July 25, 2012
By Tom Weber
CARBONDALE, IL - Saluki Football training camp starts a week from Sunday and here are a few story lines to follow in the weeks ahead.
Quarterback battle Junior Kory Faulkner pulled ahead with a solid spring and is the clear favorite to start the season. At 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, he has the prototype size and athleticism you look for in a QB, and it's his fourth year in the program. Last year, he completed 59 percent of his passes. He had more touchdowns on the ground (7) than through the air (5) though, and needs to reverse that ratio and break out as a thrower.
Faulkner's backup on the depth chart is senior Paul McIntosh, but his recovery from last year's shoulder injury has been slow. When McIntosh is healthy, he's an elusive runner and good short-to-intermediate passer. Also in the mix is A.J. Hill, younger brother of former Saluki great Nick Hill. A.J. is a gunslinger and he should have a better grip on the offense in his second year at SIU after transferring from Northern Illinois.
The Salukis have had a parade of backfield talent during the past decade -- Tom Koutsos, Muhammad Abdulqaadir, Brandon Jacobs, Arkee Whitlock, John Randle, Larry Warner, Deji Karim and Jewel Hampton.
Souarin is a fifth-year senior who already has his undergraduate degree. He played in all 37 games during his three-year career at FIU and was a part-time starter. Souarin begins camp as the No. 2 CB behind Courtney Richmond. Lewis also has his undergraduate degree and was a back-up safety at Clemson last year. He had some injury problems early in his career. I met him yesterday, and at 6-foot-2 and 210, he brings a physical presence to the secondary.
Thompson is a unique story in that he's a 22-year-old redshirt freshman. A native of Montreal, he played in the Canadian school system until he was discovered by UCLA at the age of 21. He didn't play for the Bruins last year.
The coaches are also optimistic that some of the younger talent in the secondary will emerge as impact players, such as redshirt freshman D.J. Cameron, who begins camp as the starting free safety.
Tanner Crum played on both the offensive and defensive lines last year as a true freshman, and he will get the first crack at replacing Rimington Award-winning C Bryan Boemer. Victor Craven is listed as the starting RT. He was a late addition to the roster last year and redshirted. He played two seasons at Northeast Oklahoma A&M and went through spring ball with Oklahoma in 2011.
A couple of JUCO transfers (Nate Haremza and Josh Tinajero) are battling for the left guard spot. The Salukis need depth at tackle and will hope sophomores Corey Boemer and Clayton Melville can handle the job.
Passing game improved? The Salukis ranked last in the MVFC in pass efficiency last season. For SIU to contend for the conference title, the passing game has to improve. Offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer told me during the spring that they encouraged the quarterbacks to take more shots downfield. Fifty percent of the completions last year went to the tight ends or running backs.
Southern has a budding star in TE MyCole Pruitt, and look for him to run more deep routes this year as the coaches feel he can't be defended by a linebacker. WR LaSteven McKinney is poised for a break-out season. He was moved from RB to WR last fall and really didn't have time to settle into the offense. After catching 16 balls in 2011, McKinney was an impact player in the spring with his great speed and open-field running ability. Senior WR David Lewis appears on the verge of harnessing his immense potential.
D-Line could be dominant The Salukis have three talented seniors across the defensive line, led by All-Conference nose tackle Kayon Swanson. His dominating performance at Mississippi last year solidified his status as one of the top FCS linemen in the country. NFL scouts have taken notice of DE Kenneth Boatright, who went from walk-on to pass-rushing terror in less than a year. He led Southern with 6.5 sacks last year and dominating during the spring. DE Eze Obiora is an explosive player who is still learning the game. The Englishman took up football four years ago but he could emerge as a top pass rusher on this year's team.
Saluki Media Services will provide daily coverage of camp on Dawgtracker and the Official website SIUSalukis.com.