Good evening all! Its been a busy day on the Hill, and we apologize for this taking so long to post. We know you all have been waiting the whole day to read day 3 of the WKU Spring Football Preview. Today we will preview the majority of the offense. We will start with the offensive line, move to wide receivers, and finish with the glory position the QB spot. Lets get this thing rolling.
Last year’s offensive line was needed to make way for NCAA leading running back Antonio Andrews. The 2013 squad felt the loss of their Center for a portion of the season giving them some needed experience coming into this season. Of the five starting lineman, WKU saw three players leave. The three Hilltoppers departing are guard Luis Polanco, tackle Ed Hazelett, and center Sean Conway. Conway, while being the signal caller of the line is also at the top of WKU records with most starts in his Hilltopper career with over 30. Replacing him will be a tall task as well as replacing Polanco who was a starter since his sophomore campaign and replacing his leadership will be tough. For Hazelett he saw his first full-time action his senior season. He was the tackle opposite a freshman so he had to learn and mold a protégé as well. Replacing those three gentlemen doesn’t bode well for Western. That being said however the Tops offensive line depth chart is plentiful with men just waiting. Forrest Lamp who started as a freshman will most likely make the transition over to left tackle ready to protect his QB. Western has 15 lineman on their spring roster and the most promising to get number one spots on the depth chart is a returning starter in Cameron Clemmons. Clemmons at 6-6 could play tackle opposite Lamp or also play guard. With the return of Lamp and Clemmons, three Tops are on the roster who saw significant playing time last year. Max Halpin a sophomore started 5 games for WKU last season after Conway went down with an injury and ended 2013 having been on the field in all 12 contests. The second player looking to cement his place in the starting lineup is guard Maurice Bennett. Bennett a 6-2 junior stepped on Feix Field 12 times last year-expect him to START 12 this year. The final player who has some WKU playing time under his belt is Darrell Williams. Williams a 6-6 310 pound redshirt sophomore participated in 7 games and started the last 3 of the season after Hazelet went down with an injury. These three Hilltoppers will make the WKU line a force to be reckoned with in 2014-if they get the nod.
Quick hit here before we move to the Wide Receivers lets talk about our hybrid players-Tight Ends. Two TE’s who made the WKU passing game click at times were Mitchell Henry, Tyler Higbee, and Devin Scott. Scott saw action in ten games in 2013 recording no offensive stats. Devin was used solely as a blocking Tight End for the Hilltoppers. For Higbee and Henry they were used in the passing game. Henry saw action in all 12 games leading tight ends in receptions with 25 for 305 yards and two touch downs. Higbee started 3 games appearing in five and recording 13 catches for 169 yards and a lone touchdown. The Tight End position isn’t the most glorious and attention getting but for WKU it was a vital part of the offense as they use them in both protection and passing packages. These three gentleman have gotten more experience and are a threat in the Brohm offense in 2014.
Now lets Talk skilled Positions. The 2013 WKU wide receiving corps was one to forget. With many dropped balls and poor route running this years group will be watched closely looking for a quick turn around. Lets jump right in and check this group of men out. Joel German a 6 foot 185 pound redshirt senior is returning for WKU. German saw the field ten times with three starts. German had 26 receptions for 339 yards coming in at fourth most on the team. German is a speed wideout lacking considerable height. His best fit is in the slot or maybe a jet back in some more complicated formations. The only returning WR who started all 12 games in the 2013 season is redshirt senior Willie McNeal. McNeal a 5-10 slot back lead the Tops in receptions (46), yards (599), and touchdowns (5)-he looks to extend his stellar season and add to his totals. Sophomore Nick Norris who mad five starts and 12 appearances overall had 33 receptions, 431 yards and 4 touchdowns (2nd on the team). Norris was a big name and has room to grow athletically for the 2014 Tops. The final contributor to the 2013 team that is here for the ’14 campaign is sophomore Taywan Taylor. Mr. Taylor is one of the Hilltoppers tallest receivers standing at 6-1 and weighing 190 pounds. Taywan had 7 starts and 11 appearances scoring no touchdowns but catching 24 passes for 270 yards. The Hilltoppers return two of their leading corers at wide receiver. With Coach Brohm most likely looking to air it out more than run will look to these gentleman and their counterparts to carry the load.
Most likely the 2013 position that sparked the most debate was the most important on the field-Quarterback. With a plethora of signal callers on the depth chart the Hilltoppers will look to get more consistency out of their Captain. Four Quarterbacks are listed on the Hilltoppers depth chart right now. All four saw playing time at some point in the 2013 season. The number one being Brandon Doughty. Doughty a 6-3 210 Senior from Florida played in 12 games last year for the Tops starting ten (Didn’t start Morgan State, or Troy). Doughty shows flashes of magnificence and at other times he makes irresponsible throws. However Mr. Doughty broke Western records last year throwing for 2,857 yards and a 65.8 completion percentage. He also set single-game records completing 29 passes and throwing for 387 yards in the same game against Troy (which he didn’t start). Moving back to the irresponsible throws, at a point in the season Doughty lead the NATION in interceptions and he finished the year with 14. Number two on the depth chart most likely will be 6-2 junior Nelson Fishback. Nelson saw action in five games starting one against troy. The lone start came at a time when Bobby Petrino was trying to find his best fit at QB. Fishback would falter against Troy allowing Doughty to have the best performance of the year. The next two are sophomores Todd Porter and Damarcus Smith. Porter started the Morgan State game going 5 of 10 for 76 yards and an interception-he was also pulled in favor of Doughty. Smith came in relief of a struggling Doughty in the Tops worst loss of the season At Tennessee, Damarcus went 0 for 2 throwing and rushed 3 times for 9 yards.
In the past the plan for WKU is to have a strong running game to set up the pass. With many teams ready for a strong run game from the Hilltoppers its imperative for the Tops to have a good passing game. So far this spring limiting turnovers is still a point of emphasis for the new coaching staff lead by coach Jeff Brohm. If WKU plans to make a run in their new conference the Tops must have a functioning passing game, encompassing all 4 positions covered today.
Check back in with us tomorrow as we run down who will transition Western Kentucky into the post Rainey and Andrews era, and also Friday as we give you a quick introduction to the new WKU coaching staff. Until then… GO TOPS!