March 19, 2009
Spring Prospectus and Practice Schedule
ORLANDO, Fla. -
The UCF football team begins spring practice on Thursday morning in Orlando. On the offensive side of the ball, UCF brings back 10 of its 11 starters from last fall a year older, wiser and stronger. The Knights will also get back two injured top receivers in A.J. Guyton and Rocky Ross and injured H-Back Corey Rabazinski.
Offensive story lines ...
The spring will be a critical period for a young offense as it picks up the schemes of new offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe. A master of offenses ranging from the traditional wishbone to the wide-open attacks of the CFL throughout his coaching career, Taaffe will be able to incorporate many different nuances to help the Knights move the ball better than a year ago. Likewise, four of the five position groups have a different coach for 2009 than in 2008 as head coach George O'Leary carefully adjusted his staff during the winter.
The Knights will bring back 10 of its 11 starters by the end of the 2008 season, losing just first-team All-Conference USA left tackle Patrick Brown, a fixture in the UCF offense for 50 consecutive starts. In addition to the host of freshmen and sophomores who gained valuable experience in 2008, UCF will welcome back two of its top receivers, A.J. Guyton and Rocky Ross, both of whom were lost for the season due to injuries. UCF also brings starting H-Back Corey Rabazinski back to the active roster after missing half of the season with an injury.
UCF was one of just four teams in the nation to start a true freshman at quarterback in the majority of its games last fall but Rob Calabrese
will be a year older, wiser and stronger as he and redshirt sophomore Joe Weatherford
work on their games with Taaffe who will also serve as quarterbacks coach.
Depth on UCF's defensive line will help bolster the 2009 offensive line as it has enabled O'Leary to move former defensive tackles Theo Goins and Wes Tunuufi Sauvao over to the offensive side of the field to strengthen a unit which featured four first-year starters a year ago, including two redshirt freshmen.
Depth at tailback was never an issue in 2008 with four freshmen vying for the top role before Brynn Harvey took it over at midseason and never looked back. Joining the quartet this spring will be former Orlando Evans star James Poe whose athleticism and 6-4, 230-pound build will make him one to watch.
Three different Knights saw action at the quarterback position last fall and two of them are back to compete for the starting job during the spring. Rob Calabrese started eight games a year ago as a true freshman, becoming one of just four true freshmen to serve as their school's primary starting quarterback in 2008. Calabrese would complete 65-of-165 passes as a rookie for 664 yards with seven touchdowns and five interceptions.
Joe Weatherford also saw time in three games as a backup quarterback and enters the spring of 2009 a year wiser as a redshirt sophomore. Weatherford completed 15-of-36 passes a year ago for 160 yards. Michael Greco, who started four games under center last fall, has been moved to the safety position where his athleticism will be a great asset. Also in camp this spring for UCF are Andy Slowik, who ran UCF's scout team last fall, and a pair of transfers in L.D. Crow (Stanford) and Brian Taaffe (Fordham).
UCF returns a deep stable of sophomore tailbacks in 2009 as four different freshmen got a shot at filling the shoes of departed consensus All-America Kevin Smith in 2008. The 2009 roster includes 100-percent of the team's rushing yardage from the 2008 season.
By the end of the year, Brynn Harvey had emerged as the starter and ended up leading the Knights with 125 attempts and 519 yards, averaging a solid 4.2 yards per carry. He showed a flash of what may be to come with a 50-yard touchdown scamper that helped seal UCF's win at Marshall and was named to the C-USA All-Freshman team.
Ronnie Weaver started each of the first six games and gained 348 yards on his 102 carries, scoring twice. Latavius Murray led the team in rushing touchdowns with three, two of them coming in UCF's season-opening 17-0 shutout of South Carolina State. Brandon Davis also saw action in six games, rushing the ball 24 times for 68 yards.
Joining the group this spring is James Poe, a big back at 6-4, 230 pounds. Poe is a graduate of Orlando's Freedom High School and later attended Georgia Military College.
The fullback role this spring will be contested primarily between a pair of redshirt freshmen in Brendan Kelly and Billy Giovanetti.
UCF boasted an exceptionally young offensive line a year ago with four first-year starters, two of them redshirt freshmen. The unit is back in 2008 (except for four-year starter Patrick Brown at left tackle) and, a year stronger and wiser, the linemen will look to make a giant step forward under the tutelage of Brent Key, an All-ACC lineman in his playing days at Georgia Tech.
Nick Pieschel, who started each of the final seven games of the season at left guard, will move over to the left tackle post as the spring season begins.
UCF will take advantage of some of its tremendous defensive line depth to help bolster its offensive line this spring and part of that is moving Theo Goins across to the other side of the ball to play left guard. Another converted defensive tackle, Wes Tunuufi Sauvao, will play center this spring, starting drills behind Ian Bustillo who started seven games there in 2008.
Powerful redshirt freshman Steven Robinson will get his crack this spring at the starting right guard position ahead of early-enrolled true freshman Rey Cunha. Fourth-year junior Jah Reid will shift back outside from right guard to right tackle. The 6-7 Reid started the first four games last fall at right tackle and then each of the last six at right guard for 10 total starts.
Once again, UCF has great depth at the wide receiver position which will give the coaching staff several options when it comes time to set a lineup. Overall, UCF returns players who accounted for all but three of the team's 2008 season receptions.
In addition to what UCF had at the end of the 2008 season, the unit is that much deeper with the return of A.J. Guyton and Rocky Ross from injuries and the addition of true freshman Marquee Williams. Guyton was one of the team's top receivers in 2007 but missed the entire 2008 campaign with a knee injury while Ross broke his clavicle at UTEP last September and the UCF offense was not the same without him in the final eight games.
Brian Watters started all 12 games a year ago as a wide receiver and led the Knights with 42 catches and 594 yards while sharing the team lead with Khymest Williams with three scores. Williams started a pair of games last fall and appeared in all 12. Kamar Aiken saw action in the final nine games after suffering a preseason injury and hauled in 20 passes for UCF.
Jamar Newsome (four receptions, 81 yards, one touchdown), Notre Dame transfer Richard Jackson (seven games played, two receptions), Chad Alexander and J.T. McArthur also saw playing time for the Knights at wide receiver in 2008 and return this spring as a part of a deep unit.
UCF's core of tight ends and H-Backs are back intact from last year and will additionally benefit from the return of Corey Rabazinski who caught nine passes, including a touchdown, before suffering a season-ending injury at Miami.
Rabazinski will head into the spring as the top H-Back, and that group also features Ricky Kay who has played extensively for the Knights as an H-Back and fullback, starting four games a year ago and catching seven passes, one of which was a touchdown.
Adam Nissley, who played at both offensive tackle and tight end last year, is back in the tight end mix as the 2009 season approaches. The redshirt sophomore started six games at each position in 2008. Alongside Nissley at the tight end post is John Lubischer who took over as the team's top tight end after Nissley's move to tackle and Rabazinski's injury. His first career catch was a touchdown in UCF's win at Marshall. Kyle Madden also started a trio of games as a tight end last fall as a true freshman.