May 8, 2013, 10:42 AM EDT
Editor’s Note: Over the course of April and early May, CAA Football will check in with local journalists and bloggers covering our 11 schools to get their take on their respective teams’ spring practices and spring games. Today we talk Towson with Mat Schlissel. For more on the Tigers’ spring, including recaps, video and more, visit our CAA Football Spring Ball Central page.
CAAFB: You’ve followed the Tigers over the course of the spring. What were some of your observations and questions heading into their spring season?
MS: I thought they’ve looked very good defensively despite a few injuries in the secondary. The big question has been at quarterback since they have to replace Grant Enders, and I’m still not sure that question has been answered.
CAAFB: You were on hand for Saturday’s spring game, Tiger Bowl III. How would you describe the atmosphere at Unitas Field?
MS: I thought it was pretty good. It was nice day, but it was tough to get excited with so few points scored and a lack of an offensive flow. Rob Ambrose has them practicing early in the morning during the week, and he thought they were a little lethargic with the weather probably being at least 20 degrees warmer when you’re playing in the early afternoon as opposed to the morning.
CAAFB: What were your general impressions of the game?
MS: Offensively, they were missing Eric Pike at left tackle who rolled his ankle just before the game. That probably didn’t help as several defensive ends had big days, including freshman Syd Holt with two sacks. I thought UMass transfer Ryan Delaire had a big spring and was disruptive despite not having a sack. It was tough to find a standout on offense, but freshman receiver Jiovanni Rodriguez did a nice job with six receptions for 89 yards.
CAAFB: Quarterbacks coach Jared Ambrose was promoted to offensive coordinator in March. What kinds of changes have you already observed on offense?
MS: Not a lot. This is Rob Ambrose’s offense and his team. Jared is just a little more vocal now and talking to the entire offense instead of just the quarterbacks. Jared had a lot of influence last year in the play-calling and now he’s running the show. Nobody knows what Rob wants offensively better than Jared, and I’m sure they’ll be on the same page.
CAAFB: I’m sure the Tigers are looking for RB Terrance West to have another big year. How has he looked this spring?
MS: Terrance has looked like the same old Terrance. He’s showing more leadership now as a junior and it’s been his show with Dominique Booker graduating and others injured. With that being said, Terrance only had seven carries in Tiger Bowl III. Considering he was the only healthy scholarship player back, it wasn’t worth risking serious injury by giving him 20-25 carries in a spring game.
CAAFB: As you mentioned, Towson will have a new starting quarterback after losing Grant Enders to graduation. Wisconsin transfer Joe Brennan should be a viable option, but who else has challenged him for that starting spot?
MS: Brennan, senior Peter Athens and sophomore Connor Frazier have all battled for the starting spot. They all had their good moments, but I have to agree with Rob Ambrose when he said that none of the quarterbacks were consistent enough to earn the job. Frazier can run and Athens can make all the throws. Athens also has the experience having played against Maryland – for Enders who had a migraine – and for half of his freshman season before injuring his knee. Brennan can wing it and take off when necessary. He has the prototypical size as well but he has yet to put it all together on the field.
CAAFB: What are some other position battles that we should keep an eye on?
MS: Wide receiver will have more competition over the summer when they bring in a very talented group of freshmen and a transfer or two. Senior Leon Kinnard and junior Spencer Wilkins are the only players with experience. At safety, sophomore Christian Carpenter missed most of the spring with an injury. I think they are very happy with junior Thomas Bradley at the one spot. They’ve used freshman Jordan Mynatt and sophomores Walter Dunston and Jalil Gordon are vying for playing time at safety, though I think Carpenter has the edge to start. The defensive line appears to be set with Delaire at one end spot and at defensive tackle. The other end spot could be up for competition with junior Drew Cheripko and possibly a transfer, or what Ambrose callas a “player to be named later.”
CAAFB: Looking across the positions, then, what do you anticipate as some of the Tigers’ strengths and weaknesses coming out of the spring?
MS: I think they are strong on the offensive line with four seniors and one sophomore there. The linebacking corps looks as good as I’ve seen at Towson in a long time. Running backs are obviously strong with West and senior Sterlin Phifer. The cornerbacks in senior Jordan Love and junior Tye Smith are both all-conference players.
The big concern is at quarterback. While that’s not the only concern, it’s the main one. The receiving corps should be all right, but they need a steady quarterback. Depth is always a concern at most positions. I think they could use a speedy running back like Booker to complement West and Phifer. That could be true freshman Colby Grant, who can play running back or wide receiver. Even with Delaire coming in, replacing Frank Beltre and Romale Tucker at defensive end won’t be easy either because those guys meant so much to the program.
CAAFB: You spoke to this back in February, but what role do you now see Towson’s sizeable incoming class having on the team?
MS: As I may have said before, Ambrose always talks about playing true freshmen who are furthest from the football. In other words, he’s going to try and avoid playing offensive and defensive linemen. I don’t think he had played a freshman linebacker until last year with Bryton Barr, who was just too good not to play right away. It will interesting to see what they do with Antonio Harris, the offensive lineman from Wise High School in Upper Marlboro, who is one of the most highly-regarded linemen to ever come to Towson. They have so much experience and depth on the O-line that they’ll probably redshirt him. They also have a lot of speed at receiver, running back and in the secondary. There is a major need at receiver, so most feel that Andre Dessenburg from Virginia Beach has the best chance of playing right away. RB/WR Colby Grant, WR James Harrell and WR DeAngelo Stephenson all bring a ton of speed and an ability to return punts and kicks.
CAAFB: I don’t think it’s any secret that there are very high expectations for the Tigers this fall. With the team’s spring practice schedule now behind us, would you say these expectations still hold true?
MS: I think so. They have high expectations for themselves. But once again, it goes back to the quarterback position. If one of the three I mentioned before or someone else can come close to giving what Enders gave them, they could be better than last year.
CAAFB: What have you heard from Coach Ambrose? Can you give us some insight into his take on his team’s spring?
MS: I think he was a little disappointed but not shocked by the quarterbacks’ performance this spring, especially in Tiger Bowl III. He felt the defense was good last year but has a chance to be great this fall. They aren’t just trying to win another CAA Championship; they want an FCS Championship. I think there’s still some bitterness about not being selected for the playoffs last year, which is why their motto this year is “leave no doubt.”
CAAFB: What questions still remain in your mind moving forward?
MS: Outside of finding a starting quarterback, I think the team needs to start out fast. Last year, they played poorly in their first game against Kent State, turning the ball over six times. This year they play Connecticut, Rob Ambrose’s old team. If you want to “leave no doubt,” beating an FBS team to start the year would be a huge statement. After playing in Death Valley at LSU, this shouldn’t be a team that is overwhelmed by playing anybody on the road.
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