Youngstown State begins spring football practice Wednesday under the guidance of second-year coach Eric Wolford, whose team finished a disappointing 3-8 but was competitive in nearly every game. Vindicator reporter Joe Scalzo breaks down the team, position-by-position. (Year in school applies to fall 2011). Analysis does not include incoming recruits unless they have already enrolled:
Overview: The Penguins lose four starters, including three on the line, from a unit that averaged 31.3 points per game and set a school record by averaging 412 yards per game. There are a few question marks but it once again figures to be the team’s strength.
Who’s back: Sophomore Kurt Hess, senior Marc Kanetsky
Who’s gone: No one.
Others to watch: Sophomore Najee Tyler, freshman Patrick Angle.
Analysis: Hess was named Missouri Valley Football Conference freshman of the year after starting every game and setting a YSU freshman record with 2,117 yards passing. He’s one of the team’s hardest workers and is a favorite of the coaches. Kanetsky is a solid backup and has the trust of the coaches. Tyler is the most physically gifted QB on the roster but needs to work on his overall grasp of the position. Angle redshirted last fall but performed well on the scout team and is a good enough athlete that the coaches considered moving him to safety last fall.
Who’s back: Junior TB Jamaine Cook, sophomore TB Adaris Bellamy, sophomore TB Jordan Thompson, sophomore TB Allen Jones, junior TB Torrian Pace.
Who’s gone: FB Dan Banna.
Others to watch: No one.
Analysis: Easily the strength of the team. Cook was YSU’s best player last year and coach Eric Wolford has repeatedly called him his hardest worker. Bellamy was a terrific complement last fall and has improved his conditioning this winter. Thompson showed flashes of his potential but didn’t get as many carries because of the top two players’ production. Jones was a solid special teams player who was productive when he got the chance and he’s impressed the coaches with his performance in conditioning drills this winter. Pace was buried on the depth chart but is too talented to sit on the sidelines. This unit’s biggest problem is there is too much talent.
WIDE RECEIVERS and TIGHT ENDS
Who’s back: Senior WR Ely Ducatel, senior WR Andre Barboza, senior WR Pat White, junior WR Juilian Harrell, sophomore WR Kevin Watts, sophomore TE Carson Sharbaugh, senior TE David Rogers.
Who’s gone: WR Dominique Barnes.
Others to watch: Junior WR Jelani Berassa.
Analysis: Wideout is maybe the biggest question mark on the team. Barnes’ departure leaves a massive void, as a handful of players (notably Ducatel, Harrell and Watts) had their moments last fall, but no one showed the consistency to be the No. 1 guy. Sharbaugh was solid and should be better in his second season. Berassa tore his ACL in training camp and missed last season but is an intriguing prospect. Tight ends coach Andre Coleman, who played receiver in the NFL, will also coach wideouts this year after the departure of assistant coach Phil Longo. The coaches believe there’s potential here and that the team needs to shore up its pass protection to allow the receivers time to get open.
Who’s back: Junior tackles Andrew Radakovich and D.J. Main, sophomore guard Chris Elkins.
Who’s gone: Guards Bobby Coates and Eric Rodemoyer, center Justin Rechichar, tackle Chris Gammon.
Others to watch: Sophomore guard Zach Larson, sophomore tackle Andrew Sinko, freshman guard Stephen Page, sophomore Fred Herdman, junior college transfers Lamar Mady and Mark Pratt.
Analysis: Although losing three senior starters hurts, a good core returns. The Penguins’ experience is on the edges but a couple newcomers need to step up. Wolford moved Page and Herdman from defense to offense to try to create competition.
Analysis: The Penguins return eight starters from a unit that struggled mightily in the fall, particularly late in the games when the team’s lack of depth became painfully obvious. Making things worse, departing seniors Torrance Nicholson (DT) and Brandian Ross (CB) were arguably the unit’s two best players. Question marks abound, although there’s potential for improvement everywhere.
Who’s back: Senior NT Andrew Johnson, senior DE Obinna Ekweremuba
Who’s gone: DT Nicholson, DE Luke Matelan, DE Stephen Meadows (left team)
Others to watch: Senior DE Daniel Stewart, sophomore DT D.J. Moss, sophomore DE Kyle Sirl, junior college transfers Josh Fenderson and Nick DeKraker, freshman DT Brandon Green.
Analysis: Losing Nicholson and Matelan hurts and Wolford is hoping a couple players will step up. No Penguin had more than two sacks last season so it’s imperative that this unit improve, particularly on passing downs. This was an emphasis in recruiting, as Wolford never again wants to be this thin in veteran linemen.
Who’s back: Seniors John Sasson and Deonta Tate, sophomore Dom Rich.
Who’s gone: David Rach.
Others to watch: Sophomores Taylor Hill, Will Shaw, Thomas Sprague, Ali Cheaib and Mark Brandenstein.
Analysis: Rach left the team to focus on academics. Sasson led the team in tackles last season and is considered one of the team’s two hardest workers. Hill led the team in tackles two years ago before sitting out last fall due to academic issues. Shaw is moving down from safety to his more natural position. This unit made plenty of tackles but not enough plays. Still, the coaches think this could be the strength of the defense.
Who’s back: Sophomore corners Donald D’Alesio and Jamarious Boatwright
Who’s gone: Ross, safety Andre Elliott
Others to watch: Senior CB Grant Mayes, senior safeties Deionte Williams and Scott Sentner, sophomore safety Josh Garner
Analysis: This unit really struggled last season and losing Ross and Elliott (who missed the last seven games with a shoulder injury) won’t help. D’Alesio and Boatwright were forced to play earlier than the coaches would have liked but that experience should help. Again, the coaches believe there’s potential in this unit but there are still a lot of question marks.
Who’s back: Sophomore punter Nick Liste
Who’s gone: PR/KR Barnes, K Stephen Blose, K Jake Smith (left team)
Others to watch: Junior college transfer kicker David Brown
Analysis: Blose was reliable on extra points — he set the school record for PATs — and could be relied on to make short field goals but YSU is hoping Brown will give the team a bigger threat on kickoffs and long field goals. YSU’s kick coverage was awful last year and the Penguins desperately need a playmaker in the return game, particularly since Barnes isn’t back. Liste was terrific and should solidify the position for years.