With the annual spring game looming Saturday, University of Akron coach Terry Bowden would still like to see more from his Zips offense. The unit again struggled against their counterparts on defense at practice Tuesday morning at InfoCision Stadium, the second practice outside this spring.
“I don’t want to say anyone played harder or anyone played less,” Bowden said Tuesday. “They just have a little better defense. We just have to get better.”
Getting better has to come in two areas, the first being wide receiver.
The coaches tweaked the lineup by moving L.T. Smith from outside to a slot position and adding Jerrod Dillard into a starting role. Ultimately, that could change, but Dillard impressed the coaching staff throughout last season, eventually leading the receiving corps with nine touchdowns.
Dillard, who stands 6-foot-5, should be able to out-leap the Mid-American Conference’s Smurf-like defensive backs, but he shows little sign of that. In practice Tuesday, he had the opportunity to score a touchdown in the red zone offense but didn’t make a play on the ball.
“He’s got to learn to be a little more aggressive,” Bowden said. “Dillard’s the senior. He’s got to continue to strive and reach up for that ball at the highest point.”
Dillard is a bit of a conundrum in that he didn’t make a lasting impression last spring or summer.
“You hardly knew he was there,” Bowden said. “When we got into the season, he was our big playmaker and our touchdown maker. I wish he would be a little more aggressive when attacking the ball. He’s 6-4, 6-5; he needs to utilize that.”
Bowden added that Andrew Pratt of Green High School should concentrate on doing the same when the opportunities present themselves. With two receivers who stand 6-foot-4 apiece in Mykel Traylor-Bennett and Austin Wolf, there will certainly be more competition.
The competition for receiving opportunities will grow fiercer this season as Bowden plans to use the team’s tight ends more.
Last season they were expected to block and little more as tight ends caught a total of 21 passes. For anyone paying attention this spring, they are getting chances more frequently even with senior Will Fleming out after having foot surgery.
“We’re trying to get [tight ends] involved. If you have an eligible receiver who’s not getting the ball thrown at him, it reduces the ways in which you can attack a defense,” Bowden said. “We’re trying to at least make them cover those guys. Anthony Ritossa and Jon Root are doing a good solid job out there.”
Of course there’s that benefit to having the tight ends in for blocking purposes.
“If you want to run the ball better, you have to block with some tight ends,” Bowden said. “And if you have them in there you have to be able to throw it to them when defenses don’t respect them.”
Former quarterback Dalton Williams has heard from a number of NFL teams but has been unable to gauge whether he will sneak into the latter rounds. At bare minimum, however, he expects to be an undrafted free agent. If he has no future in the NFL, he’s willing to try his luck in the Canadian Football League, he said. If that league doesn’t pan out, he said that a career in coaching may be in his future.
George M. Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.