First up, Position Battles:
QB: This will be a 3 man race into fall camp and possibly the season between Arkelon Hall, Bryon Ingram, and Tyler Bass.
Arkelon Hall is the returning starter here and did not do anything to warrant losing his job this spring or anything to outright win it either. Hall could amaze you with his playmaking ability one minute and have you ripping your hair out the next. Hall currently has the leg up in the QB competition because of his experience, but if he doesn't prove consistent through fall camp, don't be surprised to see a change at signal caller.
Ingram has all the qualities you would want in a QB. He is a legit 6'5 and appears to weigh about 220. Put this with a cannon arm and impressive athleticism, you have everything you could want in a quarterback. What is holding him back? Consistency.
The wild card of the group is Tyler Bass. He could be the most talented, but after his knee injury last season, he hasn't been able to participate in spring drills. As you might expect, I will stick with the common theme of consistency for what he has yet to prove.
As with most of the positions on the team, there is no shortage of talent. This position will boil down to consistency and comfort in the offense.
Opening Day Projection: Arkelon Hall
RB: We have a stable of capable running backs led by Sr. Curtis Steele. Look to hear the names of Curtis Steele, Lance Smith, TJ Pitts, Greg Ray, and Brandon Ross in the running back competition. The one that I can possibly see dropping out for this year would be Brandon Ross. He lost his redshirt year last year because of an injury depleted running back corp. The depth is there for him to redshirt this year, if he isn't one of the top 2 or 3 backs.
Steele is a tough, shifty runner that rushed for over 1,000 yards last year and is currently the starter. Steele is a proven and trusted back, but even with a 1,000 yard season under his belt, he is not above competition.
Lance Smith is a special talent. The Wisconsin transfer gives Memphis the home run threat at RB that it has missed since DeAngelo Williams left. He averaged over 6 yards a carry at Wisconsin against some pretty tough Big 10 defenses. I expect Clay Helton to find many ways to get him involved in the offense whether it be out of the backfield or motioning him out to create mismatches.
TJ Pitts will also see carries during his senior year. Pitts has struggled to remain healthy during his career, but he has looked impressive this spring. He did look a step slow in some scrimmages, but that should return as he continues to regain strength and speed.
Opening Day Projection: Curtis Steele (Lance Smith getting at least 10-15 carries as well)
From my observations during spring scrimmages, Cam Baker is another one of those home run threats that this offense has lacked. His flat out speed is apparent. Him and Rucker will make the loss of Calhoun and Singleton easier to take in 2010.
While many people like the talent we had a receiver this spring, the most talented receiver may not even be on campus yet. All the people on sidelines could talk about was Billy Foster. One "representative of the universtiy" asked if I had seen his film. After I responded that I had not, he said, "He is something special. Reminds me of McCluster down at Ole Miss." If this turns out to be true, I can't wait to see Foster take a kickoff back when we play Old Piss to open the season.
The TE position will also see an influx of size and talent for the 2009 season. DajLeon Farr is 6'5 250 lbs. and Onarheim is 6'7 260. Farr, a Miami transfer, will give Memphis a downfield threat in the TE position as well as present matchup problems in the slot. Onarheim looked very good catching the ball this spring and much improved as a blocker, especially since he is filling out that 6'7 frame.
Opening Day Projection: X-Carlos Singleton, H-Cam Baker, Z-Duke Calhoun, Y-DajLeon Farr, and Utility Man-Billy Foster
OL: The offensive line was hit hard by graduation, but O-line coach Rick Mallory will always find at least 5 guys to get the job done. Joel McLeod, Maurice Holloway, and Tommy Walker came over from the defensive side of the ball and will see significant playing time. The athleticism is there with the good feet and the great knee bend, but they are still learning the position. Returning starters Dominik Riley, Malcolm Rawls, and top backup Ronald Leary will be counted on to help solidify the unit. Also look for Junior College transfer Brad Paul to claim a spot somewhere on the line, most likely at Center. Riley has seen snaps at Center this spring, but he seems to be a better fit at guard. The move might be more out of just training another guy at center because you never know how injuries will change the line-up. Also, Kindley Jacques, another Junior College transfer, should contribute at a guard spot.
Opening Day Projection: LT-Ronald Leary, LG-Dominik Riley, C-Brad Paul, RG-Malcolm Rawls, RT-Tommy Walker, Top Reserves-Joel McLeod and Maurice Holloway
DL: There should be great talent and depth on the D-line this year. Clinton McDonald was an enormous loss, but the overall talent level of the unit should be better. Veterans Jada Brown, Demetrius Culpepper, and Greg Terrell along with top Junior College transfer Justin Thompson should create a formidle pass rush from the DE spot. The Defensive Tackles could be the biggest in Memphis history. Tim McGee and Charlie Bryant each go about 320, and when Dontari Poe reports to fall camp he might claim a starting spot. Also look for Sr. Stephen Turner to provide a pass rush from inside.
Opening Day Projection: DE-Justin Thompson, DE-Jada Brown, DT-Charlie Bryant, and DT-Tim McGee
Winston Bowens, LB
LB: This another position that we will see talent and depth upgrades at this fall. You have returners Greg Jackson, Winston Bowens, Jeremy Rockette, and Jeremy Longstreet, along with newcomers Jamon Hughes, Derrick Odom, and Ricky Holloway. Hughes and Odom are 2 SEC transfers that were both recruited out of high school by the Tigers, and Holloway signed last year and turned down many SEC offers to highlight last year's recruiting class. I expect all to see time and the depth at linebacker will improve special teams as well.
Opening Day Projections: MLB-Winston Bowens, OLB-Greg Jackson, OLB-Jamon Hughes