Coach Terry Bowden released the University of Akron’s first depth chart Sunday, and there were few major surprises. It also might not be complete.
“It’s still a little bit fluid. There are some that are more solid. But if we were playing a game tomorrow, that’s the way it would be,” Bowden said after morning practice Monday.
Those minor surprises, however, might still have an impact on the team.
Freshman Hakeem Lawrence and senior Quentin Hines are listed as the possible third team runner. Lawrence, who received clearance to practice about a week into camp, came in at a disadvantage because of that, but he apparently made up some ground.
“I think with running back, four players can get reps, but usually the last two aren’t great at blocking schemes and passing schemes, but they can be good when the ball gets under their arms they make something happen,” Bowden said. “That’s what they’re in there for. They have the best speed of all the backs.”
Watching them line up in practice it would have been easy to assume that fifth-year senior and Florida State University transfer Avis Commack and junior college refugee Malachi Freeman would line up as starters. Instead Freeman is listed as the No. 2 corner behind Commack. One reason is obvious: size. Commack stands 6-foot-3, allowing him to match up better with receivers. Freeman at 5-9, however, has stayed impressive in drills and scrimmages.
The other reason: The two have the same skill set. Commack and Freeman play very well wide. Bowden said they have six corners — three who play well on the edge and three who play well in nickel and dime situations.
Walk-on Mike Davis has shown some flashes, but Bowden is realistic about the redshirt sophomore, knowing that he doesn’t have the same skill set as James Price, a former three-star recruit who isn’t eligible academically.
“[Davis] doesn’t have the talent of Price. He works hard. He’s got to be able to be a lifesaver at the very least,” Bowden said. “He has to give us five reps, 10 reps to rest up those guys in front of him.”
Jamel Turner’s name wasn’t anywhere on that depth chart and he could be seen practicing with the scout team Monday.
“He has plenty of talent and as he progresses, gets more comfortable in a team environment again. He’ll have a chance to be a real player. That takes more time for some than others,” Bowden said.
Turner has been out of football for several years. Even if he’s there physically — and even if he is, he still has to get used to hitting — there’s the mental aspect of getting acclimated, including the expectations that his former status as a four-star recruit held. It’s quite possible that he could be feeling some of the pressure.
Assuming a role
Nick Rossi, a touted linebacker prospect when he arrived at UA, was switched to fullback but has returned to his natural position under Bowden. He’s another who didn’t make the depth chart. That’s good for the Zips, in that it means that the coaching staff thinks the talent level has risen. For Rossi, it means a different role, Bowden said.
“Rossi’s a great kid. He does everything to help our program. He’s a real hard-nosed guy who plays on effort a lot,” Bowden said. “He’s found a way to help us out. He’ll be a guy on special teams and get valuable backup reps at linebacker. That’s the role he needs to play right now.”
Now it’s real
The surest sign that game time is near came toward the end of practice Monday, when the offense worked against a defensive scout team. That might or might not bear fruit, considering that Central Florida coach George O’Leary lost his entire defensive coaching staff after last season — two to firings and two to attrition. Central Florida is the opponent in the opener for the Zips on Aug. 30.
“It’s a little sloppy when you [set up a scout team] because you have guys playing positions that they haven’t played before, but I think it’s now got us focused, because the players know it’s game week,” Bowden said. “It may be a nine-day week, but it’s game week for us.”
If the punt suddenly becomes the most exciting play in a game for the Zips, it looks as if they’ll have the guy with the potential to do the job. Redshirt freshman Zach Paul booted them as far as 65 yards during practice Monday. Of course, that was without a rush, but it’s definitely something noticeable.