Graeson Underwood almost did a double take when he saw The Citadel’s new offensive playbook.
Gone was the run-heavy, three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust offense that the Bulldogs have run for much of the past decade.
In its place, new head football coach Maurice Drayton will install more of a spread offense, utilizing shotgun formations with three, four and sometimes five wide receivers.
While the option game will still be a central component of The Citadel’s offensive attack, expect to see the ball in the air a little more this fall.
The Citadel opened its first spring practice under Drayton on March 22 at Johnson Hagood Stadium. The Bulldogs will take the next month to install their offensive and defensive systems, with the spring game set for April 22 at 1 p.m. at Johnson Hagood.
“I’d say the offense is a complete 180-degree difference from what we’ve been running in the past,” said Underwood, who played quarterback in three games last year, including a start in a road win at Western Carolina. “It’s gonna be a lot of running, a lot of throwing and a lot of fun. We’re going to be able to give teams different looks every game and that’s going to throw defenses off balance, which is going to be the key for us.
“Everyone has bought into what we’re doing. The coaching staff has really invested a lot of time in us. It’s a step above what we had before. It’s exciting.”
Underwood, who completed 7 of 14 passes for 162 yards and two TDs last season, took the majority of the snaps with the first team during the Bulldogs’ 90-minute workout on a gray, rainy Wednesday afternoon.
The Bulldogs had one of the Southern Conference’s worst offenses a year ago, averaging 18.7 points and 326 yards a game. Three Citadel quarterbacks threw for a combined 1,021 yards and 10 TDs during a 4-7 season, former coach Brent Thompson's last.
“It’s a new perspective on everything,” said Underwood, who played at Dutch Fork High School. “I think my heart jumped out of my chest when I first saw the playbook. It gave me a flashback to high school and what we used to do, spread people out and give people a different look every game.”
While the Bulldogs will throw the ball more this fall, theirs will not be a pass-happy 'Air Raid' offense.
“The option is our identity and it’s the core of who we are,” Drayton said. “We are an option-based outfit, we’re just going to have some different bells and whistles to it.”
One quarterback who could benefit from the change in style is redshirt sophomore Varney Layman. The 6-2, 190-pound Layman should be more comfortable in the shotgun formation than he was under center. He threw for more than 2,700 yards and 27 TDs at Cox Mill High School in Concord, N.C.
Ahmad Green, who played in six games last season at quarterback, is expected to split time between running back and quarterback.
“We have multiple quarterbacks, but some of our quarterbacks might branch out to other positions,” Drayton said. “We’re evaluating all of our quarterbacks and the cream will rise to the top.”
There are no transfer quarterbacks in camp this spring, but Bulldog coaches will continue to monitor the portal. A third QB on the roster is Tripp Williams, a 6-1, 215-pound sophomore from Philip Simmons High School.
Veteran running backs on the spring roster include Jay Graves-Billups, Cooper Wallace, Ricky Conway and Johnny Crawford III. Of that group, Wallace led the way with 409 yards and three touchdowns.
With tight end playing a more prominent role in this offense, several players have been moved to that position, including former fullback Elijah Bass and former defensive lineman Hi'keem Elmore.
Drayton spent most of his collegiate coaching career on the defensive side of the ball, and was the defensive coordinator under former coach Mike Houston when the Bulldogs won a Southern Conference title in 2015. The former Berkeley High School standout said he will concentrate his efforts more of the offensive side of the ball.
Former Bulldog linebacker Raleigh Jackson will serve as the defensive coordinator.
“We’ve hired good coaches,” Drayton said. “I was always told, once you have a great staff, you let them coach. We’re going to let Raleigh run with the defense. I’m going to spend more of my time with the offense.”