A new era for UTSA football was ushered in this morning after the Roadrunners assembled for practice under the guidance of Frank Wilson for the first time. This spring will be crucial for UTSA. The program's culture will begin to take shape as the new coaching staff installs their system and sets their expectations for their student athletes. Here are the five story lines that will dictate the success of UTSA's spring season.
Has the offensive line improved?
It all starts up front for the Roadrunners. UTSA's offensive line allowed a stunning 44 sacks last season, preventing any reasonable offensive efficiency. The youthful left side of the offensive line should take a big step forward with an additional year of weight training and maturation. Frank Wilson will also have some additional size to work with, namely through the addition of JUCO offensive lineman Tanner Myers (6'7", 310). It's easy to predict that the offensive line will improve in 2016 but to what extent? Here's my prediction for the Roadrunners' starting five coming out of spring ball, going from left to right: Tanner Myers / Kyle McKinney / Austin Pratt / Stefan Beard / Reed Darragh.
How will the program change schematically?
Based off of early recruiting targets, it's safe to assume defensive coordinator Pete Golding is seeking more versatility. We've seen UTSA go after several defensive linemen that would thrive as a five technique defensive end in a three man front as well as some traditional nose guards that could be plugged into a five man defensive front. Will UTSA seek to employ odd man fronts in 2016?
On the offensive side of the ball I'm expecting to see the Roadrunners employ more power run schemes due to the experiences of UTSA's offensive staff. Running back Jarveon Williams will be the focus of UTSA's offensive game plan, as he should be. I'm interested to see how many receivers the staff splits out wide on each play and how tight ends are utilized in the passing game.
Are the freshmen defensive linemen ready to contribute?
It's no secret that defensive end was UTSA's thinnest position on defense last season. Once Jason Neill and Marcus Davenport came off the field UTSA was incapable of bringing any pressure to the quarterback. With Neill having graduated, this concern mounts to anxiety for Roadrunner fans.
Fortunately, defensive line coach Eric Henderson has some promising young talent to shape this spring. He'll need at least two of his freshmen defensive ends to contribute serious minutes this season if the Roadrunners want to keep constant pressure in the backfield. DeQuarius Henry, T.J. King, and Josiah Tauaefa are the names to watch. While he's just 6'1", 235, my money is on Tauaefa being a four year contributor for UTSA thanks to his explosiveness and relentless motor.
The Roadrunners enjoy a little bit more serviceable depth at defensive tackle but I'm excited to see how Baylen Baker looks coming off of his redshirt year. Now up to 6'5", 285, the long-armed tackle has the potential to dominate Conference USA competition.
Is there a back-up quarterback on the roster?
Count me in the camp that sees Dalton Sturm as a lock to start for UTSA in 2016 unless a stud graduate transfer quarterback emerges out of thin air. I'm more interested in seeing what happens behind Sturm on the depth chart. With only three quarterbacks listed on the roster, there will be plenty of first team reps to go around.
Redshirt freshman Manny Harris has been a fan favorite since his commitment to UTSA and some recent videos of his offseason workouts have fans fired up to see him compete. Harris certainly has a solid resume, as he surpassed most of Robert Griffin III's prep records at Copperas Cove HS.
I'm in the vast minority here, but I'm actually a bigger fan of UTSA's other redshirt freshman quarterback Jaylon Henderson. While Henderson is still raw as a passer, I think his plus athleticism gives him a higher ceiling than Harris who has a very unconventional body type (5'11", 230). Folks forget that Henderson was a highly sought-after three star recruit and one of just two quarterbacks named to the prestigious Houston Touchdown Club's 2014 class.
How good can Oklahoma transfer Danon Cavil be?
Given the talent already on the roster for UTSA at wide receiver, it's easy to forget that they're gaining a huge boost in former Oklahoma Sooner Danon Cavil. The San Antonio native drew the ire of Oklahoma's staff with his transfer request so it's not like the Sooners didn't have big plans for him in Norman. Cavil looked gigantic on the field last spring but we should be able to get a better look at him this year as he will finally be eligible to play. A four-wide formation of Cavil (6'4"), Campbell (6'0"), JaBryce Taylor (6'1"), and Thomas Jr. (6'0") should be a pretty tough coverage demand for Conference USA programs.