Spring primer, part I: Offensive issues abound for many teams

Graham Watson
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Spring football is in full swing.

After two teams completed their spring season last week, 31 others got going with hopes of this being the year.

But nearly every coach would tell you that winning a championship begins with addressing problems in the spring. Some of these problems are due to attrition, others have carried over from last season. But the one thing all teams have in common is that they have just five weeks to correct them before letting their teams go for the summer.

Here’s a look at some of the most important needs of half of the teams that started spring practice this past week.


Maryland
Start date: March 1
End date: April 11


What to watch: Quarterback CJ Brown is back for a sixth year of eligibility, and if he can continue to find a rhythm with WR Levern Jacobs and WR Amba Etta-Tawo in the spring, it’ll be a success. WRs Stefon Diggs and Deon Long suffered season-ending injuries last year and will both miss spring practices (both receivers suffered broken right legs against Wake Forest). Jacobs finished 2013 as Maryland’s leading receiver and Etta-Tawo was third. With four returning running backs and four returning starters on the offensive line, Maryland could have one of the best offenses in the Big Ten.


Miami
Start date: March 1
End date: April 12


What to watch: Miami was two different teams last season. In the beginning of the year, Miami looked poised to contend for the ACC title. But after losing four of their final six games, the Hurricanes need to use this spring to find the consistency to be a strong competitor for the entire season. A lot of that will hinge on the health of running back Duke Johnson and the improvement of the defense. Johnson will miss spring drills as he continues to recover from an ankle injury he suffered during the second half of the season. The defense allowed 37.3 points per game in the second half of the season.


Old Dominion
Start date: March 1
End date: April 12


What to watch: After spending 2013 as a transitional FBS team, the Monarchs will be in Conference USA in 2014. Senior QB Taylor Heinicke returns with over two years of starting experience, but Old Dominion will have to replace three offensive linemen, including both tackles. However, a young defense will be counted on to improve mightily if ODU wants to be competitive in 2014. ODU gave up 80 to North Carolina, 52 to East Carolina and 58 to the Citadel in 2013.


TCU
Start date: March 1
End date: April 5


What to watch: With new co-offensive coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie, the Horned Frogs will try to implement a new up-tempo style, but who will quarterback that new offense is still up for debate. Trevone Boykin is the incumbent, but Tyler Matthews, a former four-star recruit, could make a run for the starting position. TCU also has two highly touted freshmen coming in the fall. TCU needs to do something on offense if it wants to keep up with a potent Big 12. The Horned Frogs ranked 104th in total offense last year and 87th in scoring offense with just 25.1 points per game.


Memphis
Start date: March 2
End date: April 11


What to watch: The Tigers scored less than 20 points per game last season, were 105th in the nation in passing yards per game and 95th in rushing yards per game. Offensive improvement will be vital. Quarterback Paxton Lynch threw for nine touchdowns and 10 interceptions last year, and he’ll be competing with Brayden Scott, a redshirt freshman and Jason Stewart, a juco transfer, for the starting job. RB Brandon Hayes, the team’s leading rusher with 860 yards in 2013, was granted a sixth year of eligibility.


Arizona
Start date: March 3
End date: April 12


What to watch: Arizona enters the spring trying to find new stars in the backfield. Both quarterback B.J. Denker and star running Ka’Deem Carey are gone, so much of this spring will be spent finding replacements for those key positions. At quarterback, Jesse Scroggins, Anu Solomon, Connor Brewer, Nick Isham, Jerrard Randall and walk-on Adam Friederichsen have all been getting fairly equal reps. Denker took every snap last year, so game experience is pretty sparse. Among the running backs, Pierre Cormier, Zach Green and Terris Jones-Grigsby are the top contenders along with early enrollee Jonathan Haden, who is still waiting for the NCAA to clear him for spring drills. Similar to the quarterbacks, the running backs are slim on experience as well.

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BYU
Start date: March 3
End date: April 4

What to watch: One of the main goals for the Cougars this spring is to improve the passing game. Quarterback Taysom Hill was a dynamic running quarterback, but when he was called upon to pass, things fell short. And that wasn’t all on Hill. A lot of the onus of the passing game also fell on a porous offensive line and receivers that had trouble getting separation from their defenders. The BYU passing game ranked 71st nationally with just 226.3 yards per game while the running game averaged 267.3 yards per game (10th nationally). If BYU wants to improve on its 8-5 record, it will need to find a way to become a more balanced attack.


Houston
Start date: March 3
End date: April 11


What to watch: Although Houston doesn’t lose a lot of starters on offense or defense, it will have to replace some key cogs in the secondary. Cornerback Zach McMillian and Thomas Bates are gone from a secondary that ranked 108th in passing defense with 266.80 yards allowed. Primary backups William Jackson and Turon Walker are back as well as transfers Lee Hightower (Boise State) and Tyler White (Utah).


Notre Dame
Start date: March 5
End date: April 12


What to watch: All eyes will be on quarterback Everett Golson, who is returning after missing last season due to academic ineligibility. Golson quarterbacked the Irish team that went to the national championship in 2012, but he was criticized for his lack of game understanding and leadership. Coach Brian Kelly is looking for those things to improve this spring if Golson is going to lead the Irish in 2014. Of course, he’ll get some serious competition from Malik Zaire, who has been praised by coaches heading into this spring season.


Kansas
Start date: March 4
End date: April 12


What to watch: Kansas needs a starting quarterback. The passing offense ranked 117th last year as BYU transfer Jake Heaps and sophomore Montell Cozart offered little consistency. UCLA transfer T.J. Millweard also will join the competition this spring. Kansas had nine passing touchdowns all season compared to 12 interceptions. It had just one multiple touchdown game -- two scores against Texas Tech. Coach Charlie Weis said he’s going to put his quarterbacks through all the rigors this spring, including making them eligible to get hit.


N.C. State
Start date: March 4
End date: April 12


What to watch: There were so many things wrong with N.C. State during its 3-9 campaign last season that it’s difficult to pinpoint one thing the Wolfpack could improve in coach Dave Doeren’s second spring. However, N.C. State was beaten up last year, so using this time to get a healthy squad on the field for 2014 would be a good plan. Also, getting quarterback Jacoby Brissett, a Florida transfer, engrained as the starter will be a focus this spring.


Ohio State
Start date: March 4
End date: April 26


What to watch: Braxton Miller won’t be throwing this spring after a shoulder injury. When he comes back, will anyone have separated themselves as Miller’s primary targets when summer practice begins? WR Devin Smith, the team’s second leading receiver in 2013, is back, as is WR Evan Spencer. If they move up to the top two spots on the depth chart, who will be Nos. 3 and 4? The Buckeyes also have to replace Bradley Roby at CB and Ryan Shazier at LB. Eli Apple and Gareon Conley are the top candidates to replace Roby and Trey Johnson is expected to slide into Shazier’s spot.

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Ole Miss
Start date: March 4
End date: April 5

What to watch: The battle at linebacker got even more interesting with Denzel Nkemdiche’s suspension for the first game of the season. Cody Prewitt was one of the better safeties in the SEC in 2013, but there is a chance that he could practice at linebacker. Would he be a candidate to replace Nkemdiche? And who will back up Bo Wallace at quarterback? One candidate is juco transfer Jeremy Liggins, who High Freeze said was over 300 pounds on signing day. Is he the second coming of Jared Lorenzen?


North Texas
Start date: March 5
End date: April 12


What to watch: North Texas returns just nine starters from a team that went 9-4 a year ago. But in addition to find replacements in key positions, including at quarterback, running back and wide receiver, the Mean Green has to find consistency. For the first time in eight years, North Texas went to a bowl game. Now, coach Dan McCarney has to figure out a way to make the postseason an every year occurrence. That won’t be easy with so many holes to fill, but getting the players to believe they can be a perennial bowl team will be part of the teachings this spring.


Clemson
Start date: March 5
End date: April 12


What to watch: Clemson ended the season on a high note with a win over Ohio State in the Orange Bowl, but the biggest step it needs to take in 2014 is being the best team in its conference. That means figuring out a way to take down national champion Florida State. To do that, the Tigers will have to replace quarterback Tajh Boyd. Cole Stoudt, Chad Kelly and Deshaun Watson are the leading contenders, but Stoudt definitely has a leg-up in the competition. He completed 49-of-57 passes last season and threw 5 touchdowns in spot time behind Boyd. If he can extend those numbers over an entire season – without weapons such as Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant – Clemson could be in good shape in the ACC in 2014.


North Carolina
Start date: March 5
End date: April 12


What to watch: Coach Larry Fedora will be working with a new offensive coordinator for the first time in five years after Blake Anderson, who was with Fedora at Southern Miss, left to become the head coach at Arkansas State. Enter Seth Littrell, who was Indiana’s co-offensive coordinator a year ago. North Carolina was decent on offense, but Littrell has the ability to make the Tar Heels among the best in the SEC if they can get things rolling this spring. Thanks to Littrell, the Hoosiers were one of three teams in the country to average 300 yards passing and 200 yards rushing (Baylor and Florida State) last season.

Nick Bromberg contributed to this report

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Graham Watson is the editor of Dr. Saturday on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email her at dr.saturday@ymail.com or follow her on Twitter!