Running game will be key to the improvement of Saluki offense

    Mika'il McCall

    Mika'il McCall
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    Aug. 12, 2013

    By Tom Weber

    CARBONDALE, Ill. - In the 10-team MVFC last year, the Saluki offense ranked seventh in scoring, eighth in total yardage, seventh in passing and eighth in rushing. The good news is the Salukis return seven starters on offense, including QB Kory Faulkner and All-American TE MyCole Pruitt. I spoke to offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer after Monday morning's practice for an update on the progress of the offense.

    1. DeBoer is adamant that the first step in improving Southern's offense is to improve the running game. They feel confident that the trio of BCS transfers -- Mika'il McCall (Iowa), Malcolm Agnew (Oregon State) and Ken Malcome (Georgia) -- have significantly upgraded the running back position. Agnew has opened a lot of eyes in the first week of camp.

    2. The rushing totals from Saturday's scrimmage were modest, but that's not cause for concern at this point. The team had practiced only twice in full pads, and the scrimmage was the first time the running backs were tackled to the ground. Most of the running plays were basic, zone-blocking calls. McCall and Malcome, in particular, got into trouble when they tried to bounce a play outside. They will adjust during the next scrimmage.

    3. The offensive line is improved, yet still has lots of room to get better. At this time last year, the O-line was unstable, due to a combination of inexperience, injuries and players being shuffled between positions. This year, the starting five (Ethan Wirth, Nate Haremza, Tanner Crum, Jake Notario, Victor Craven) all have considerable experience in the system. Notario has missed all of camp so far with injury, but he returns to practice tomorrow and his toughness will give the group a boost.



    4. Depth is the biggest concern on the O-line. The coaches have confidence in Corey Boemer as a backup at either guard or tackle. After that, there are question marks. Southern has some talented freshmen, such as Kijana Evans, but for a true freshman lineman to burn a redshirt year, they would need to earn a starting job. The last Saluki lineman to do so was Tanner Crum in 2011.

    5. DeBoer made an interesting point about how difficult it is to run-block against SIU's defense, due to the scheme Bubba Schweigert employs. Southern runs an atypical defense when it comes to alignments and gap responsibilities. Often during film review, the offensive coaches will remind the O-line that what they are seeing is not akin to what they will face during the season. Schweigert's defense will give them more traditional looks as camp unfolds to get them ready for the season.

    6. DeBoer talks about the development of the offense being a "process" and a "journey" with the first true test coming on Aug. 31 at Illinois. He believes they are becoming a tougher, more physical and mentally stronger group.

    7. If the running game improves, that will take a lot of pressure off fifth-year senior quarterback Kory Faulkner. With essentially two seasons as a starter under his belt, experience is Faulkner's strength. He has an 8-10 record and is a career 59 percent passer. He's thrown 16 TD passes and 18 interceptions in his career. The coaching staff believes in Faulkner. They didn't go out and sign an FBS transfer. This is Faulkner's team.

    8. There are four more quarterbacks in camp. Redshirt freshman Ryan West has taken most of the reps with the second team, however senior A.J. Hill is having a strong camp. Sophomore Matt Vincent made a couple of big passing plays in the scrimmage, but he also threw two interceptions in the red zone. True freshman Chandler Shantz will likely redshirt, but just the fact they are carrying five QBs on the pre-fall roster shows how much they like Shantz.

    9. Two of the best three receivers on the team are tight ends MyCole Pruitt and Adam Fuehne. You will see Southern use a lot of two-tight end formations to get the duo on the field at the same time. They caught just three passes in Saturday's scrimmage, so it's not as simple as drawing up a bunch of plays soley for the tight ends. As DeBoer explained it, the range of space for a tight end is more confined than, for example, a wide receiver. Still, the coaches are looking for creative ways to use their abilities.

    10. LaSteven McKinney is a budding star at slot receiver. It remains to be seen how much productivity the Salukis will get from the X and Z positions, though. Senior possession receiver John Lantz will make his share of catches. No one else on the roster has caught a pass at the Division I level. They would like Josh Sullivan to solidify the receiver spot opposite Lantz.


    Both Kory Faulkner and Malcolm Agnew had minor muscle pulls that kept them out of practice this morning. Ryan West practiced at quarterback with the first team and had the play of the day with a 10 yard lob pass to Adam Fuehne, who made a sensational catch over OLB Leonard Garron. A.J. Hill also converted a TD strike to WR Israel Lamprakes, who made a diving grab.


    Offensive line coach Bill O'Boyle wasn't thrilled with the effort of his group today, so he marched them over to the hill in the North end zone after practice. They made the ascent numerous times.


    RB Tay Willis is a diminutive 5-foot-8 and 165 pounds, but he is best receiver among the running backs. He's one of those explosive little guys you have to find a way to incorporate into your offense.


    The Salukis have stayed relatively healthy with no major injuries so far. A couple of players with ankle sprains -- DE Blake Miller and TE Josh Skadeland -- were on the sideline doing a tire toss under the supervision of strength coach Clete McLeod. Skadeland turned his ankle on the 59-yard pass play in Saturday's scrimmage.