The honeymoon will last awhile longer for University of Akron football coach Tom Arth, but beginning Aug. 2, he will officially be on the clock as fall camp opens.
Arth, hired as coach last December, hasn’t been a man of mystery with respect to his team and players, but he has been judicious in observations, not making a rush to judgment on any one player and consistently saying to a man that everyone will have to earn a starting spot.
Beyond that, broader questions exist for the Zips on offense and defense. Here are five pressing questions about the Zips as they begin a season that will help celebrate the 150th anniversary of college football.
1. For UA to enjoy any kind of success this year, the Zips have to find and develop a running back. No ifs, ands, buts or maybes. It should be a priority for Arth and his offensive staff. Nothing against Van Edwards last year, but the running game was inadequate, lacked spark and explosiveness and averaged 95.7 yards per game. Is some of that on the offensive line? Probably. But there wasn’t a lot of intuitive running and not one back last year showed a second gear. Before getting injured in 2017, Deltron Sands flashed some skills to provide some hope, but also showed a propensity to fumble the ball. In 2019, Arth will have to choose from a young — Sands is the only upperclassman — and obviously unproven group that includes four freshmen, including redshirt and former East High School star Devanier Floyd. What the team does with this position could ultimately dictate its offensive success. Arth and his offensive staff couldn’t possibly want quarterback Kato Nelson to be the team’s second-leading rusher as he was last year.
2. That brings us to Nelson. Former coach Terry Bowden liked Nelson's ability to run the ball as a change of pace and pick up short yardage in a pinch. However, at John Carroll, Arth’s quarterbacks were not known for running the ball in his pro-style offense. In that respect, Nelson will have to switch gears and styles. That’s not to suggest he cannot do so. Nelson said during spring practice that he played in a pro-style offense in high school. Despite that ability to run, he is suited to the passing game. Arm strength isn’t the problem. He has to read defenses better and check down to his receivers also. One of Nelson’s problems last year was he was locked into the play that was called without the ability to audible. Even if he had read something defensively, he didn’t have a green light to change a play.
3. How many of the defensive holes can the Zips plug? This almost could qualify as the team’s No. 1 issue for the fall camp. They lost three starters in the secondary. Only linebacker John Lako and Alvin Davis Jr., who was moved from safety to cornerback during the spring, remain with the team. The Zips' defense by no means was a world beater last year, but it wasn't helped by the offense. The Zips ranked 11th overall in the MAC in scoring and overall offense, last in rushing offense and last in third-down conversions, not surprisingly leading to also ranking last in time of possession. In short, the defense, though not blameless, was overworked. It didn’t get to the quarterback (ranked 10th) and allowed 197 yards rushing per game.
4. The offensive line comes back with left tackle Trevor Brown the only returning senior, along with Hunter Corne (left guard) and Bryce Petersen (center). Departed senior Undrea Bullard filled in ably for injured Brandon Council (right tackle) after he suffered a season-ending injury against Northwestern, but the former staff was high on Council. His return should be welcomed. The unit returns four of five opening day starters on what should be one of the strengths of the team. Like almost every other position, however, it depends upon how things shake out in camp. Arth is not giving away jobs and remains without a depth chart heading into the season.
5. Lastly, has the team bought in? The most telling sign of what ultimately may be the key to the Zips enjoying some success has been the lack of departures after a difficult season.
George M. Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ByGeorgeThomas.