As The Citadel begins spring football practice Tuesday, one question will dominate the proceedings for the next five weeks:
Who will start at quarterback for the Bulldogs in 2015?
With the departure of veteran Aaron Miller after a 5-7 season in 2014, Citadel coach Mike Houston is hoping to have a firm grasp on the pecking order at QB by the end of the spring game on March 14.
Rising sophomore Dominique Allen might have an early edge after serving as Miller’s backup last season, but will have to fight off redshirt freshmen Shon Butler and Jalen Lampkin and rising junior Dane Anderson to secure the starting job.
“Allen probably has a little bit of a leg up, after working with the offense last year,” Houston said. “But it’s not enough of one where it will make a difference by the end of spring practice.”
Allen (6-1, 220) played in three games last year as Miller’s backup, running just four times for six yards and completing 2 of 2 passes for 26 yards and a touchdown, including a 10-yard TD pass to DeAndre Shoultz in a 37-12 loss at Florida State.
Allen, from Richmond Hill, Ga., spent a year at the Air Force Academy Prep School before coming to The Citadel.
Belton (listed at 5-11, 185) and Lampkin (5-10, 175) spent last seaosn on the scout team, Belton at quarterback and Lampkin “all over the place,” according to Houston.
“Shon has an exciting combination of size and athleticism,” Houston said. “He’s probably up now to about 200 pounds at six feet, and is very athletic with loose hips. He kind of has that swagger, that confidence that you can’t teach. He has that natural kind of leadership and can get up in front of a group with a presence.
“Jalen is probably the fastest of all of them,” Houston said. “And he’s as strong as any of them. He’s very quick and ran this offense in high school very successfully. He might be more of a big-play threat than the others.”
Anderson (5-11, 200) was the third team quarterback last year and played in one game as a freshman in 2013.
Elsewhere on offense, the Bulldogs return all five starters on the offensive line, their top four receivers, the top two fullbacks and three of the top four slotbacks. But Houston is eager to see what impact some younger players can make at those positions during the spring.
At fullback, redshirt freshman DaSean Daniels (5-10, 220) has moved over from linebacker, and Goose Creek’s Evan McField (6-0, 220) is ready to go after redshirting last season. McField could play other positions as well, Houston said. Defensive lineman Nick Jeffreys (6-3, 240) has moved to offensive tackle, and redshirt freshmen Javion Duncan (6-0, 255) and Sydney Martin (6-2, 270) will get their first looks.
Defense is where Houston expects a big improvement after the Bulldogs finished seventh in the Southern Conference in scoring defense (28.7 ppg) and seventh in total defense (442 yards per game).
“There’s nothing about last year’s unit that resembles what I desire,” Houston said. “I’ve challenged them that we’ve got to do a better job of not giving up the big play, a better job of tackling and of creating turnovers. That’s also a big emphasis this spring.”
The interior of the defensive line is the thinnest spot on the team, with rising senior Mitchell Jeter joined by junior Austin Harrell and sophomore Jonathan King. “We’ll be looking at some of the incoming freshmen we just signed to play there this fall,” Houston said.
Things look better at end, where veterans Mark Thomas and Joe Crochet are joined by rising sophomore Travis Johnson and redshirt freshmen Russell Hubbs and Tre’von White. “We really had to fight to redshirt Russell last year,” Houston said. “He developed so much physically.”
At linebacker, Carson Smith passed up his fifth year, leaving veterans James Riley and Tevin Floyd as unquestioned starters. Rising sophomore Israel Battle has moved from bandit to inside linebacker, and sophomore Myles Pierce is in the mix as well. Dondray Copeland returns at bandit, while sophomores Josh Massey and Kailik Williams will get reps at bandit and safety.
At cornerback, rising sophomore Shy Phillips will practice when he’s not starting in center field for the baseball team, Houston said. Safety Nick Willis will be limited in the spring after offseason surgery. Punting, kicking and long-snapping jobs are wide open, Houston said.
The Bulldogs are scheduled to practice on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 3:45 p.m. and Saturdays at 9:30 a.m. The weekday drills as well as the Feb. 21 practice will be held at Willson Field. The team will be at Johnson Hagood the following two Saturdays.