Offense Making Strides As Spring Practices Roll Along
DES MOINES, Iowa – The Drake University football team’s offense has made strides throughout spring practices this week following Saturday’s scrimmage in which the defense had a strong showing.
“We moved the ball in the scrimmage but had too many mistakes that kept hurting us,” said Drake head coach Rick Fox. “They were assignment mistakes, and not taking care of the football. We’ve got to clean that up but we’ve seen some good things offensively.”
In his first year at the helm of the Bulldogs, Fox’s offense is blessed with a veteran crew of running backs and a starting quarterback.
“We’re really excited about our running backs,” Fox said. “There’s a lot of depth and experience there. We think that can be a really good group and we saw some flashes from them in the scrimmage.”
Those backs include Gary Scott, Jr. (Forsyth, Ill.) who has led the Bulldogs in rushing the past two seasons and T.J. James (Des Moines, Iowa). James missed last season, but averaged 4.3 yards per carry on 90 carries in 2012. With James’ absence, Conley Wilkins (Kansas City, Mo.) and A.J. Washington (St. Louis, Mo.) saw extensive action as a freshman and sophomore, respectively. Wilkins, playing as a rare freshman at Drake, ran for 242 yards on 46 carries while Washington racked up 231 yards. Both have continued to develop in spring practices with continued reps and carries.
Handing the ball off to that quartet in practice has been a familiar face in Andy Rice (Stevens Point, Wis.) who threw for nearly 3,000 yards and 21 touchdowns as a junior and has firmly established himself as one of the team’s leaders on offense.
“Andy Rice has stepped in, is understanding things and adjusting to the offense,” Fox said. “He’s been communicating really well with his teammates.”
While the offense has been the same one Rice was asked to execute last season, the staff has changed their signaling and play calling from the sideline. According to the staff, the learning curve associated with such a change was anticipated, but the entire offense has adapted quickly to the tweaks.
One challenge that Rice will face is replacing all-conference receivers like Nick Rosa and Kevin Marshall. However, the team’s returning talent at tight end and j-back has shown throughout spring that he will have plenty of options there. The Bulldogs return Michael Hudson (Urbandale, Iowa), all-conference performer Eric Saubert (Hoffman Estates, Ill.) and Lee Snell (Overland Park, Kan.)
“There’s a lot of competition in the receiving corps,” Fox said. “We have some experience coming back with the interior receivers, we’re pretty deep there. There’s more competition at the outside receiver spots and we need some guys to step up there.”
Two of those Fox has asked to step up at the receiver position are Neko Graf (Racine, Wis.) and fifth-year senior Jacob Dines (Osage Beach, Mo.). According to Fox, Dines is one of the fastest players on the roster and an explosive weapon, but has been hampered by injury to date in his Drake career.
Ultimately, the team’s fortunes lie up front with the offensive line. Fox served as the offensive line coach for six seasons and continues to be hands on with the unit’s development. The offensive line has seen a few key components miss parts of spring practices due to injury, but all-conference selection Troy Whitmer (Highlands Ranch, Colo.) and John McMahon (Algonquin, Ill.) are among some of the veterans that have led the group through the spring.
“We’ve got a lot of experienced depth,” Fox said. “We need those guys to step up. We were O.K as an offensive line last year, but to do the things we want to do as a football program, we need to be better than that.”
The Bulldogs continue their spring practice sessions this weekend at Johnston High School due to the Jim Duncan Invitational track and field meet and have three more practices prior to their annual spring game on April 19 at Drake Stadium.