By Jeremy Stafford - email@example.com
WINCHESTER -- Despite losing starters at quarterback, fullback, wide receiver, center, and left and right guard, Shenandoah's offense this season won't change much -- at least schematically.
"What we've been able to do is input certain moving parts that will allow us to get better matchups," SU offensive coordinator Brian Wolf said, "and get guys in good situations to take advantage of their matchups."
The Hornets will still prefer to run the ball out of a power formation, but they don't expect to lumber down the field.
They still prefer to throw to No. 1 wide out Rico Wallace, but there are now plenty of other viable receiving options.
They still prefer to control time of possession, but not at the cost of scoring points.
Last season, a failed 1-9 crusade, Shenandoah led all of D-III football in time of possession, keeping the ball for 35:52 every game. With an average of 196.1 rushing yards a game, SU's ground attack was 39th best in the nation, and third best in the USA South.
Which, essentially, fulfilled SU's game-by-game expectations. They wanted to pound the ball, to keep possession, to win games.
That third goal was a bit difficult to see through.
"Time of possession's really good, don't get me wrong, we were No. 1 in the country last year, but that doesn't win games," Hornets coach Paul Barnes said. "You can ... win all the stats you want, but the ultimate thing is you gotta put points on the board."
Tailback Kevin Roberts, who missed last season after suffering several minor seizures, and one major seizure, provides the Shenandoah backfield with the explosive home run potential it lacked a season ago.
Of the seven players who had a rushing attempt last season, tailback Keone Kyle had the longest rush from scrimmage, a 57-yard carry. In other games, Kyle had rushes of 34, 36, and 37 yards. But Kyle was typically known as a bruiser, averaging 4.8 yards a rush, 140.4 yards a game, plodding the Hornets down the field in a slow but quite effective manner.
SU spent more time at midfield than anywhere else, and it certainly wasn't finding the end zone with any consistency.
Roberts owns the Shenandoah record with an 81-yard rush from scrimmage. His big-play ability is uncanny.
"It's hard to tackle him one-on-one," Barnes said. "He'll make one guy miss, and he's a threat to take it to the house anywhere on the field, and we haven't had that in a couple years."
Sophomore tailback Brad Martz, who broke his collarbone last season, has also impressed coaches. He's vying for spots at third-string tailback and return specialist.
There's also an improved mobility at quarterback. Junior Daniel Wright will pick up where graduated senior Vern Lunsford left off -- or so says conventional wisdom.
Wright played behind Lunsford for two years, developed an appreciation for the offense, and learned from Lunsford's mistakes. More specifically, Wright learned from Lunsford's 13 mistakes last season. None of Lunsford's interceptions were necessarily game-deciding, but some of them were game-ending.
Wright is an athletic quarterback, savvy out of the pocket and accurate on the run.
"Hopefully we can put up more points than we have in the past, because our defense has been the one getting the job done," Wright said. "The offense hasn't been getting the ball in the end zone enough, and that's where we have to pick it up.
"I think [the offense is] gonna be much more explosive, and instead of leading the conference in time of possession like we did last year, I think we're gonna be more of a big-play team."
Wright said he'd like to see Shenandoah score 28 points a game -- an average of one touchdown every quarter. It's also about a nine-point improvement over SU's 2009 scoring average.
And like Lunsford, Wright has found a safe haven in Wallace, a tall junior with speed in his cleats and glue in his hands. According to inside linebacker John Redmond, Wallace had a spectacular preseason camp and has been largely unguardable.
Sophomore Qiydaar Murphy and senior Brian Calloway will complement Wallace at wide out.
The battles for starting positions on the offensive line have been mostly settled, and those at tight end still exist to a minor degree.
Jamal Venable, a stalwart on Shenandoah's line, returns to left tackle 30 pounds heavier than he was last year.
"I worked hard in this offseason, so I'm ready to unload on everybody," Venable laughed.
Despite Wright being a left-handed quarterback, Venable will remain at left tackle and will no longer protect his quarterback's blind side.
Jonathan Doering moves from right tackle to left guard, Bryan Vickers will slip into the vacated spot at right tackle, and Nate Mullins will play at left guard.
Mike Duda and Matt Bounds are competing for the starting spot at center.
Kevin Spoth and Stephen Dellinger have likely solidified themselves at tight end, though Evan Griffin and Austin Barnes are also capable players.
"As far as team chemistry goes ... everybody's bonding together," Venable said. "You don't hear too much complaining, everybody just wants to work hard to get better, help each other get better through competition.
"It's a pretty close-knit team, definitely one of the closest-knit teams I've been on in my career -- period."