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VOL. 131 | NO. 59 | Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Up-Tempo Offense Will Need ‘Nasty’ O-Line

By Don Wade

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If all goes well, the attention probably will be on the quarterback – an open competition at the moment – and the receivers and the running backs. That’s just how football works.

At least four players are expected to compete for starting quarterback at the University of Memphis now that Paxton Lynch is gone, but the job may not be decided until the fall.

(Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)

But ultimately the success of the University of Memphis offense next season will be about much more than the fast guys and the guy who gets the ball to them. First-year head coach Mike Norvell was offensive coordinator at Arizona State and he has brought with him Chip Long, who will serve as Norvell’s offensive coordinator, and who worked with Norvell from 2012 through 2015.

During that time, the Sun Devils averaged 37 points a game, finished with back-to-back 10 win seasons, and won a PAC-12 South championship.

Long needs but a few words to describe the offense he envisions at Memphis: “Very physical and explosive.”

With Paxton Lynch gone the quarterback derby is crowded. Junior transfer Riley Ferguson (he spent his freshman season at Tennessee before going to Coffeyville Community College), redshirt freshman Brady Davis and redshirt senior Jason Stewart are all expected to get snaps this spring. Practice opened on Tuesday, March 22, and will culminate with the April 22 Friday Night Stripes spring game at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.

Whoever ends up winning the position, new offensive line coach Ryan Silverfield says the job is the same for his unit: “Clean jersey, keep him upright.”

There will be new plays and terminology to learn, of course, but Norvell doesn’t want that to dominate this early work.

“We want to introduce our schemes,” he said, “but I don’t want to spend all of the spring on schemes. I want to see who is getting better fundamentally.”

Long believes a half-dozen running backs could be contributors, including sophomore Jamarius Henderson; at one point he was considered a risk to transfer after head coach Justin Fuente left for Virginia Tech.

Three second-year receivers also have impressed Long: Mechane Slade, who at 5-8 and 165 pounds is a little bolt of lightning; Tony Pollard, and Kedarian Jones. “All those guys can really move,” Long said.

But there will be a lot of experience coming back at wide receiver, too, with junior Phil Mayhue, redshirt junior Anthony Miller and junior Roderick Proctor heading the older group.

“We think the great equalizer is our tempo,” Long said. “It’s a little bit challenging for those guys (on defense) to get their blitzes and personnel in there. Obviously, we don’t want to go fast and mess up. We want to be efficient.

“For us to go fast, we can’t be subbing all the time. You want to be a playmaker and have a lot of plays; you better be able to do a lot of things.”

The offensive line also has to prepare for the up-tempo offense. Long says there will be work to do there, adding, “The offensive line, we gotta shore up some spots and build depth and competition.”

Said Silverfield: “Our drills will be up-tempo most of the time. And we practice really fast. And that all trains the body. Because there’s a big difference in going out and running in a straight line and all of sudden the football movements and the strain of pushing against a 330-pounder; it’s a different type of conditioning for my big boys up front.

“You’ll see guys make mental errors, missed assignments, and it’s because they’re tired not because they don’t know it. Opening day kickoff, it’s probably not going to be 62 degrees and a light breeze.

“Our whole goal as an offense is to create a fifth quarter.”

Silverfield, who has coached in the NFL as well as in college, knows the quarterback competition probably won’t be finished until fall, maybe just a few days before the first game. Freshman David Moore will arrive for fall semester, giving Norvell another option to evaluate.

All of that, not to mention opening holes for the running backs, means ground zero for this new offense is the O-Line.

“We know that,” Silverfield said. “And as offensive linemen we won’t look for any attention. It’s the nature of the beast. We’d rather just handle our business, keep our mouth shut and let our work show itself on the field. We’re gonna be physical, we’re gonna be tough, we’re gonna be nasty and we’re gonna be known for being technically sound.”

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