With new schemes on offense and defense and seven new coaches on staff, The Citadel's Kevin Higgins is essentially starting over in his sixth season as the Bulldogs' football coach.
Gone along with All-America receiver Andre Roberts is the balanced spread-option attack in favor of a run-oriented triple option. On defense, new coordinator Josh Conklin is charged with simplifying a 4-3 scheme that Higgins felt had the Bulldogs thinking too much and not hitting enough during last year's 4-7 season.
How quickly will the changes take hold? Preseason polls have the Bulldogs, 24-32 in five seasons under Higgins, at the bottom of the Southern Conference.
Here are five major storylines to follow as practice opens today, with the season opener set for Sept. 4 against Chowan:
Whoever the starting QB is against Chowan, he will be taking his first college snaps. Walk-on Sam Martin, a redshirt freshman, starts fall camp
as No. 1 on the depth chart simply because he knows where the practice field is. But the starter seems likely to emerge from a trio of newcomers -- transfer Blane Woodfin and freshmen Ben Dupree and Matt Thompson.
Woodfin (6-0, 190) enters as a redshirt sophomore after originally signing with Air Force out of high school in Jackson Hole, Wyo., and then attending Montana State. Dupree (5-9, 180) and Thompson (6-1, 184) were recruited by Higgins specifically to play QB in the triple option, and both showed impressive speed in summer workouts.
The QB is vital to whatever success the Bulldogs' version of triple option has this season -- as Wofford wingbone guru Mike Ayers says, "You've got to have a triggerman."
Running (out of) backs
The triple option requires three running backs -- a fullback and two slotbacks -- on the field most of the time, where the spread option usually featured just one. New offensive coordinator Tommy Laurendine feels like he has solid starters in fullback Terrell Dallas and slotbacks Rickey Anderson and Van Dyke Jones. At 6-0 and 205 pounds, Dallas averaged 3.8 yards per carry last year and is the Bulldogs' most physical runner. Jones (5-10, 182) showed much promise in leading The Citadel with 420 yards last season. But Anderson, a 6-0, 201-pound redshirt junior, has yet to make it through a full season due to injuries -- he played in five games before injuring a knee in 2008 and missed all of last season after breaking a leg in fall camp.
Slot receivers such as Christian Robertson and Scott Harward have been shifted to slotback, but there will be plenty of opportunity for freshman running backs like Seth Hill, Terrance Martin, Darien Robinson and Dalton Trevino. Greg Adams, a 5-9, 168-pound sophomore who played receiver last year, is not listed on the two-deep but seems sure to find playing time somewhere.
The skinny on the line
The new offense is a whole different world for the Bulldogs' linemen, who have spent much of their career trying to put on weight and learn how to pass block. Now, the linemen are slimming down and boning up on the fine art of cut blocks. Guards Jameson Bryant (6-2, 280) and Corey Pope (6-2, 298) fit the physical profile of the bigger guards required by the triple option, but tackles Lincoln Kling (6-6, 291) and Neal Strange (6-6, 307) must show they are quick enough to block defenders at the second and third level. Veteran longsnapper Bobby Jarvis (6-2, 260) takes over at center, with redshirt freshmen Jim Knowles (6-0, 281) and Robert Finke (6-5, 291) expected to be ready to provide depth.
To pass or not to pass
Even though triple-option squads like Navy and Georgia Tech threw passes on less than 20 percent of their plays last year, the Bulldogs can't afford to waste talents such as 6-5, 255-pound tight end Alex Sellars and 6-5, 200-pound receiver Domonic Jones. Sellars caught 16 passes last year, six of them for touchdowns, and Jones, a redshirt freshman, had some dominant performances in spring practice. Junior Kevin Hardy has yet to produce in football, but he's got the speed to get by safeties who start to cheat up. Remember, Georgia Tech receiver Demaryius Thomas caught 46 passes for 1,154 yards and eight TDs last year, averaging 25.1 yards per catch.
The Bulldogs' adjustment on defense will be less in scheme -- they are still running what's basically a 4-3 -- than in attitude. Last season, the The Citadel gave up 26 points and 375.1 yards per game to rank in the middle of the SoCon, and often played as if more concerned with making adjustments and filling assignments than with hitting. Conklin, brought in from Wofford, and veteran defensive coach Denny Doornbos are tasked with simplifying matters and increasing opponents' turnovers (the Bulldogs forced and recovered just six fumbles last year, worst in the league) and getting off the field on third down (The Citadel gave up a first down 47.3 percent of the time, second-worst in the SoCon).
The defense has experience, but needs playmakers to emerge. How about defensive end Chris Billingslea (6-5, 249), linebacker Tolu Akindele (5-10, 213) and safety Joseph Boateng (5-10, 180)?