The spring football roster was released recently, and it contains a lot that was expected, along with some surprising position changes and reshuffles.
Running back rotation full of new faces
The rotation of backs heavily vaunted in last year’s preseason has been cut down to just one of the original members. Obviously that member is star Spencer Brown, who returns for his junior year with a chance to cement his legacy as one of the greatest Blazers ever and break the remaining school rushing records. In an interesting move, former backfield mate Jarrion Street have been moved to safety. It may be because of the hype about redshirt freshman Werlean Pollock, an agile, speedy runner who had an offer from UCF. Hopefully he can reduce Spencer’s overall workload, along with the returning Lucious Stanley and former wide receiver/special teams player Jonathan Haden, who is experimenting at RB. The other listed running backs are Rashad Mosley, Larry Wooden, and Isaiah Montgomery. I can’t find much on Mosley, but Wooden is an Arkansas State transfer who was rated the 118th best RB in the country when he was originally recruited, and Montgomery transferred from a NAIA school. Their role will be similar to those of Donnie Lee (graduated), Carlos Stephens (transferred), and James Noble III (graduated) the last couple of years.
The RB depth chart will probably look something like:
Lucious Stanley/Werlean Pollock
although that could change as we learn more about the newcomers.
QBs led by Johnston
It started in Legion against UTSA last year, but with the graduation of AJ Erdely, this is completely TJ3’s team for the first time in his career. With multiple promising performances coming in the last half of 2018, it looks like the QB play will not take much of a hit. Johnston is more of a known commodity, in contrast to his backups, who are X-factors. Behind him on the depth chart will be Dylan Hopkins from Maryville, Bryson Lucero (carved up Hoover on national television), and David Hendrick. Hopkins was the 54th best quarterback in the country and the 2nd best dual threat QB in Tennessee, so he might continue the trend of UAB QBs running well. Lucero, on the other hand, is a three star from powerhouse IMG that put on a show in front of the whole country. Lucero is more of a throwing quarterback compared to Hopkins and Erdely. Because of Johnston’s strong play, Hopkins and Lucero will have to show out to win the starting role this season, but last season showed us that anything can happen.
Offensive line takes hit
The fantastic offensive line from last season lost four of its members, along with its coach. First-team all-conference lineman Justice Powers graduated, along with second-team members Rishard Cook, Malique Johnson, and James Davis. O-line coach Jody Wright left for the Browns as well, and was replaced by Richard Owens. The only returning starter is center Lee Dufour, who is a solid anchor. Dufour said about the line in Evan Dudley’s AL.com article:
“Obviously, we lost four starting guys, a lot of those guys with a chance at the next level, but the guys who came in behind them all got a lot of experience last year. For example, I broke my arm in the middle of the season and Greg Fecanin came in right behind me, didn’t miss a beat and had a great year. Andrew Smith had a great year, David Galten has come in and got a lot of reps. Guys that are coming in now may not have started last year but they all definitely got some valuable reps. We’ve been communicating with each other, and obviously our communication needs to improve a little bit, but for starting off a foundation and starting off on day one, I think we did pretty good.”
Dufour sounds confident about the line, which is good, but no one really knows how it will perform this year with 4 2-year starters gone. Almost everything, including the depth chart, will be unknown until later in the summer. The closest thing to a guarantee we have is that Dufour will start and the aforementioned Fecanin, Smith, and Galten will get playing time as well.
Top five wide receivers gone
As with the offensive line, the starting WR unit has graduated. With Andre Wilson, Xavier Ubosi, Collin Lisa, and Kailon Carter gone, new faces are going to have to step up to replace them. One of those new faces will be Myron Mitchell, a three-star recruit from Butler CC. Mitchell has showcased his extensive abilities as a wideout, picking up an offer from Texas Tech before going to community college. He is the most likely player to take on the role as main receiver, but that title could go to any of the following:
Austin Watkins, solid receiver in JUCO
Kendall Parham, agile wideout that had a solid season last year
Sederian Copeland, back at the WR position and healthy from injuries
Demetrius Davis, former 3-star with offers from Mississippi State and Indiana
Conner Howell, had FCS offers
Alec Marsch, Homewood product
TD Marshall, Samford transfer, played QB in high school
I don’t think we’ll know much about this offense as a whole until the season begins. So much depends on if Johnston keeps up his production, if the new WRs produce, if the new offensive line is solid, and if Spencer Brown is his same old self.
Defensive line and linebackers still look to be intimidating
It is no secret that the UAB defense was one of the best in the country last year, and they want to keep that trend going in year three of The Return. That task will be difficult with the loss of multiple key defenders, but the Blazers retain some of their core pieces. Garrett Marino, Thomas Johnston (who is looking to take a step up this year), Kris Moll, Dy’jonn Turner, Fitz Mofor (someone the team will need to replicate the leadership of Broderick Thomas and AJ Erdely), and others return for the Blazers. Not only that, but some very exciting new pieces are being thrown into the mix as well, including some recruits that UAB would never dream of getting 7 years ago. Those include LBs Deshaun Oliver, Jr. and Jalen Rayam, two hyped up player being recruited by Power 5 schools. If they can come in and replace major contributors such as Chris Woolbright, the defense is in good shape. On the defensive line side of things, former Nebraska commit Tony Fair, Fish McWilliams, and Michael Fairbanks will cause havoc and help replace players like Anthony Rush. If all of the new pieces can step in immediately, then the D-line and linebackers should have no problems getting back to their level last year.
Exciting talent in defensive backfield
Like many other units on this team, the safeties and corners lost a lot of production, but have freshman and sophomores that are read to take over. D.A. Williams finished his college career in a bad way with a scary neck injury, while Duke Culver, Broderick Thomas, and Mar’Sean Diggs also graduated. That clears the way for Starling Thomas V and CD Daniels to pave their own roles. Both had high-major offers and have shown promise in the little playing time they have had. The Miller twins, Damien and Damon, will also get opportunities this season. Damien especially is a player I am excited to see, simply because of his special teams talents.
I think every unit on the team will depend on the ability of players that are not very experienced in game situations to come in and play at a high level immediately. So many players were lost that it is very hard to project the depth charts and production that each unit will produce this upcoming season. It’ll be up to all the players mentioned above plus any I missed to defend the title.