Citadel football spring

The Citadel football team opened spring practice on Thursday. Provided/Citadel Athletics 

If Citadel football coach Brent Thompson were writing this article, his list of priorities for spring practice might look like this:

1 to 4. Defense.

5. Everything else.

With new defensive coordinator Tony Grantham introducing a new scheme, Thompson will closely track progress on that side of the ball during the 15 workouts scheduled for spring practice, which began Thursday.

"It's going to be almost all defensive oriented this year," said Thompson, who has a 20-14 record in three seasons, including a second straight 5-6 mark last year. "We are bringing back most of the offense and have a pretty good idea of what's going on there. There's a few things we need to work on and a few things we need to work on and a few guys we need to develop on offense.

"But really, the defensive side is where the focus is at. I want to make sure that coach Grantham is given every single opportunity to give the defense a chance to be successful. We'll be young over there and we will be transitioning guys to different spots. I think the simpler, the better for us over there."

Here's a look at five questions for the Bulldogs this spring:

1. What will the new defense look like?

With new defensive coordinator Grantham coming in from Navy, the Bulldogs will transition to a base 3-4 alignment with three down linemen and four linebackers. The Citadel had been trending toward the 3-4 even before former defensive coordinator Blake Harrell left for Kennesaw State, Thompson said.

"It will be a 3-4 structure," Thompson said. "We'll take those outside guys and stand them up more often than we have in the past. It will allow us the ability to recruit more longer, leaner athletic bodies. That will help us find guys who can grown into certain positions, whether they are inside or outside."

Grantham used the defense to good effect as the coordinator at Western Illinois in 2017, helping the Leathernecks to an 8-4 season and a berth in the FCS playoffs. Western Illinois held foes to 24 points or fewer in eight of 12 games, and his defense was ranked 22nd in FCS against the run, sixth in interceptions, 13th in takeaways, 23rd in sacks and 13th in tackles for a loss.

"The theory coach Grantham really sold me on was that he could take body types and put them where they belong," Thompson said. "He said he wanted to take guys who were good at certain things and use them for that. That's what you have to do at The Citadel; you have to take everything you've got and maximize it, whether that's through personnel or scheme."

2. Who will play where on defense?

With four of their top seven tacklers departed, The Citadel was always going to skew young on defense in 2019. Now, the Bulldogs will skew young while some of then play new positions.

The 3-4 requires a nose guard, and only rising senior Joseph Randolph II at 6-3 and 255 has the required heft among returning regulars. Redshirt sophomore Dalton Owens (6-2, 302) could play there as well.

Willie Eubanks

Linebacker Willie Eubanks and The Citadel football team began spring practice on Thursday. Provided/Citadel Athletics

Grantham will have to sort through defensive end types such as Aaron Brawley (6-2, 215), Marquise Blount (6-3, 223) and Kyler Estes (6-2, 220) to see where they fit. Ditto bandit/linebackers Sean-Thomas Faulkner (5-11, 180) and Destin Mack (6-0, 190). On the other hand, top returning tackler Willie Eubanks (6-2, 215) and Phil Davis (6-1, 225) seem like naturals for the inside linebacker spots.

"One thing I did was tell coach Grantham, I'm not going to tell you anything about these guys and let you go figure it out," Thompson said. "That way, he will have a good indication going into fall camp where these guys belong."

3. What's the quarterback situation?

Rising junior Brandon Rainey was a revelation at quarterback late last season, spurring the Bulldogs to three wins in their final four games after taking over as the starter. Rainey ran for 529 yards and three touchdowns in just four games, averaging 132.2 yards per game and 5.7 yards per rush.

Rainey is the established starter heading into the spring, but the situation behind him is interesting. Rising sophomore Ryan McCarthy will move from receiver to quarterback for the spring in order to compete with redshirt freshman Javonte Middleton for the backup job.

McCarthy, who caught seven passes for 134 yards for and a TD last year, will have an interesting spring. He'll also be playing left field for the baseball team during spring practice. McCarthy, 6-3 and 200 pounds, will almost certainly move back to receiver in the fall, but the spring experience at QB will be useful if something happens to Rainey.

4. How will transfer RB Remus Bulmer fit in the backfield?

Bulmer, who transferred from Sam Houston State after rushing for 2,117 yards and 15 touchdowns in three-plus seasons, is wearing No. 21 and measured in at 5-8 and 170 pounds. He's working out with the slotbacks, where veterans Keyonte Sessions and Dante Smith lead returners.

Bulmer has fit right in with the Bulldogs, said Rainey.

"He is a high energy guy and brings it every day," Rainey said. "I like him a lot and I think he's going to be a big part of our offense."

The fullback competition will center around Clay Harris, Emeka Nwanze and Sam Llewellyn. Local products Dexter Freeman (West Ashley HS) and Darique Hampton (Goose Creek) have a chance to crack the slotback rotation, Thompson said. The offensive line returns intact, except for all-SoCon center Tyler Davis.

5. How has the roster changed?

It's good news and bad news on this front. Promising cornerback Wally Wilmore, who played as a freshman two years ago but was not on the roster last season, is back and should push for a starting job. But the secondary loses another promising young player as freshman corner Joshua Bowers, who played in eight games last season, has withdrawn from school. Cornerback Khafari Buffalo also is gone.

Also departing is defensive end Mason Kinsey, who had five sacks last season as a freshman; he's transferred to a junior college, Thompson said. Fullback Brandon Berry, who had one carry last season after rushing for 178 yards and two touchdowns in 2017, has entered the transfer portal, Thompson said.

Players who have opted not to return for a fifth year include defensive lineman Jalon Williams, tight ends Attorney Gallman and Jordan Thomas and receiver Curt Nixon, Thompson said.

Notes

• Defensive back Lane Botkin, like QB/WR Ryan McCarthy, has been practicing with the baseball team. Unlike McCarthy, Botkin will focus only on football until spring practice is over before rejoining the baseball team.

• The annual Blue-White spring game is set for noon on March 2 at Johnson Hagood Stadium. Spring practice will conclude on March 7.

Reach Jeff Hartsell at 843-937-5596. Follow on Twitter @Jeff_fromthePC