The 2014 Furman Football Preview: Part I The Offense

2014 Furman Football Preview Part I (1)   –PDF Version

 

GREENVILLE, S.C.–The 2014 football season has quietly started to creep into the mindsets of the coaches, which helped bring home a 13th Southern Conference crown last season in what was arguably the most memorable regular season in program history from just how amazing things transpired down the stretch.

With the return of 17 starters to the fold, the pressure for Furman to maintain the edge which it had last season will be more than it has been in quite some time, but for Bruce Fowler, who enters his fourth season as the head coach of the Furman football program, the Paladins seem poised for one of those special runs that fans watched the program make during the early-mid 2000’s.

In fact, there hasn’t been this much optimism heading into a season since maybe the 2005 or ‘06 season, as the expectation is not only for Furman to compete for a second-straight Southern Conference title, but expectations are to achieve even more this season, as Paladin fans got spoiled last season, after the Paladins, who entered the final month of the regular-season with a 3-5 record, won five-straight games before bowing out of the postseason against eventual national title winner, North Dakota State, 38-7.

Not only is Furman coming off a season which saw it win eight games in a season for the first time since 2006. The 2013 Paladins would claim a Southern Conference standard 13th Southern Conference crown last fall, and of the 13 crowns the Paladin football program has laid claim to since 1978, the 2013 crown was certainly more remarkable than any league crown the Paladins have won since claiming their first in 1978.

Head coach Bruce Fowler heads into his fourth season as the head coach of Furman with an embarrassment of talent that gained momentum in the middle of the season and the youthful exuberance of the Paladins would carry the Paladins to a memorable league title run.

The danger Furman must keep in mind is that the losses of Appalachian State and Georgia Southern will cause a the playoff committee to regard the league with less prestige than it has in the past–that’s human nature. It means the Paladins now and in the future must not leave it in the hands of someone else to decide playoff worthiness, much like the Paladins did last season by garnering the league’s automatic bid.

The evidence of a tougher selection committee was given credibility last season, when the Southern Conference had only two teams qualify for the FCS postseason last fall, in Furman and Samford, while arguably the best team in the league–Chattanooga which returned 18 starters–was left out of the field despite winning eight regular-season games, which included a six-game winning streak at one in the season.

But the Mocs can only blame themselves for missing the postseason last season, as they didn’t take care of business in the non-conference against Tennessee-Martin, and that’s why Furman can’t afford the kind of letdowns the Paladins had early last season against the likes of Gardner-Webb and even Coastal Carolina, although the Chanticleers were very good. With a year of experience gained, the Paladins will have certainly learned from those early season hiccups of 2013.

That being said, the Paladins only goal will be winning the SoCon in 2014 because that’s the only way to ensure a shot at a bigger piece of the prize. Programs like Samford and Chattanooga, along with Furman, appear to be the ones to emerge as the top of the league’s power structure, with both the Mountaineers and Eagles transitioning to the next level.

The 2014 season now becomes one of the most important in the history of the Furman football program, because it will be a gauge in many respects. Furman is ahead of the curve heading into the new Southern Conference, as the Paladins head in as defending co-champions, which is obviously better than entering the season a year behind both Samford and Chattanooga in recruiting in a league that basically has now started over from scratch with the loss of three teams, but only two of the SoCon’s losses really matter, and that’s obviously the two squads moving to the FBS, and not Elon, and that’s no offense to the Phoenix but just reality.

If the Paladins are to find their way back to the postseason and defend their Southern Conference title in 2014, they will have to do so against a league that will feature some big challenges this season. At the top of that proverbial Southern Conference ladder will likely be those same Chattanooga Mocs, who have knocked of the Paladins in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1993 and ‘94.

Wofford will be back after steaming all off-season from a 5-6 season, which saw the Terriers miss the postseason for the first time since 2009, and Samford, who despite losing pretty much every major skill position threat on offense, bring in a very high-profile transfer QB, in former Arizona State backup Michael Eubank, who might be the biggest transfer into the league since B.J. Coleman to Chattanooga from Tennessee or Chris Forcier from UCLA to Furman.

That being said, this is a season which Furman once again finds itself entering a season with some measure of respect, and no one can make the claim its a program resting on past laurels.

The Paladins’ success is very relevant and the 2014 season has the potential to be the best season in Greenville since 2004 and ’05, with a deep run in the playoffs not out of the realm of possibilities this season. The one difference now is Furman is no longer the dark horse, but the team squarely wearing the bulls-eye on their proverbial chests entering the 2014 season–a pressure that is welcomed with caution, but satisfaction in having gained respect once again. Now, it’s up to the staff and the team to go out and leave no doubts in 2014.

hannon victory pose

Furman Junior Quarterback Reese Hannon

 PREVIEWING THE FURMAN OFFENSE:

The 2014 season brings about high hopes for the Furman offense, and although the numbers put up by the unit weren’t something that would strike fear into the opponents faced by the Paladins in 2013, the unit was the model of efficiency led by quarterback Reese Hannon (153-of-254 passing, 1,748 yards, 7 TDs, 5 INTs),, who heads into his junior season as the Paladins’ starter under center.

Hannon is among eight starters returning for the Paladins on the offensive side of the football for the 2014 season, with all but one receiver returning to the fold and all three leading rushers coming back in the backfield. Three are back on the offensive line, with starters Dakota Dozier and Eric Thoni having to be replaced at left tackle and center, respectively.

All told, the Paladins are coming off a 2013 season which saw it average just 22.7 PPG and 318.3 YPG, but again, those somewhat low averages don’t take into account the efficiency with which the offense displayed last fall. It was, in particular, a good season rushing the football for the Paladins, which is a must in the Southern Conference.

In total offense, the 318.3 YPG would rank Furman seventh in the SoCon and 102nd nationally, while the 22.7 PPG ranked fourth in the SoCon and 81st nationally among FCS teams in scoring offense. The Paladins also ranked fourth in the SoCon and 95th nationally in passing offense, averaging 170.4 YPG through the air last fall.

It’s a conference which almost demands a balanced offense, and last season, the Paladins averaged a solid 149.3 YPG on the ground, producing a 1,000-yard rusher for the third-consecutive season. Those totals helped the Paladins rank fourth in the SoCon and 79th nationally in total offense.

Hannon now enters his junior season with hopes of leading Furman even further he did in his second season as a starter, as he was the main cog in helping the Paladins lift the program’s 13th Southern Conference title, as well as win their first playoff game since 2006.

The Greer, S.C., product isn’t a quarterback that is going to put up huge numbers under center, and he isn’t going to be the most recognizable figure of the Paladin offense like predecessors Ingle Martin or Chris Forcier might have been. He doesn’t have a well-advertised, big arm, or track speed, but what he does bring the Paladin offense is accuracy in the passing attack, and extreme, almost error-free efficiency in his understanding of the Furman offense.

One of the most important things for a quarterback is to play within himself, and Hannon does that perhaps better than any quarterback than any quarterback in the history of the Furman football program.

The Paladins were 0-3 against Elon, Chattanooga and Gardner-Webb without the services of Hannon last season, but were an impressive 8-3 in games he started. Hannon took over the starting job for Furman after Dakota Derrick went down with a shoulder injury in the Paladins’ second game of the 2012 season, and since putting on a dazzling, 255-yard, three touchdown performance, he has never looked back in his role as a starter, only relinquishing the job because of injuries since.

The Paladins are 0-5 over the past two seasons in games Hannon did not start, and 0-4 in games in which he did not see any action. In his first couple of seasons under center for the Paladins, Hannon has connected on 313-of-514 passes for 3,644 yards, with 14 TDs and 13 INTs. In 2013, Hannon connected on 153-of-254 passes for 1,748 yards, with seven TDs and five INTs. Hannon led Furman to the program’s first Southern Conference title since 2004, first playoff appearance since 2006 and first playoff victory since 2005.

Hannon also became the youngest quarterback, according to class, to lead Furman to a Southern Conference title as a sophomore signal-caller since Frankie DeBusk led the Paladins to league and national titles as a super sophomore back in 1988. Hannon’s signature performance of the season came in a game of paramount importance against Wofford, in which the Paladins needed to win in order to claim the Southern Conference crown.

Hannon, the cousin of former Paladin standout quarterback Justin Hill did was proceed to throw for a career-high 326 yards, with a TD and an INT, as he led the Paladins to the all important 27-14 title-clinching win over they Terriers.

Hannon’s performance over his first two seasons has already placed him in the Top 10 of the program’s all-time leading passers, and with his uncanny ability to manage a game, as well as make the big, accurate throw in clutch situations, the Paladins have an excellent opportunity to at least match their achievements of a year ago, but have likely set their sights on even more if they can accomplish the first goal, which is win the SoCon.

Hannon is extremely vital to this offense, and the success of Furman in 2014 likely depends on his ability to stay healthy. If he is able to stay injury free the Paladins likely don’t have a limit to the success they can achieve this fall.

The best news for Hannon is the support he will have under center this fall, with some excellent options waiting in the wings should the unfortunate occurence of an injury.

One of several options returning to provide support behind Hannon under center will be redshirt freshman Dillon Woodruff (7-of-16 passing, 123 yds, 1 TD, 2 INTs), who became the first freshman quarterback to start for the Paladins under center since 1956, when Woodruff started the opener against Gardner-Webb for Hannon, who had to miss the start with a strained oblique.

Woodruff would get injured in that opening game against Gardner-Webb, as he suffered a shoulder injury that would sideline him for the remainder of the season.

The loss of Woodruff would prove costly later in the season when the Paladins suffered further injuries at the quarterback position, however, the “next-man-up” mentality would prove to pay off the Paladins in the end for Furman.

Injuries can often be a two-edged sabre, however, as a result of last season’s multitude of injuries under center played out in favor of the Paladins in terms of experience heading into the 2014 season.

Another positive for the Paladins under center includes the return of Terry Robinson (0-of-1 passing, 1 INT/23 rush att, 101 yds, 4 TDs, 4.4 YPC) under center, who saw his season cut short due to an injury to a knee injury against Elon, returns to the fold to add even more depth to the position, allowing Richard Hayes III (302 rushing yards, 2 TDs) to move back to the defensive side of the ball, while Duncan Fletcher (36-of-58, 378 yds, 1 TD, 2 INTs) will also move to a different position, which is on the offensive side of the ball, as he moves to tight end.

Robinson was particularly effective in a win over The Citadel, which started the Paladins on their momentuos run through the Southern Conference and on to their 13th Southern Conference crown. The week prior to the season-ending injury, Robinson turned in his best game as a Paladin against The Citadel. He finished that contest rushing for 46 yards and a pair of crucial TDs, helping the Paladins post what was a 24-17 upset road win at The Citadel.

Despite coming to Furman as a defensive back, Hayes-a product of the Gate City of Greensboro, N.C.–would prove to be a vital asset on the offensive side of the football, particularly in a late-season battle with Western Carolina, as the Paladins needed a road win to keep their postseason and Southern Conference title hopes alive and well.

Hayes III was forced into action at mid-season after Robinson went down with a mid-season injury, and all the true freshman-turned-defensive back would do was turn on the after-burners.

He produced one of the best rushing performances in the history of Furman football in the regular-season road finale against Western Carolina, as Hayes III ran for a career-best 144 yards and a crucial 60-yard scoring run late in the third quarter, extending a two-point Paladin advantage to nine points, at 26-17.

The 144 rushing yards by Hayes III accounted for the second-highest rushing total in a single game in Furman football history. Two of Hayes’ carries accounted for 114 of his 144 yards in the win over the Catamounts for the second-highest rushing total in a single game in Furman football history.

Finally, Fletcher was called up to start two contests in 2013, with the freshman walk-on getting introduced to Southern Conference football against The Citadel, leading the Paladin offense to a win in that contest after Reese Hannon suffered an ankle injury. In the epic win over a

itter arch-rival, Fletcher would be at the forefront of the win, as he steadied the offense, and ultimately led the Paladins to their winning score in what was a thrilling 24-17 victory.

Fletcher’s first pass of the game was a 43-yard completion, which set up the game-winning score for the Paladins. In total, Fletcher finished the contest connecting on all three of his passes for 61 yards.

Though the Paladins would lose both games the young, brash quarterback would start, he would show the kind of grit, determination and athleticism that will make him an integral part of the offense in the future in his new role at tight end.

In Furman’s SoCon home opener against Elon, the Paladins fell behind by a 28-10 at the break, but the brazen and brash young Paladin quarterback was able to lead the Paladins on a furious second-half rally, falling just short in a 28-25 setback. For Fletcher, he was able to connect on 25-of-38 passes for 255 yards, with a TD and an INT.

Fletcher would start his third and final game of the season for the Paladins against Chanttanooga, but the young quarterback would end up struggling against one of the top defenses in the Southern Conference, finishing that contest connecting on just 8-of-17 passes for 62 yards, with an INT. Fletcher was sacked six times in the contest.

One of the luxuries Furman will have this fall is having enough experience at quarterback to move Hayes III back to his natural position, while being able to utilize Fletcher at a different position on offense due to the one area which was hit hard by graduation, which is tight end.

The Paladins also recruited the quarterback position extremely well over the past couple of seasons, with Woodruff being a real solid find in the 2013 class, and P.J. Blazejowski being an especially talented find by the Paladin coaching staff in the 2014 signing class.

Blazejowski, a product of Jacksonville, FL, comes to Furman from Bartram Trail High School, where he put up some impressive numbers during his time as a prep.

The 6-0, 175-pound dual-threat signal-caller was a 6A All-State performer, passing for 2,468 yards and 17 TDs as a senior, while rushing for 874 yards and 14 scores, accounting for 31 TD responsibilities. He led Bartram Trail to the semifinals of the state playoffs, after starting 0-5 to begin the season. He led Bartram Trail to eight-straight wins and helped them make a Furman-like run into the postseason.

Blazejowski runs in the 4.5-4.6 range in the forty-yard dash, and throws especially well on the run. He will remind Paladin fans of former Furman quarterbacks Philly Jones and Frankie DeBusk, who were both run-pass threats as Paladin signal-callers.

Furman’s offense has been among the most physically imposing when it comes to establishing the run and running the ball between the tackles under the direction of Bruce Fowler.

In Fowler’s three seasons as the head coach, all three have yielded a 1,000-yard ground-gainer, and the Paladins return one of the best in the SoCon to the fold this fall, in senior Hank McCloud (215 rush att, 1,092 yds, 5 TDs, 5.1 YPC).

McCloud is a player that will obviously be key to the success of the Furman offense in 2014, and playing to McCloud’s strengths in the Paladin offense this fall will be paramount to the success of this offense.

Coming into his final season as a Paladin ball-carrier, McCloud has amassed 1,854 career rushing yards to go along with 12 TDs. His 1,092 rushing yards last season were the second-most in the league in 2013, finishing second to only Appachian State’s Marcus Cox, who completed the campaign with 1,250 yards to set an Appalachian freshman rushing record.

With ASU’s move to the Sun Belt Conference this fall, McCloud returns as the SoCon’s top running back, and will have three starters returning along the offensive front in front of him, giving the Tampa, FL, product an excellent chance to make it 4-for-4 in seasons in which a Paladin running back has rushed for at least 1,000 yards in the season.

McCloud had several big performances toting the pigskin last fall for the Paladins, including a 133-yard, two TD performance in the loss at Coastal Carolina early last season. McCloud also recorded 100-yard rushing performances against PC (102 yds, 2 TDs), Elon (116 yds, 1 TD) and Georgia Southern (102 yds).

Skogen

Furman Junior Running Back Tanner Skogen

McCloud was also used as a threat in the return game for the Paladins last fall, and he will once again this fall. As a kick-return threat, McCloud completed the season with 536 return yards on 23 returns, averaging 23.3 yards-per-return. He averaged 125.9 all-purpose yards per game last season, ranking fifth in the SoCon.

McCloud has good hands coming out of the backfield, and is perhaps even slightly a better pass-catcher coming out of the backfield than his predecessor was, which of course was Jerodis Williams. McCloud completed the 2013 campaign with 19 catches for 134 yards and a TD, averaging 7.1 YPC.

Tanner Skogen (40 rush att, 206 yds, 2 TDs, 5.2 YPC) returns as a solid compliment to McCloud coming out of the backfield for the Paladins.

Skogen, like McCloud, is an explosive back with good speed, elusiveness and vision. He might be a little more of a power back than McCloud with his ability to get tough yards, and he also has excellent hands catching the football for the Paladins.

Skogen brings plenty of versatility to the backfield for the Paladins, as he flashed his big arm in late season wins against Georgia Southern and Samford, tossing a 75-yard TD to Andrej Suttles on the opening play of the game against Georgia Southern, while taking a handoff from Hannon and tossing a 46-yard bomb to Jordan Snellings a week later in the homecoming win over Samford.

Skogen’s play down the stretch in 2013 was especially impressive, as he rushed for 116 yards on just 13 carries (8.9 YPC), including a 53-yard jaunt early in the third quarter, in Furman’s 30-20 playoff win over South Carolina State. The 53 yards on the carry were more than he had amassed in the previous 12 games of the season for Furman.

Perhaps Skogen’s biggest contribution to the Paladins in 2013 came in the momentum-building, 24-17, win at The Citadel in the Paladins’ second Southern Conference game, which helped the Paladins turn around an inauspicious start after a 28-25 home loss to Elon. In the win over the Bulldogs, he produced a 13-yard scoring run, which proved to be the game-winning points as Furman escaped the Port City with an important win over its arch-rival.

The third running back for the Paladins last season was Ernie Cain (24 rush att, 89 yds, 2 TDs, 3.7 YPC), who will be coming off an ACL injury, which he suffered during spring drills, and his immediate availability is an unknown. He continues in the long line of great Furman fullbacks and will be critical to the offensive success of the Paladins this fall. Cain also hauled in eight passes for 65 yards.

There are newcomers that could contribute in the running game for the Paladins as well this season, including Kealand Dirks, Issac Garcia, Ridge Gibson and Charlie Anderson. All four running backs are young, but could factor into the fold for Bruce Fowler’s Paladins this fall.

Dirks and Garcia will be more true running backs, while Gibson and Anderson are fullback options behind Cain. All run with good power and have excellent size. Dirks is a 6-0, 228-pound redshirt freshman from Clemmons, N.C., where he starred at 4A West Forsyth High School. During his career, Dirks put up some strong numbers, rushing for 3,462 yards and 31 TDs on 516 attempts during his career.

Dirks garnered Winston Salem Journal All-Northwest honors as a senior, after rushing for 1,501 yards and 14 TDs on 248 carries in his senior season.

Garcia comes to Furman from the Queen City of Charlotte, N.C., where he amassed a school-record 7,000 all-purpose yards during his career at Olympic High School. The 5-10, 195-pound true freshman could factor into the special teams duty in the more immediate, as his speed will make him an immediate playmaker and will give him a chance to see the field quickly in some capacity.

He garnered first team South Meck 8 All-Conference honors in 2013 after rushing for 1,231 yards and six touchdowns.

Anderson comes into the 2014 season having played sparingly for the Paladins last season, seeing action as a reserve guard before making the transition to backup fullback and tight in at mid-season. Anderson will be entering his redshirt junior season for the Paladins and will likely find himself as Cain’s direct understudy this fall.

Gibson rounds out the quartet of running backs that could contribute in some fashion for Furman this fall, as the 5-10, 211-pound true freshman from Marietta, GA, is yet another player that had a standout prep career at 6A Walton High School in Marietta.

During his prep career, Gibson starred as both a fullback and linebacker. He amassed 105 tackles and garnered All-Cobb County honors duruing his senior campaign.

Overall, Furman appears to once again have a solid ground attack, and with McCloud, Cain and Skogen leading the way, the Paladins have one of the best trios of running backs in the Southern Conference heading into the 2014 season. It will be important for that trio to stay healthy, however, as the depth is a bit short on experience behind those three.

Another strength of the offense this fall will be the receivers at which quarterback Reese Hannon will have at his disposal in 2014. The Paladins did lose a talented receiving option, in Ryan Culbreath, but return a trio of wideouts that could all find themselves on one of the All-SoCon teams at season’s end.

The team’s top returning wideout from a year ago is Andrej Suttles (50 rec, 697 yds, 3 TDs, 13.9 YPR), who is coming off the best freshman season ever turned in by a Furman rookie pass-catcher.

Suttles really came on down the stretch, and he is a receiver that probably most resembles Adam Mims or Des Kitchings from season’s past in terms of the type receiver he is.

Like Mims and Kitchings, Suttles’ speed makes him a potential impact player on nearly every play he is on the field. He has the ability to make people miss in space, and will be up to the offensive coaches to devise ways to get Suttles the ball, as former coaches did so masterfully with the aforementioned two.

Suttles set Furman freshman receiving records for receptions (50) and receiving yards (697), and would become the Paladins primary, go-to-receiver down the stretch in the 2013 season.

Suttles’ first huge play for the Paladin offense came against The Citadel, as his 36-yard reception on a long pass from Hannon helped set up a Paladin TD just before the half.

Against Georgia Southern, Suttles would haul in a 75-yard halfback-option pass from running back Tanner Skogen (40 att., 206 yds., 2 TDs) on the first play from scrimmage, giving the Paladins an early 7-0 lead in Statesboro, in a game they would go on to win, 16-14.

Suttles also exemplified his tremendous speed to the home faithful the following week in must-win game against Samford, taking a short pass from Hannon and took it 85 yards for one of the longest scoring plays in the history of Paladin Stadium. Suttles would also haul in a TD pass in the Paladins’ final home game against Wofford, as he hauled in a 21-yard scoring catch in the 27-13 win over the Terriers last season.

Suttles will be the Paladins’ starter at flanker this fall and will likely enter the campaign as a preseason First-Team All-SoCon selection.

Two of the Paladins’ most talented wideouts battled injuries last fall, with Gary Robinson (24 rec, 351 yds, 2 TDs, 14.6 YPR) and Jordan Snellings (30 rec, 302 yds, 1 TD, 10.1 YPR), who at one point last season, were both injured at the same time. With the two expected to be fully healthy with the start of the 2014 season, Furman becomes even more dangerous offensively.

Robinson has speed and can help stretch the field with that speed this fall for the Paladins. It started from the outset of the 2013 campaign for Robinson, who opened the campaign with a 70-yard scoring catch against Gardner-Webb. In the win at The Citadel, Robinson was simply sensational for the Paladins and was a large reason why the Paladins were able to come home with a win in their first Southern Conference game last season by a 24-17 margin.

Jordan Snellings

Furman Junior Wide Receiver Jordan Snellings

In that win over the Paladins’ arch-rival last season, Robinson hauled in eight passes for a career-high 133 receiving yards, including an acrobatic 43-yard reception, as he dove to haul in a Duncan Fletcher missile to help set up Tanner Skogen’s game-winning scoring run. Robinson, however, would go down with a season-ending ankle injury on the first play from scrimmage against Appalachian State.

For his career to this point, Robinson has hauled in 39 passes for 543 yards and a pair of scores coming into his final campaign as the Paladins.

Snellings is another Peach State product that had plenty of injury problems early in the season, but started to be a big contributor for the Paladins as the season progressed.

In the crucial 16-14 win at Georgia Southern, Snellings turned in some big catches, and after dropping what would have likely resulted in a long TD catch late in the game, Snellings rebounded to shake off that mishap and make some crucial grabs down the stretch to help Furman capture a victory in Statesboro between the two teams in the final time the two would meet as FCS members.

Snellings would finish the outing by hauling in two vital catches for 25 yards in the two-point win, with one of those catches helping set up Early’s game-winning field goal.

A week later against Samford, Snellings would haul in a 46-yard scoring pass from running back Tanner Skogen, who tossed a perfect spiraling pass over the Samford defense to Snellings, who was running free behind the Bulldogs defense, and hauled in his first scoring catch of the season, and he would finish the season with two catches for 52 yards and a TD.

Despite being injured to start the campaign, he managed to finish the campaign third on the team in receptions (30 catches), trailing only Suttles (50 catches) and Culbreath (39 catches) to complete the season.

Snellings would enjoy his top performance of the season against North Dakota State in the season-ending, 38-7, loss to the Bison, as he hauled in a career-best eight passes for 76 yards. In two seasons as a Furman wideout, Snellings has hauled in 49 passes for 512 yards and four TDs. Snellings, at full health, has the potential to be one of the best receivers in the Southern Conference. Snellings will likely start at the split end position, while Suttles will start at flanker this fall.

The Paladins will also feature some excellent depth at wide receiver this fall, and are probably as talented at the position as they have been in terms of overall depth and abiiity to stretch the field.

One of the great things about the 2014 season will be the depth the Paladins will have at wide receiver heading into the season, including the return of performers like Chad Scott (8 rec, 92 yds, 11.5 YPR) and David Dingess (9 rec, 100 yds, 11.1 YPR), who were all contributors in the Paladin passing attack as reserves last fall.

Dingess, who was in his first season seeing action, was especially impressive for the Paladins, as he showed to be a valuable asset as a downfield blocking presence and showed great hands, with several big receptions in third down situations last season. The redshirt junior from Nashville, Tenn, and his biggest catch of the season might have come on a third-and-eight play, which kept a Furman drive alive late in a win over Georgia Southern, ultimately allowing the Paladins to run out the clock and emerge with a 16-14 win.

The 6-5, 208-pound receiver also had a key block to help spring Suttles for an 85-yard score against Samford, showing the lanky wideout isn’t scared to mix it up in the passing game as a blocker.

Scott, a 6-0, 171-pound native of Suwanee, GA, saw solid action as a sophomore receiver for the Paladins last fall, and recorded eight catches for 92 yards. Miller was one of the biggest signees of the 2012 class, choosing Furman over Appalachian State, and the Charlotte, N.C., native should also see his role increase as a reserve wideout this fall.

Scott will likely find his role to be a reserve wideout behind Suttles at flanker, while Dingess will likely be the backup behind Snellings at flanker this fall. The one new wrinkle to keep an eye on this fall is reserve quarterback Terry Robinson, who could also see action at wideout this fall, due to his solid athleticism.

The Paladins also brought in several talented wideouts in the most recent signing class, including A’lencio Graham, who seemed to be a solid Wofford commit until signing day. he Flowery Branch High School product out of Lawrenceville, GA, has good speed, clocking a 4.52 in the forty-yard dash, and the 5-10, 161-pound receiver has great hands and route-running skills. Graham has a lot of similarities to that of current Furman wide receiver Andre Suttles, and he could see some time as a slot receiver, with his ability to make plays in the open field.

Graham isn’t the only key addition to the Paladin passing game, with the signing of Bradford Lemmons out of Dreher High School in Columbia, S.C. The 6-3, 175-pound wideout blocks well and has good size and athleticism.

The addition of Lemmons adds even more speed to a receiving corps that already possesses plenty of it, with Suttles and Robinson among the speed merchants already donning the Purple and White. Lemmons, who won the state title in both the 200m (22.12) and 400m (48.20), hauled in 60 passes for 670 yards in his senior season.

Furman also added a late signee to this current class, with the addition of Andy Schumpert, who makes his way to Greenville from Nashville, where he starred for Brentwood High School.

The 6-4, 180-pound freshman brings impressive size, and like Dingess, will be a big target for Hannon to find in the passing game. In his prep career, Schumpert was impressive, hauling in 71 passes for 1,370 yards and 17 scores. He averaged 19.3 yards-per-catch for his career.

Rounding out the young receivers for the Paladins include Hunter Branch, Luke Cuneo, Logan McCarter and J.D. Tuten. Evan Jaeger, who is listed as a an athlete, could also figure into the plans at receiver, while Cuneo could also end up playing a role as a reserve in the defensive backfield.

Jaeger, who comes to Furman from Lakeview High School in Orlando, FL. Jager’s father, Brian Jager, was an All-SoCon performer and played on the 1985 national runner-up Paladin squad, while also helping lead the Paladins to a 13-2 record, led the club with 835 yards rushing and nine scores. Jager also got it done in the classroom, garnering CoSIDA Academic All-American, NCAA Post-Graduate Scholar twice in his career.

The biggest question mark coming into the season for the Paladins has to be tight end, which sees the Paladins needing to replace starter Cameron Mason, who has graduated. The Paladins will also have to replace Gipson Klapthor, who is no longer with the program. It leaves the Paladins in a real bind.

For a program known for its tight ends over the years, such as Colin Anderson, Luther Broughton and Trent Sansbury, it has been a bit of a transition each of the past couple of years.

Fortunately, the Paladins appear to have a great athlete, in Duncan Fletcher, who appears ready to assume the starting duties at tight end after serving as a backup quarterback last season. Fletcher, much like Colin Anderson, is an exceptional athlete, and like Anderson, also played under center as a prep. Fletcher brings good size at 6-3, but is a little undersized in terms of being a run-blocking tight end, at just 202-lbs.

Kevin Mall and Tim Nutter also remain candidates to compete for playing time, with Mall having seen limited action in five games last season. Nutter is a redshirt freshman from Sarasota, FL, will look to see his first action in the Paladin offense this fall.

Both true freshmen Ajay Williams and Kedar Bryant are a pair of tight ends that can be downfield threats and could see action right away as true freshmen this fall. Both Bryant and Williams are big targets with both possessing good hands, as well as being solid blockers in the run game.

Williams matriculates to the Upstate of South Carolina from Elm City, N.C., where he was a standout at 2A Beddingfield High School, where he also played some in the backfield, rushing for 566 yards. The 6-4, 241-pound Tarheel State product caught 39 passes 614 yards and seven TDs, showing a propensity to make plays in the passing game as a prep.

Bryant, a 6-4, 230-pound native of Jacksonville, FL, played his prep football at Providence High School and was productive catching the football while a prep in his senior season and showed his athleticism, as he saw time on both sides of the football.

Overall, one of the most talented and deepest positions on the offensive side of the football appears to wide receiver, and this group is as talented as some of those during the Ingle Martin era, which is a saying a lot considering that this was the one unit that lacked a consistent playmaker just two years ago. It’s a testament to the recruiting efforts and maturing of players like Robinson and Snellings, as well as the addition of Suttles. The unit should only progress even more in 2014.

Tight end is a bit of a question mark, and it’s the one position on the offensive side of the ball that will likely see a young player get the opportunity to play right away this fall. Still, Fletcher is a great athlete, and he’s the kind of player like a Colin Anderson that can come in and make some big plays in the passing game for this Furman offense in 2014, and that’s something the Paladins lacked–at least in the passing game–last season.

Charles Emert

Furman Senior Offensive Lineman Charles Emert

The Furman offensive line was supposed to have four starters returning starters to its offensive front, however, with center Eric Thoni no longer with the team, the Paladins not only lost Dakota Dozier to graduation and the NFL, but now must replace what would have likely been an All-SoCon center entering the 2014 season.

It’s not anything the Paladins haven’t faced, however, as Furman played half the 2013 season without Thoni, who was suspended for the first portion of the campaign last season.

With Thoni no longer a Paladin, it likely means that senior Charles Emert will end up starting at center this season, much like he did for three games last season. After all, Emert was a standout center as a prep, but has the versatility to play pretty much any position along the Paladin offensive front.

Entering the 2014 season, Emert has logged starts at center (3), right tackle (18), left tackle (3),

right guard (3) and left guard (2) during his career, and the 6-2, 253-lb senior heads into his final campaign having started 30 of 34 games in his career.

Emert has excellent footwork and hands, and probably moves as well as any of the Paladin offensive linemen. He will enter the 2014 season as a likely All-SoCon candidate. With Emert’s experience, however, the possibility also remains that he could move to left tackle, ensuring the protection of Hannon’s blindside.

Faced with the unenviable task replacing maybe the greatest offensive lineman to ever line up for the for the Paladins could be the extremely talented redshirt freshman Aaron Black, who is a talented young offensive lineman that probably could have contributed last season. Black was one of the top recruits of the 2013 signing class, and the 6-5, 261-lb native of Dallas, GA was a three-star recruit, according to Rivals.com when he arrived at Furman a couple of years ago. Black served as a member of the scout team last fall, but shined in spring drills and is ready to compete for the job left vacant by Dozier.

With Emert’s move to center, it could see Justin Floyd take up the starting role at either right or left tackle, assuming Tank Phillips is 100-percent and ready to return to his left guard position after seeing his season come to an end with a broken leg suffered in the road win at Western Carolina.

Floyd, a redshirt junior, really came into his own last season after logging starts at both right and left tackle. He turned in his top performance against Appalachian State, grading out at 85-percent, with eight knockdowns in one of his four starts last season. Three of his starts came at right tackle, while one came at left tackle last fall. His lone start at left tackle last fall came against North Dakota State, which saw Dozier start at left guard.

Left guard this season will be occupied by Phillips, who should be fully healed by the time the season rolls around, and the veteran from Montgomery Bell Academy might be the strongest player along the offensive front for the Paladins, and will enter the season with All-SoCon potential.

The 6-1, 290-pound native of Nashville, started the first 11 games for the Paladins last season before being lost to injury against Western Carolina. Graded out at 80-percent or better in four games last season, with a season-high 82-percent on 61 plays in the 21-20 win over Presbyterian. He enters his senior season with 18-career starts for the Purple and White.

Rounding out the starters along the Furman offensive front heading into the season will be right guard Joe Turner, who as a freshman in 2012, was a SoCon All-Freshman selection. Turner has been a stalwart along the offensive front since stepping on campus in 2012, and he has been an integral part of offensive line coach Scott Smouse’s plans from the outset of his recruitment.

The 6-3, 260-lb junior, like Emert, is extremely versatile and is athletic enough to play tackle if the situation called for it. Turner started all 14 games at both guard positions, logging 12 nods at right guard, while the other two came at left tackle after Phillips went down with his season-ending injury.

Turner was extremely impressive against arguably the top defensive front the Paladins faced last season, in Chattanooga, as he registered a 93-percent grade on 67 plays against the Mocs. In his two seasons as a Paladin, Turner has started 22 starts in 25 games at three different positions in his Paladin career.

Furman’s offensive front will be strengthened by solid depth this fall, which will include the likes of Harrison Monk (OT), Harrison Magee (OT) and Jackson Buomania, who are all excellent young, talented compliments along the offensive line, who are expected to be significant contributors this fall.

Grayson Weber (OT), Sebastian Rice (OT) and Ryan Marks (OT) will add depth at the respective offensive tackle positions. Rice and Buomania make the move back from the defensive line to the offensive line this fall after being moved there last season to shore up depth issues as a result of injuries. Magee could serve as Emert’s understudy at center this fall.

The Paladins really made it a point to recruit the offensive line hard in its most recent signing class, and have brought in an excellent conglomeration of talent. Tuscaloosa, AL product Terrell Bush comes to Furman from Tuscaloosa Academy, where he helped his program to a perfect 13-0 season, garnering all-state honors twice and rated a two-star recruit, according to 24/7.

Jack Bryant, Matthew Schmidt and Chris Wade round out the remaining three interior offensive linemen picked up by the Paladins in the 2014 class, in what might be the strongest offensive line class in the Bruce Fowler era.

Overall, the Paladins have excellent experience and talent returning along the offensive front, but the most important component the Paladins continue to build on the offensive line is depth, which is something the Paladins lacked in Fowler’s first season in Greenville. The offensive line has improved leaps and bounds under the watchful eye of Scott Smouse over the past three seasons, and despite the losses of Dozier and Thoni, appear to again be one of the top offensive fronts in the SoCon heading into the 2014 season.

Summing up what this offensive line has done in the past three seasons has been the production of the ground attack, which has seen a Paladin running back finish with 1,000-yard rusher in each of the past three campaigns.

If McCloud or Skogen rush for 1,000 yards this fall, it will mark just the second time in Paladin football lore that there has been a 1,000-yard rusher in four-consecutive campaigns, as the only other occurrence of the feat was from 1981-84, with Stanford Jennings recording three of those millennial seasons, while Robbie Gardner recorded the final 1,000-yard campaign in 1984.

Stayed tuned for part II of the 2014 Furman Football preview, in which SaturdayBlitz takes a look at an in-depth look at the Paladin defense, schedule and special teams entering the 2014 season. Also, check back in the coming days as SaturdayBlitz releases its Furman 2014 preseason offensive depth chart.

Tags: Furman Football

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