July 22, 2008

Three questions for the start of camp

With the start of camp less than two weeks away, KentSportsReport.com takes a look at three of the biggest questions facing Kent State this pre-season.

1. Will quarterback Julian Edelman shake the turnovers that plagued him in 2007?

Last fall, quarterback Julian Edelman combined for over 1,700 yards of total offense and nine touchdowns. He rushed 118 times for 455 yards and completed 98 of 189 pass attempts.

But, in the process, Edelman fumbled eight times-losing five of them-and threw nine interceptions.

If Kent State hopes to improve on its 3-9 season from a year ago, it's going to start with Edelman.

It's true that Edelman played most of the season banged up, and injuries have a way of altering one's typical style of play. But, he'll need to protect the football in 2008 if the Golden Flashes hope to turn things around.

Edelman means a lot to the Golden Flashes. His 2006 arrival in Kent jumpstarted the program head coach Doug Martin was building. Edelman's talents were easy to see, especially when he threw for 305 yards and two scores and rushed for 69 and a touchdown in a 37-15 win over Akron. But, it was his natural leadership abilities that really made a difference for Kent State.

Edelman's toughness motivated the other Kent State players. They saw how hard he worked in practice, how tough he was during games-mentally and physically. Then, last season he missed spring drills after recovering from off-season shoulder surgery. He wore a red vest during the fall and during the eight games he played-he missed the final four contests after injuring his knee against Bowling Green-his teammates saw Edelman turn the ball over 14 times.

Kent State won't win without a leader. That leader is Julian Edelman.

When camp starts in early August, Edelman will have a lot to carry on his surgically repaired shoulder, and now a knee that kept him out of the final four games of the 2007 season. He's going to adapt to new offensive coordinator A.J. Pratt; he's going to have to quickly determine if his shoulder and knee are 100-percent; and, he's going to have to prove to his teammates that he's over whatever it was that caused the turnovers.

In the spring-when the quarterbacks were live-Edelman played more conservatively. He learned to slide rather than taking unnecessary hits. He protected the football and made smart football plays.

That's a start. Now he'll have four more weeks to get his teammates behind him.

2. Is there a go-to wide receiver?

Last fall, Kent State's offense almost became one-dimensional; and that's not a bad thing considering the success of running back Eugene Jarvis.

But, for the Golden Flashes to be successful, especially against defense like the one they'll face in the opener against Boston College, KSU is going to have to throw the football. That's a scary proposition considering the Golden Flashes' leading receiver last year-Phil Garner-caught just 27 passes.

The good news is three of Kent State's top five pass catchers return from a year ago-although one of them is Jarvis out of the backfield. Garner turned his 27 catches into 284 yards and one score. Jarvis caught 23 balls for 306 yards and three touchdowns while Derek McBryde caught 16 passes for 254 yards.

Take Jarvis out of the equation and Kent State's top two receivers combined for just 43 catches for 538 yards and one touchdown. In contrast, Boston College's top two returning receivers combined for 120 catches for 1,724 yards and 12 touchdowns.

The Golden Flashes aren't short of talent at the wide receiver position. Garner, McBryde, Leneric Muldrow, Aaron Robinson and Alan Vanderink all showed they have the ability to make big plays. Unfortunately, they haven't done it consistently.

Add to the equation the move of former linebacker Jameson Konz to tight end and the Flashes have a potential mismatch on every offensive play.

Part of the problem was at quarterback, where Edelman played hurt for seven of the eight games he appeared in, followed up by true freshman Giorgio Morgan being lost for the year in just his second game and both Anthony Magazu and Jon Brown seeing action.

Stability at quarterback is important-and with Edelman and Morgan the Golden Flashes have two capable passers-but more importantly, the wide receivers need to put themselves in position to make plays.

This season, with a very talented and explosive group of incoming freshman, the Golden Flashes have some options if the veterans don't produce.

3. How is the defense going to replace the leadership of Jack Williams and Colin Ferrell?

Any coach that tells you his team won't miss a beat after losing two players now on NFL rosters is lying.

Losing Williams and Ferrell, not to mention safety Fritz Jacques, is going to be a blow to the Kent State defense. Fortunately, the Golden Flashes have a veteran unit with many players having loads of experience.

Up front, both Kevin Hogan and Monte Simmons turned in outstanding springs, and if they carry that performance into the season, the defensive backs will have some pressure relieved as they won't be forced to cover receivers for five and six seconds as Hogan and Simmons will pressure quarterbacks into quick passes.

At linebacker, the Golden Flashes are deep and experienced with the return of Derek Burrell, Stevon Moss, Cedric Maxwell and the addition of Michigan transfer Cobrani Mixon.

In the backfield, Rico Murray returns. He has experience at both safety and corner, and should be the leader of the unit. Both Kirk Belgrave and Danny Sadler have seen their share of action and at safety, Brian Lainhart, Danny Hartman and Will Johnson are capable performers.

The defense will experience some growing pains, but once this unit gels, it has the potential to be one of the best in the Mid-American Conference.


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