By George M. Thomas
Beacon Journal sports writer
DETROIT: It’s not an episode of Sesame Street, but the letter “C” is definitely a point of focus for the University of Akron football team.
C is for comfort. C is confidence. C is for continuity. They will be the words Zips players will have in mind as they approach the season.
“We’re going to be a lot more comfortable, have a lot better chemistry,” senior wide receiver Jerrod Dillard said during the Zips’ stint at MAC Media Day on Tuesday morning at Ford Field. “I just feel like as a team we’re going to take off.”
There are palatable reasons for that, Dillard said. Primarily: The coaching staff and their systems have been in place for more than a year.
Now expectations do exist. And it’s more than hope that Zips coach Terry Bowden was pushing last season.
The Zips spent much of last season battling in many close games only to come up short late in the fourth quarter. Dillard and defensive back Malachi Freeman said they expect changes in those games.
“I think this year we’re going to have what it takes to finish them late,” Dillard said. “We always played three-and-a-half quarters and didn’t have what it takes to finish games off. That’s really what killed us last year.”
Bowden went beyond that.
“We have paid some dues and we are looking to get a return on our investment and that’s what our players have been working hard for this offseason,” he said.
“I believe we’re going to make the biggest move in Akron football history at a time when the conference is playing its best football in MAC history,” Bowden said.
There is reason to believe that improving on three consecutive 1-11 records is more than in the realm of possibility. Bowden’s staff has worked on building depth, especially on the defensive side.
Adding C.J. James, a defensive end transfer from Colorado State, and Moses McCray, a defensive tackle from Florida State who weighs more than 320 pounds, bolsters a defensive line that wore down during the course of games leading to the rest of the unit doing the same.
“That helps a lot as far as knowing we can stop the run and knowing teams are going to have to pass, knowing we can have pressure on the blitz,” Freeman said. “It’s going to create turnovers, a lot more deflected passes. I think it’s going to help a lot.”
Freeman said the situation with Bowden and the Zips is vastly different than last year. Bowden possesses staunch confidence in associate head coach and defensive coordinator Chuck Amato, and that trickles down to his players.
“I guess [Bowden will] feel a lot more comfortable now, this year, knowing that we know what it takes to play under him,” Freeman said. “It’s a lot more comfortable now for him to let us play because we know what he expected.”
But it sounds as if there is one “C” word that doesn’t scare the Zips — change.
There is a huge change on offense as it goes into the season with a new quarterback, 6-foot-3 sophomore Kyle Pohl, who replaces Dalton Williams, who arrived last season and broke several single-season passing records.
“I don’t think it’s going to be a huge loss at all. Kyle Pohl is going to come in and do just what we need him to do,” Dillard said. “I think he’s going to take us where we need to get.”
As for Bowden, he knows what’s needed to get there, as well.
“Akron needs stability. We need continuity. We don’t need to waffle,” he said. “We’ve got facilities in place that were never there. We’ve got a vibrant campus. Great recruiting area. And I believe I’ve got a very good staff with me that have been there before. Now we need to stay the course, keep focused.”
George M. Thomas can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Zips blog at http://www.ohio.com/zips. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/GeorgeThomasABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.