For the second consecutive season, the defense came out of the annual Akron Zips spring game as the better unit. After a touchdown drive orchestrated by incumbent starting quarterback Kyle Pohl to open up the game, only three more points were scored on the day as the Blue squad beat the White squad by a 10-0 score. Now that spring ball has concluded, we know a little bit more about this team than we did before it started.
Like most offenses during spring ball, the Akron offense never really clicked, but that's okay. The quarterback position is pretty much up for grabs, there still isn't much experience at wide receiver, and the running back position is replacing a long-time starter in Jawon Chisholm.
Right now, there is a three-man competition that will continue in the fall. The current number one is senior Kyle Pohl. In 2014, Pohl went down with a concussion in week six, and never looked the same after it. In the spring game, Pohl led the opening drive for a touchdown on a short pass to Imani Davis. The coaching staff kept the play-calling pretty vanilla, as expected. Pohl only played a couple of series' and he threw an interception on his final attempt of the day.
The current number two is former 4-star dual threat quarterback Tra'Von Chapman. Chapman is favored by many Zips fans to win the job come fall, but it will be hard to beat Pohl's experience. Again, the basic play calling of short passes to the outside prohibited each quarterback from displaying his true abilities. On plays when he kept the ball, Chapman was able to get the the outside faster than anyone on the field. That dynamic that he brings to the table may be what wins him the job come August.
Third in the quarterback race is sophomore Tommy Woodson. Woodson made two starts in 2014 along with a couple of appearances when Pohl struggled. Woodson took most of the second team snaps as Pohl and Chapman took the first team snaps. Woodson was too confident in his arm on some plays that he was required to go deep. That was his problem last year, and he needs to improve in that aspect if he wants the job. Something that Woodson did well once again was run. He's not known to be a runner, but he's fast and agile enough if he ever gets in a situation where he has to tuck and run.
All in all, Pohl probably had the best day, but the quarterback position hasn't been decided yet. After the game, George Thomas of the Akron Beacon Journal tweeted this:
Per coachTerry Bowden @ZipsFB fans should not be surprised to see Kyle Pohl AND Tra'Von Chapman during next year's regular season.— George Thomas (@GeorgeThomasABJ) April 18, 2015
I'm not in love with the idea of a dual quarterback system, but Bowden played two quarterbacks in the win at Pittsburgh in 2014, so we'll have to see what happens.
This is one of the few spots on offense that is guaranteed to be good for Akron in 2015. Senior Conor Hundley will likely be the one to replace Jawon Chisholm in the backfield. Hundley, the offensive MVP of the spring, looked fantastic during the spring game. Behind a good push from the offensive line, Hundley was able to break off multiple big carries. He is as fast as he has been since he got to Akron thanks to hard work put in during the offseason thus far.
Behind Hundley are senior Colorado State transfer Donnell Alexander, junior Hakeem Lawrence, sophomore Manny Morgan, sophomore Fredrick Crow, and injured junior D.J. Jones.
Wide receiver may have been Akron's biggest issue in 2014. There were too many dropped passes in key situations and in general. Bowden has said throughout spring that the receivers-especially the upperclassmen-can't drop the ball.
The best receivers during the spring game were juniors Tyrell Goodman and Michael Means. Goodman and Means were the primary targets on the short outside passes for a majority of the game.
Goodman was with the Zips in 2013 and 2014, but missed most of 2014 with an injury. Goodman made a lot of big catches in 2013, and he may have been the piece that the 2014 corps was missing.
Michael Means is a JUCO transfer from Cincinnati, and he caught and ran on most of his catches.
These two receivers did their job and caught the football.
Senior Imani Davis did have the only touchdown catch of the day, but he also had a bad drop. Other receivers who dropped passes were senior Andrew Pratt and junior Mykel Traylor-Bennett. Those are pretty talented players, but the fundamentals are more important. If the receivers struggle in 2015, we could see a repeat of 2014's performance.
After offensive line coach John Peterson was hired away by Pittsburgh, the Zips were left with a situation that involves having a third offensive line coach in as many seasons. Darrell Funk was hired to take over as the leader of the offensive line.
The offensive line looked good during the spring game. The line excelled in the running game thanks to Quaison Osborne, Tommy Brown, Isaiah Williams, and Dylan Brumbaugh. The center is sophomore Stephen Ericksen. Ericksen has big shoes to fill with the loss of Travis Switzer. With this line combined with Conor Hundley, Akron may become more of a balanced team as opposed to being pass heavy.
The entire offense has a long way to go until it comes together, and that is fine. It all starts with the quarterback, though. If the quarterback is good in 2015, Akron's offense could be very dangerous.
Boy, is the defense talented. There's talent in all three levels of the defense. The front seven is one of the best that you will ever see in the MAC. However, the defensive backfield, though talented, is very inexperienced.
Akrons defensive line consists of a returning All-MAC selection in Cody Grice, two former Ohio State Buckeyes in Se'Von Pittman and Jamal Marcus, and an Iowa State transfer in Rodney Coe.
Coe didn't play in the spring game, but the rest did. Jamal Marcus, a defensive end, was the first to catch my eye, as he made the first tackle of the game. Marcus recorded six solo tackles in the 2014 Orange Bowl for Ohio State. Marcus stands at 6-foot-2, 240lbs. and is extremely fast. He did have a couple of offsides penalties, so discipline may be his biggest problem.
Se'Von Pittman, a tackle, also made a few tackles. Pittman wasn't great in 2014, but he has a lot of time to blossom as he is a junior for the upcoming season.
Cody Grice, a nose guard/full back hybrid, only played defense during the spring game. He will be the anchor of the line in the 2015 season as a senior.
A lineman that likely won't start, but played well is freshman Brock Boxen. Boxen was originally part of the 2014 signing class, but he is now a freshman. Boxen will likely see some playing time in 2015.
Akron is extremely deep at linebacker. The corps is led by All-MAC senior Jatavis Brown, who is one of the top defenders in the MAC. Brown ran all over the field during the spring game, and looked as fast as he ever has.
Joining Brown will be Washington State transfer Darryl Monroe. Monroe was 2014 PAC-12 honorable mention during his senior season at Washington State. Monroe is bigger than Brown, and his size made a big impact on the offense during the spring game. Darryl is the best transfer that Bowden had brought in, and could be one of the top defenders in the MAC.
Dylan Evans rounds out the linebacking corps for the Zips. Evans has been overshadowed by Justin March and Jatavis Brown while he's been at Akron even though he is also one of the better linebackers in the MAC. He is built just like Brown, so he's not someone that MAC teams should be overlooking.
This is the biggest question mark in the Akron defense. The losses of safety Bre' Ford and corner Martel Durant leave big holes that need to be filled in. DeAndre Scott returns as a junior. Scott is a ball-hawk that will be the anchor of the defensive backfield. He will play corner along with John Senter and Bryce Cheek.
The future at the safety position is promising. JUCO transfer Chris Bivins had a nice spring game, and will be the one to fill in the void left by the loss of Ford. The other safety is sophomore Zach Guiser, who made the only interception of the day. Also playing safety could be Jerome Lane jr. Lane can fill in at all three levels of the defense, but he may be needed at safety than any other position in 2015.
The spring game didn't answer many questions about the 2015 Akron football season, but that's okay. The season doesn't open up for nearly 140 days, and there is still the entire month of August to figure out the quarterback situation.
Bowden plans on bringing in a few more transfers by the time the season begins. One of them could be Tyreek Hill from Oklahoma State. Bowden uses these transfers to immediately insert talent and experience into the roster in order to make the building process a little bit faster.
With a lot of talent and a plethora of returning players, Akron has the potential to make school history in 2015.