The Citadel begins spring football practice Tuesday under new head coach Mike Houston. Here are five questions facing the Bulldogs as they prepare for their spring game March 15 at Johnson Hagood Stadium.
1. Are Citadel players ready for a new attitude?
The Bulldogs will have to learn new terminology on offense, though Houston brings with him a triple-option offense similar to the one The Citadel ran the last four years under Kevin Higgins. And there will be some new schemes on defense under new coordinator Maurice Drayton.
But the biggest adjustment for the Bulldogs may be in terms of attitude. Houston wants to see an entirely new one by the spring game.
"If we see the style of ball that I want to play with this fall by the spring game, then it will have been a successful spring," says Houston, hired from Division II national runner-up Lenoir-Rhyne. "That's the big thing I feel like we need to improve on, is just the way we go about it. When I flipped on the film of our team at Lenoir-Rhyne last year and showed it to these kids, I want our team to play like that, to play with that kind of passion, that kind of physicality, that kind of intensity. That's the big thing I want to accomplish this spring."
2. How different will the offense be?
To the average fan (or reporter), the version of the flexbone taught by Houston and offensive coordinator Brent Thompson won't look a whole lot different from the one the Bulldogs have been running: a B-back (or fullback) behind the quarterback under center with slotbacks to either side and reads to give the ball, keep it or pitch it.
But there will be vital nuances and new tweaks for the players to absorb this spring.
"Even though it's a similar offense, the terminology and the way things work will be drastically different," Houston said. "Schematically, it will probably be more different than people realize. The general fan might not see a lot of differences, but there are some nuances that will be significantly different."
3. The position group hit hardest by graduation was the offensive line, where five senior starters/regulars were lost. Who will emerge on the offensive line?
Though the Bulldogs had a veteran line last season, some younger players did get playing time, including sophomore Sam Frye and freshman Ryan Bednar at center.
Based on last year's depth chart, a pre-spring lineup might include redshirt freshman Harrison Davis at left tackle, Frye and Bednar at center, junior Victor Hill at right guard and junior Charles Coleman at right tackle. Isaiah Pinson, a 6-3, 250-pounder from Byrnes High School who redshirted last year, is one player to watch.
"I think there is potential there," Houston said. "I feel like we've got the makings of what could be a good offensive line, but we've got to develop some guys. They are working hard and embracing our philosophies, but the true tell will be when we line up in scrimmage situations."
4. Houston has told the players that all starting jobs are up for grabs. Does that include quarterback Aaron Miller, who split time with Ben Dupree the last three seasons?
"Aaron has been fantastic," said Houston, who tried to recruit Miller to Lenoir-RhynE out of Clover High School. "He's been a great leader, and has done everything you'd want a kid to do coming in as a new coach. But he's one of the examples I used the other day with the kids. I said, 'Aaron understands he has to go out and earn a starting spot just like everyone else.'"
Miller's competition will be Cam Jackson, a 6-2, 195-pounder who redshirted last season.
"Cam is motivated and obviously is gifted," Houston said. "He will have a go at it this spring, so that competition will be exciting to watch."
5. Who will miss spring practice, and who will be back?
Linebacker Carl Robinson, still rehabbing a torn ACL, will miss spring practice but is on target to return in the fall, Houston said. Robinson led the Bulldogs with 92 tackles last season. Defensive lineman Colin Parsons did not return to school for the spring semester due to personal reasons, Houston said.
Linebacker Carson Smith, who missed the 2013 season with a broken ankle suffered during fall practice, will be back for spring practice.
Note: The Bulldogs are slated to practice from 4 to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and from 10 a.m.-noon on Saturdays through the March 15 spring game.