dumpoffs or uncontested throws three yards from the line of scrimmage near the sideline.
Of course, you can always credit the defense for applying more effort than last scrimmage, when every Akron quarterback looked like an All-American.
"It was really the reverse of the last scrimmage," Brookhart said. The defense "responded and they played hard."
The quarterback decision will come down to which player won't lose the game. This is obviously a run-first team, and no playmaking ability will overcome a propensity for blowing it.
"I got confidence in Coach," Jacquemain said. "If I'm not the guy, hopefully CJ (Jackson) can lead the team to some wins."
Regardless of today's play, Brookhart's staff has been pleased with the passers' improvement since the spring. This may be a result of the battle between the sophomores.
"They say competition brings out the best in you," Jacquemain said. "This is one of the most competitive things I've ever done in my life."
The Zips' regular season will conclude with two games that could hold great significance for seeding in the MAC Tournament.
Keith Dambrot and Co. will travel to Athens for a matchup with Ohio, then come home for Senior Night against Kent State. With a new point guard, it would stand to reason the Zips will be playing their best basketball by the end of the season, so I would call that an advantage.
Losing a defensive lineman for an extended period was the one thing Akron could not afford.
When Jared Cecchetti went down with a broken fifth metatarsal in his foot, it happened.
The defensive lineman is expected out for five to six weeks. "That's a stinger right there," coach J.D. Brookhart said.
It's a similar injury to what Jabari Arthur suffered this spring. Former offensive lineman Mike Donaldson also broke that bone, but he returned in four weeks. Coaches hope to have their senior leader of the line back by then, too.
In Cecchetti's absence, Wallace Pendleton will play nose guard and Eric Lively will move back to tackle. Almondo Sewell's status as starting end is not affected.
Alumni Jason Roberts and Don Olson have announced the creation of a Zips fan club for non-students.
With strong professionalism and organization, they launched a Web site, complete with policies, features and goals. They also have the university's blessing.
Even if you're still enrolled in classes, check it out. If the group thrives, it appears to be a great way to keep up with fellow Zips fans after graduation.
Charlie Frye, your days as "the man" in Cleveland are limited.
I have never been a big Brady Quinn fan. He seemed to struggle against solid defenses in college. He held out of training camp for far too long. Oh yeah, and he's too much of a pretty boy for my liking as the face of an NFL franchise.
But, man, did he look good on Saturday night!
Some people rightly will say his performance came against scrubs. However, if you more closely analyze his performance, you will see he was making quick decisions. He read defenses like a psychic.
And then there were two...
Those were the words of J.D. Brookhart as he announced his decision to restrict the starting quarterback competition to Carlton Jackson and Chris Jacquemain.
Has Matt Rodgers' arm soreness played a part? "Yes and no," the coach said.
Still, that Rodgers was alive in the competition this long speaks a lot to the true freshman's talent. It's very possible Rodgers still could see action this season. First, considering his age, it stands to reason that he will continue to progress faster than Jackson and Jacquemain. Second, it's no guarantee the backup quarterback remains with the team, rather than transferring. Third, the starter will be on a leash shorter than usual, knowing that the competition in camp was tight.
Rodgers continued to get reps today at practice.
Has the offense transitioned from jayvee squad to the more dominant unit?
Not quite, but another week of progress and it could be that way.
In today's scrimmage, Akron's quarterbacks went 33-for-47, tallying four touchdowns. Chris Jacquemain and Carlton Jackson put up nearly identical stats, except that the former added a rushing touchdown and interception.
The running backs also played well. Dennis Kennedy rushed five times for 40 yards. Andre Walker took five handoffs for 23 yards. Bryan Williams struggled, running seven times for six yards (but there's good news coming for him later in the blog). Alex Allen has a minor hamstring injury and did not play. "We have a good idea of what he can do, J.D. Brookhart said.
The wide receivers may not have the same talent as last season, but their route-running ability has impressed me. Marcus Patterson is going to be a useful possession receiver. Alphonso Owen is adept at catches near the sideline. Jabari Arthur has reminded me of how he set a Motor City Bowl record for receiving yards. He is going deep and Jackson has looked his way several times during camp, including a long over-the-shoulder touchdown catch today.
Like with any scrimmage, both sides cannot receive rave reviews. Brookhart was upset with his first- team defense's effort, saying they should be shutting the first-team offense down at this point in camp.
I lied. I was able to catch about 15 minutes of practice today.
I dropped by just in time for the goalline situation, which saw Carlton Jackson score on his feet and Chris Jacquemain score with his arm, finding Brian Flaherty in the endzone.
J.D. Brookhart was quite liberal throwing out taunting flags after each play. So the kickers both got a shot at an extra point from about 35 yards. Igor Iveljic's was blocked. Matt Domonkos' attempt was perfect.
A couple people have asked whether Zach Campbell is still in the running for kicker. Honestly, I don't think so -- but only based on the circumstances that it's not convenient to do each kicking drill three times in front of the entire team. The way I put it doesn't quite make sense, but believe me. If Campbell performs well during practice, he will get a chance during his Zips career.
Tomorrow is the all-important scrimmage that will determine many depth chart question marks. If you're lucky, I'll con a few people into doing a podcast with me afterward.
Akron placed last in the MAC East coaches' poll.
The team made strides last year, but struggled in conference play. From what I hear, coach Mike Sweitzer is really thrilled with his incoming recruiting class. He brought in the kind of athleticism the program has never seen.
Junior Jennifer Stewart will return from a back injury. Before that, she was one of Akron's cornerstones.
The season begins Aug. 24.
This time last year, I couldn't find enough time to post all the Web sites expecting great things out of the defending MAC Champion Zips.
If you've done any Web surfing, you'd know things are different now.
Experts expect five to seven wins out of the Zips -- at best. The Zips are absent from ESPN.com's bowl predictions. Also, the Zips got a 24 seed (in a four-region tournament) in CollegeFootballNews.com's Ultimate National Championship bracket. The Zips "lost" 28-7 in the first round to No. 9 Arizona, whose brick wall defensive line stuffed Akron on three redzone opportunities.
In the MAC, a lack of respect is not necessarily a bad thing. Akron, with what seemed like a gaping hole at wide receiver and quarterback, stunned the nation in 2005. This team reminds me a lot of that one.
Five of six MAC head coaches predicted Akron will win the regular season title this season; three said the Zips will go on to win the conference tournament, as well.
Coach Caleb Porter returns nine letterwinners from a team that won a share of the last year's regular season crown, but lost in the tournament to Northern Illinois. The team also will add the nation's No. 5 recruiting class.
Preseason camp begins Wednesday.
It's 10:30. I have four hours of studying and three hours of being at work before my class begins at 6 p.m. tonight. If you do the math, it might barely work out.
My point is, I won't attend practice today, but I will report from the Zips scrimmage tomorrow morning.
I dreaded Sunday mornings. Mom's screeching howl echoed through the house. "Mike! Nate! Abby! Wake up for church."
Knowing I could read Terry Pluto's weekly column on the ride there made it a whole lot easier to roll out of bed.
It would be a stretch to say the Beacon Journal's lead sports columnist delivered me from the depths of hell, but his spiritual columns afforded me growth as a person. His sports columns helped me learn to write like a pro (a process painfully still in progress).
Pluto is the writer that I grew up with. Many people my age will say the same. The way he looked at sports became the way we looked at sports. He was one of three remaining "voices" from a newspaper that once won Pulitzers like the Tribe once pulled down pennants (the others being Bob Dyer and Chip Bok).
Pluto accepted a job at the Cleveland Plain Dealer. My bosses won't appreciate this endorsement, but Cleveland.com is just a click away, so it's not a total loss for area sports fans who loved to read his assessment of Northeast Ohio sports.
In my ventures across the midwest as a college journalist, I told seasoned industry-types that I'm from Akron and I was a business writer for the Akron Beacon Journal. "Whoa," they usually responded. "Great newspaper for that size." When I added that I intended to be a sports writer, they often responded, "In Terry Pluto, you have a great mentor." Bob Kravitz, my former colleague at the Indianapolis Star who frequently is seen on ESPN, especially sung Terry's praises. Kravitz, now the Star's top sports columnist, said Pluto was a mentor when they both worked at the Plain Dealer.
I have sat next to Terry on several press rows. I've spoken with him at length about sportswriting. He genuinely is a good person. After I told him about my plans for law school, he provided me with one warning that will stick: "One day, you'll wake up and wish you were writing about sports again." (That ugly truth rings inside me each time I post a blog entry, as silly as that sounds.)
This sounds way too much like an obituary. For that I apologize. I suppose I'm just a bit upset my writer won't write for my newspaper anymore. I'm certain many fans agree. It's must be like seeing Bob Huggins leave for Cincinnati. You knew his talent too big for this town, but you hoped he'd stay anyhow.
A lot of people complained about the way Terry wrote about the Zips -- that he was too patronizing, that he believed UA was just a sideshow for when the big boys weren't playing. That isn't the way Terry feels. You could always tell he loved sitting on press row at Rhodes Arena, watching the Zips. Although he didn't necessarily give the games the same magnitude as Ohio State, maybe it's for the best. What serious sports fan would give merit to a columnist who does?
Anyhow, my guess is that the ABJ will name a new columnist from within. Typically, that's how it works at newspapers this size. What reader will connect with a writer from, say, San Diego talking about the significance of the Cavaliers' playoff run? And although I am flattered by your consideration, it's more likely that Mike Rouse bats cleanup tomorrow evening than the ABJ calls on yours truly.
If anyone, like myself, is thankful for having Terry around for 22 years, let him know. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Slowly, yes slowly, it seems some of the team's problems are fading.
The offensive line is looking less like a booth of turnstiles. The defensive line finally appears to be deeper than a puddle. The quarterbacks and wide receivers are playing better.
We'll start with the offensive line, where protecting against six-man blitzes still is a problem, but at least the line has given the quarterback time to throw under normal defensive schemes. J.D. Brookhart said young players, such as Mike Ward, Corey Woods and Zach Anderson, are progressing nicely. Watching Anderson, a tackle who came to campus highly touted but has not earned much playing time, it is apparent he has an edge to him. The line still needs to communicate better, Brookhart said. Progress should continue as the linemen become better acquainted with the new protection schemes the coaching staff implemented.
The defensive line is looking better and probably won't be a liability in 2007. In fact, it probably will be a strength in the seasons thereafter. True freshman defensive end Almondo Sewell will play this season. There is little chance the coaches will redshirt him. More than likely, at least one or two of the other true freshmen also will play. Just remember, in the 3-3-5, the defensive linemen are not heroes. They are hole fillers. A lack of sacks from them is to be expected. The main pass rushers will be linebackers Brion Stokes and Doug Williams.
Most impressive is the efficiency by the quarterbacks and receivers (whenever the passer has been granted time to throw). Matt Rodgers sat out today, and might miss an additional practice or two, with a sore right arm from throwing too much. Chris Jacquemain and Carlton Jackson both played well today. Both need to get rid of the ball sooner and know when it's best to just heave it out of bounds. For the most part, they found open receivers who are running better routes. Alphonso Owen particularly looks like a player who can help the Zips move the chains.
Today easily could be the nicest day of the year: sunny, not too humid but warm and not a cloud in the sky.
The Zips took advantage by practicing twice.
The morning session went well, coach J.D. Brookhart said. I showed up for an hour of action during the afternoon.
Considering Matt Rodgers could end up as Akron's starting quarterback, I decided to take a look at some of his highlight videos from Seton La Salle High School in Pittsburgh.
The videos aren't like other quarterback recruit videos. Rodgers ran more of a West Coast offense in high school. The passes are crisp and short. Timing is key. Normally, you see a passer showing off his cannon. Rodgers' videos show a guy who certainly can move an offense, but more likely will do it with 10 passes instead of one bomb.
The Zips freshman also shows off some running skills. Although he eludes tacklers with relative ease, one must realize it's only high school. James Laurinaitis won't whiff on a sack attempt.
Rodgers' progression is the biggest surprise in camp. No, the fact that the coaches are considering a true freshman is the biggest surprise.
And in that vein, what about Carlton Jackson and Chris Jacquemain if that happens? I think Jackson's skill set is ideal for a deep-strike wide receiver. Jacquemain, I think, would continue to take snaps as a viable backup quarterback.
One would think that Sean Hakes' departure would indicate a two-player race for the quarterback job between Chris Jaquemain and Carlton Jackson.
True freshman Matt Rodgers is still very much in the picture. So much, in fact, that J.D. Brookhart has extended his self-imposed deadline of narrowing the quarterback field to two by yesterday.
"Matt has brought himself into play," Brookhart said, adding that the freshman had not thrown an interception or fumbled all camp until this weekend.
That fact is probably why the Zips are still considering Rodgers. They want a quarterback who may move the ball at a meager rate, but will keep the team in the game by avoiding turnovers and making the smart play.
Two people affiliated with the team before had told me Rodgers is a strong candidate, but I wasn't sure how "strong" until Brookhart's confidence in him swayed me.
For $10 tonight, you can meet your favorite Zips and feast on a buffet dinner.
"Meet the Team" starts at 5 p.m. in Stile Field House. I plan to drop by practice today, so I'll have some notes for you. For those of you who attend the event tonight, I'd be interested to hear your impressions of some of the players and any tidbits you pick up.
Zips quarterbacks completed 22 of 33 passes and avoided interceptions Saturday in the team's first of several two-a-days.
As an Akron fan, you should root for the passing game to improve. Yes, that's obvious. In several aspects of the game -- the defensive line rushing the quarterback, for example -- success means failure on the other side of the ball. Because the Zips' secondary is established as a strength, any progress in moving the ball through the air is a welcomed sight.
Despite the loss of Sean Hakes, three quarterback are playing in camp. True freshman Matt Rodgers has impressed many people, from what I hear (although I've seen nothing to lead me to jump on his bandwagon). I plan to attend camp a few days next week so I'll talk to J.D. Brookhart about that then.
Here's some bad news, however. In the team's updated roster, two names are left off: junior defensive lineman Craig Truax and true freshman defensive back Da-Von Moore. I'll find out more about that, too.
Sean Hakes came to campus from Texas as a heralded quarterback with a playing style similar to Charlie Frye.
Yesterday, he left the team for reasons unknown to J.D. Brookhart or his competitors for the starting job.
"I think it's a shame," the coach said. "I feel bad and wish he could've been part of the team."
Brookhart planned to whittle the competition to two quarterbacks later this week. Before he could, Hakes did it for him.
Carlton Jackson and Chris Jacqueman now will compete for the starting role. Jackson said he had no idea Hakes was leaving or why.
"I wish the best of luck to him and his family," the sophomore said.
Brookhart also mentioned that it was a decision Hakes made "with his dad," which leads one to speculate whether it was a family decision.
The coach dismissed injury as a possible reason. Hakes sat out of practice this week with a tweaked back. He had an MRI scheduled for yesterday, which was canceled.
Regardless, the quarterback battle continues. Brookhart rated his passers' performance as a 5 out of 10. "Part of (the problem) is them. Part of it is not," he said.
Brookhart said his passers need to get rid of the ball sooner. Also, they need to understand a punt often is a better option than forcing a third-down pass that leads to a turnover.
The part that "isn't their fault" refers to the pass blocking, which has been abysmal for the most part. The quarterbacks have, at most, three seconds before being wrapped up in the low-contact drills. Brookhart attributed many sacks to the third-team offensive line attempting to ward off blitzes from the starting defense.
It also should help to get back starting tackle Keith Huebner, who has a banged up knee. Brookhart expects him back on the field by Saturday.
"We got a lot of young guys," Jackson said of the line. "They've been making freshmen mistakes, but they're giving 100 percent."
Not wanting to pick the toothpick out of someone else's eye, Jackson said he still needs to improve on everything. Care to specifiy one or two areas, CJ? "No. Everything."
Jacquemain said he has improved a lot since the spring, particularly in terms of leadership. He vowed to work harder than ever in his life. That was apparent as sweat profusely dripped down his face after practice.
Neither quarterback seemed concerned about the loss of DH and JL (whose names will not be mentioned on this blog until further notice). Both mentioned Stephon Fuqua as a guy who could become an impact player, whose hands have improved.
"All of our receivers are playmakers," Jackson said.
Domenik Hixon's career began with a false start, but it appears it could take off.
Champ Bailey, for one, is thoroughly impressed by the former Zips' star and his speed and ability to stop on a dime.
The Broncos' receivers are banged up during camp. Mike Shanahan is looking for an athlete to start next to Javon Walker. Hixon has a decent chance to do that.
I plan to roll out of bed soon and head to football practice. It doesn't help there's a James Bond movie on TV, though.
We may be years from a groundbreaking, but at least the official conversations for a new arena have begun.
It may have started due to mayor Don Plusquellic's anger over the Quaker Square deal, in which the university bought the property, robbing the city of one of its two downtown hotels.
The university made a deal that would continue to keep half of those rooms open for two years. Also part of the agreement is that if the university builds an arena, it will be downtown. Lastly, the university will provide land for a new hotel to replace the Crowne Plaza.
I'm scratching my head a little about what the university gets out of this deal. I think the assumption is that the city would assist in gathering that land and maybe paying for the structure.
The stadium would be used for more than Zips basketball -- men's and women's. "The Don" mentioned minor league hockey and arena football. (Heck, by the time this thing is built, an NHL team could come here.)
Click the above link and listen to the mayor talk about the plan. It's interesting for sure.
Romeo Travis has signed with Alerta Cantabria, a professional team in Spain.
He should be an impact player on that team. To give some perspective, another signing was Ryvon Coville, a player from the University of Detroit-Mercy, who averaged 13.7 points and 10.6 rebounds per game.
The story is linked from Hoopshype.com, which refers to Travis as "LeBron James' friend."
GoZips.com added some interesting notes from yesterday's practice, including an interview with Paul Simokovich, the touted offensive guard recruit.
Simkovich said the speed is much greater in college, and it was a completely different level that he isn't used to. That's a practice without pads.
UA's Mike Cawood also mentioned a deep pass from Carlton Jackson to Marcus Patterson, which I must have missed. In addition, the ABJ's David Lee Morgan wrote about the running back situation.
I considered going to practice today, but it's pretty lousy outside.
Akron hired a new golf coach today with an impressive resume.
Nick Goetze comes to the Zips by way of Mississippi State, where he led the Bulldogs to new heights. He also coached at UTEP, which also is the former institution of Mack Rhoades.
Earlier this summer, Rhoades lost a coach in Tom Porten who nearly led the team to the MAC Championship. Porten went to Kent State to be an assistant coach.
My only criticism of Goetze is his 254.8 driving distance while on the PGA Tour. Come on, man. That's a 5-wood for anyone else.
As if that wasn't enough golf news today, Rhoades announced the university's first-ever women's golf coach.
Jenny King comes from Kentucky, where she was an assistant. Before that, she led the Vampires of Translyvania University. (The school's mascot is just a guess.)
I give Rhoades an "A" grade on both hires. Both seem like good teachers with solid track records.
The university announced plans to re-grade the infield and install a new irrigation system on Lee Jackson Field -- the baseball one.
Akron began its search for a quarterback with -- surprise -- another nagging injury.
Sean Hakes sat out this time with a tweaked back. He should return tomorrow, but J.D. Brookhart said he still plans to whittle his quarterback stable to two by the end of the week.
Former Zips guard Andy Alleman has worked with the second-team offense during New Orleans Saints training camp.
He will debut Sunday evening in the Hall of Fame game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The teams will play, as always, in Canton's Faucett Stadium.
From what I hear, some of Alleman's teammates, including Reggie Bush, are downtown Akron tonight at the Barley House bar.
Speaking of the Barley House, I met Barry Sanders there last night. Please excuse my crazy eyes. It was a wild night. (Mr. Sanders declined to strike a pose in which he is stiff arming me.) I'll see if I can get a picture with Bush tonight.
The situation: Playmaker (n.) PLAHY-may-ker: An offensive player who executes plays designed to put one or more teammates in a position to score. I will expand that a little to say a playmaker can reverse the course of a game in a second from either offense or defense. In football, that translates to touchdowns caught, break-away runs, forced fumbles, interceptions and sacks.
Without question, the Zips' best playmaker in 2006 was receiver/kick returner David Harvey, who has left the team due to academic issues. Another exciting receiver, Jermaine Lindsey, also has left campus for similar reasons.
The question: Will Akron's offense have enough playmakers to outscore its opponents.
Discussion: Notice I didn't mention the defense. Last season, Andre Jones forced three fumbles. Reggie Corner grabbed four interceptions. Brion Stokes tallied 5.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss. Davanzo Tate broke up 13 passes and recovered two fumbles. Doug Williams and Brandon Anderson are exciting athletes who are poised to make plays. Kevin Grant and John Mackey are ... Kevin Grant and John Mackey. Whew. That's an exciting defense, that should have plenty of playmaking opportunities if the defensive line acts like a beaver dam, as J.D. Brookhart intends.
On offense, it’s not quite the same. There are solid players, mostly. Dennis Kennedy and Jabari Arthur are the cornerstones, but they aren’t gamebreakers by nature. Their chunks of yards will weather a defense, but I wouldn’t consider them playmakers. The same goes for Akron’s tight ends. Alex Allen has potential to break off long runs if he’s healthy. Carlton Jackson could be this year’s Dan LeFevour if he can avoid the big hits.
My main point is: One of about five receivers needs to step up and capture some of the excitement Harvey left behind. Possibilities include Stephon Fuqua, Brandon Williams, Gary Pride or one of the other freshmen. If Akron does not develop a player who demands double coverage, it will adversely affect the running game.
Prediction: I have not seen anything from the aforementioned receivers to make me believe All-MAC ability is on the roster. That puts more stress on Arthur to be the player we saw in the Motor City Bowl -- consistently.
The situation: The coach with the most difficult job this spring might be Brian Callahan, who instructs the offensive line. He will attempt to establish chemistry within a group of young linemen who have never worked together. Having watched six years of the Browns' annual swiss cheese line, I can tell you the cohesiveness and coaching is more important on the offensive line than any other position.
In 2005, Akron's line looked to be in rebuilding mode. Yet the players worked together to keep Luke Getsy vertical. Last season, missed assignments on blitzes left the Zips quarterback to be an infant in front of a locomotive. Callahan's specialty has been as a run coordinator, and he does a fine job at that. His challenge will be to get his linemen to avoid a repeat of 2006, where opponents sacked Getsy 31 times, fourth-most in the MAC. That goes doubly with a new quarterback, whether it be Carlton Jackson, Chris Jacquemain or Sean Hakes.
The question: Although the Zips have talent at offensive line, will they protect a new quarterback?
Discussion: That's right, there is talent. Chris Kemme, an All-MAC selection in 2006, appears headed to the pros. Newcomers Casey Estrada (junior college) and Paul Simkovich are three-star players, according to Rivals.com. Keith Huebner and Mike Ward are coaches' favorites who could emerge like Kemme. Jim Holley and Mike Schepp provide experience and possibly leadership.
A combination of Simkovich, Ward and Schepp will play most snaps at guard. Holley probably will man the center position. With Huebner and Kemme at tackle, the blind-side hits on the quarterback shouldn't be a problem. Like I said, though, the real question is whether they all can work together to avoid missed assignments on blitzes.
Prediction: Of all the "camp questions," this is most difficult to assess. Run blocking should not be a problem, especially considering the progress made during the spring. Pass blocking should develop as the season progresses. It helps to play Army -- the nation's worst team according to CFN -- the first week of the season. The Black Knights' defense logged only 11 sacks all of last season, so the Patriot Bowl should give the Zips coaches a good check-up before a true test at Ohio State.
In regards to pass blocking, all the line needs to do is be average. I think, in time, that will be guaranteed (if there is such a thing in discussing Akron's offensive line).
It would have been a travesty to see another talented local player go elsewhere, especially considering Will Fleming's father, Jim, is the Zips' defensive coordinator.
But Rivals.com is reporting that the younger Fleming, a safety from Hoban with offers from Hawaii and Akron, is close to committing to the latter. If he waited, Illinois, Michigan State and Wake Forest could have offered a scholarship, too.
On the other hand, Rivals is saying Whitney Mercilus, the touted defensive end from Garfield High School, is probably headed for Illinois.
Buchtel cornerback Johnny Adams still could be coming to Akron, despite offers from Illinois, Indiana, Michigan State, Purdue, Syracuse and West Virginia. He plans to narrow his list soon, though.
Keith Dambrot, you glory hound. Don't you know we're only allowed to talk football on this blog until December?
His staff beat out Butler and almost every MAC school for Chillicothe's Anthony Hitchens, whom Rivals.com called Ohio's top true point guard in 2008.
An abundance of persistence is what made Hitchens, nicknamed "Humpty," choose the Zips, the local newspaper says.
Hitchens is Akron's first verbal commitment of the year. I plan to have more on basketball recruiting in the coming week.
The situation: J.D. Brookhart has recruited three outstanding classes his first three years. A pattern has emerged (and maybe this pattern fits for each college football team). One freshman steps into a starting position and immediately becomes a star. A few show flashes in practice and see time on special teams. The rest are redshirted.
In 2005, Kevin Grant logged 73 tackles and 4.5 sacks on his way to a Freshman All-American Honorable Mention. Last season, David Harvey became an incredible weapon at wide receiver and kick returner. He also earned All-American honors.
The question: Which freshmen, if any, can be stars or at least contribute in their first year on campus?
Discussion: To answer the question, don't bother worrying about how many stars the players received from Rivals.com. First consider where Akron lacks depth. That would be wide receiver and defensive line. Then consider Brookhart's new-found obsession (and rightly so) for special teams. True freshmen who are likely to play probably will fill one of these needs, and maybe two.
Most hardcore Zips fans will point first to linebacker Almondo Sewell. He is 6-foot-2, 235-pounds and runs a 4.5 in the 40-yard dash. That is the equivalent of an AK-47 on a kickoff coverage team. But will the coaches want to waste his redshirt? The Zips have plenty of good linebackers and it would take a few injuries to justify playing him on defense this year.
Then you have Paul Simkovich, the three-star offensive lineman who decommitted from Michigan State to be a Zip. He has potential to play from Day One. Will Brookhart want to add even more youth to the line at the cost of Simkovich's redshirt?
Notice I have not mentioned Vince Hill. The receiver from Maryland fell short on his SAT and will attend prep school. David Harvey Pt. II hopes to attend Virginia after that. Jalil Carter and Jerome Royal, both of whom run sub-4.5 and are at least 6-1, easily could earn playing time instead of Hill, whom I personally expected to be a star this season.
At defensive line, Akron signed six players. Dan Marcoux and Hassan Hazime intrigue me most, and not just because they have cool names. Marcoux is 6-4, 250 and -- gasp! -- he maintained a 3.1 GPA in high school. Hazime is more of a defensive end. The Ontario native is 6-5, 235 and runs a 4.5. That he was not highly recruited leads me to believe he might be a little raw.
Prediction: Akron should not concern itself too much with protecting redshirts. You must consider the effect InfoCision Stadium will play on recruiting. Why not allow Sewell to bust some helmets on special teams this season when it becomes more and more likely that Brookhart can enlist a new Sewell each February?
While Sewell probably must wait another year to crack the linebacker rotation, Simkovich could beat out Mike Ward this fall for the left guard spot. For depth purposes, at least one of the six defensive linemen probably will not redshirt. The same goes for one of the wide receivers.
The aforementioned players probably will see a series or two per game during the second half of the season. Who is this year's Harvey or Grant? I think it's Gary Pride. With 4.4 speed and excellent quickness, his athleticism suits the punt returner job perfectly. Pride's 5-9 height takes away from some of his potential at receiver, but MAC defensive backs won't outmatch him by much.
Just hope opposing fans leave the "R" in his first name. Poor kid.
A little birdie told me the Zips have five recruits locked up. I'm in the process of finding out the other three. Contrary to Scout.com, Kyle Roddenberry, a defensive lineman from Florida, is not one of them.
Please join Dan Kadar's College Football Pick'em League on Yahoo. Pick'em is fun and easy. Basically, each week you choose the winners of about 20 college football games. Massive amounts of bragging rights among Zips fandom are on the line. To join, click here. Then enter the league name of 7144 and password of kentsucks. Pick'em is like a gateway drug for serious fantasy sporting. I highly recommend it.
As you can see, I have a new format to my blog to match the new Ohio.com (which happens to be pretty sweet for us journalism dorks). Pardon the advertisements if you are one of those anti-commercialism folks.
I plan to have more information and photos of the stadium tomorrow. I'm too tired tonight and I have to defend my house from teenagers throwing eggs. Hmm... It sure would be nice to have Sewell as a security guard.
The university announced InfoCision Stadium will open Sept. 12 versus Kentucky. That's 772 days from now.
Click this link to view the renderings of the stadium.
Today's celebration included the cheerleaders, band and Zippy. I don't know if I have ever seen J.D. Brookhart so excited -- although almost every speaker suggested his team better win the Fiesta Bowl.
Mack Rhoades said they will build the nicest stadium in the country -- not the biggest, but the nicest.
While InfoCision -- owned by generous donor and alumnus Gary Taylor -- has the naming rights for the stadium, the FieldTurf playing surface will be called Summa Field.
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