This time last year, the quarterback position at The Citadel was somewhat less than certain.
Dominique Allen was the front-runner to win the starting job before injuring his knee during spring practice. That forced Cam Jackson to move over from slotback to quarterback. And then Shon Belton blurred the picture even further with a standout performance in the spring game.
One year later, the situation is a tad clearer. Allen beat out Jackson last fall to earn the starting job and led the Bulldogs to a 9-4 record, a Southern Conference title and playoff victory, and an upset of SEC member South Carolina.
Needless to say, Allen is firmly entrenched as the starting quarterback as the Bulldogs begin spring practice this week. The main questions: How can the 6-1, 214-pound junior improve over a standout sophomore season? And what is the situation behind him?
As to the first question, new Citadel coach Brent Thompson says Allen exceeded his expectations in 2014, when Allen was a first-year starter and Thompson the Bulldogs’ offensive coordinator. Allen was the Bulldogs’ leading rusher last season with 953 yards and 13 touchdowns, and completed 51.5 percent of his passes for 871 yards and four touchdowns, with six interceptions.
“I thought Dom was better than I really expected or gave him credit for going into the season,” said Thompson, promoted to head coach last month to succeed Mike Houston, who left after two seasons for James Madison. “We put more responsibility on him as the season went on, and I think we’ll continue to do that — let him make some more calls, some more adjustments out there. He’s a very smart football player.
“The passing game is another thing. We’re going to give him a little bit more leeway there, put some more on him and see what he can handle.”
Allen recognizes that the mental side of the game is where he can make a step forward.
“I’ve got to get better just in being an operator back there,” he said. “It’s making the right checks and going the right way. Sometimes last year, I would make the right check and then go the wrong way, just blank out in my mind. I’ve got to get better in the passing game, in my footwork and in attacking downhill.”
Allen’s new position coach is offensive coordinator Lou Conte, who returned to The Citadel after one season at Springfield College, where he was quarterbacks coach.
“Not much has changed for me,” Allen said. “There’s a new head man in charge and a couple of things we do differently. But besides that, we’re just trying to keep the same tempo and attitude on the practice field and build on top of what we did last year. We’ve got most of the same players, the majority of the coaches stayed, so the core is still here. We just have to continue to perform and come to work and not let stuff get to us, and I think we’ll be fine.”
The situation behind Allen is more uncertain with the off-season departure of Belton, who played in three games as Allen’s chief backup last year. That leaves two redshirt freshmen who have yet to take a college snap — Jordan Black and A.J. Vandiver — and two incoming freshmen who will report in the fall in Logan Bailey and Brandon Rainey.
Jackson, who competed with Allen for the starting quarterback job last fall, will take all of his reps at slotback, from where he rushed for 751 yards and six TDs last year.
At least, that’s the plan.
“We’re going to try not to work Cam at quarterback this spring,” Thompson said. “It becomes very difficult for him, and then for Jordan. I think we’ll stick to that through the spring and see how it goes. As long as Jordan is progressing, we’ll be okay.”
Black, a 6-1, 185-pounder from Vidalia, Ga., is in line to be Allen’s backup, with Vandiver at No. 3.
“We’re going to move ahead with Jordan as the No. 2,” Thompson said. “He spent a lot of time with the offense last year, learning a lot and getting some valuable reps. He’s a full go now and ready to go. And Vandiver, I think he can be very good for us. He’s very functional and ran this offense in high school. He’s very reliable.”
The Citadel has hired Orlando Mitjans Jr. as cornerbacks coach, completing Thompson’s coaching staff.
A 1982 graduate of Northeastern, Mitjans has more than 30 years experience coaching defensive backs, and comes to The Citadel after two seasons at Army.
“I am excited that we are able to bring Coach Mitjans to our staff,” Thompson said. “As we went through the process of identifying the best person to come in and help us build on the championship standard we have established, his qualifications immediately stood out to me. He has experience at the FCS level and at a military institution and has had a great deal of success in both environments.”
Mitjans also has coached at Georgia Southern, Eastern Kentucky and Tennessee State, and began his playing career at Arkansas under Lou Holtz.
“I am thrilled for this opportunity to join Coach Thompson’s staff,” Coach Mitjans said. “The last six years with Coach Jeff Monken at Georgia Southern and Army have been wonderful for me as I have learned from a fantastic leader who is a tremendous builder of men. I have always had a deep respect for the individuals at The Citadel, and I remember how tough our games against them were when I was in the conference. I have seen the amount of dedication it takes to be successful on the field, in the classroom and within the Corps of Cadets at a military institution, and I’m looking forward to bringing my abilities to help continue developing leaders on and off the field.”
Player Ht./Wt. Year
Dominique Allen 6-1/214 Jr.
Jordan Black 6-1/185 R-Fr.
AJ Vandiver 6-0/175 R-Fr.
*Logan Bailey 6-0/195 Fr.
*Brandon Rainey 6-0/185 Fr.
*Report in the fall.