It’s been a long off-season, but the 2017 football season is nearly upon us. Coach Viator and ULM ended the year with a 4-8 record, but there were a lot of positives that the Warhawk faithful saw from the team going into his 2nd year as head coach.
The biggest, and perhaps most important improvement, occurred up front with the offensive line. Sacks allowed were cut in half from 2015 to 2016. The rushing game also benefitted from the holes the OL opened up, as the Warhawk ground game gained over 4 yards a rush in 2016.
Much of the success of the offense will come from the increased development of the big guys up front under new OL coach Eman Naghavi.
RETURNING STARTERS: G Frank Sutton (75); C Bobby Reynolds (56); T Eastwood Thomas (64);
NEW FACES TO LOOK FOR: G Devin Jackson (73); T Trace Ellison, Texas Tech Transfer (77); T Joquarius Savage, JUCO Signee (74); G TJ Fiailoa (68)
KEY TO SUCCESS
1) Guard Play: Frank Sutton and Jeff Savage gave the running backs some huge holes to run through. With Savage’s departure, Sutton enters his Senior season with high expectations. The battle to start at guard opposite of him will be a fun one to watch through the fall and season. Devin Jackson started the first 5 games of 2016 at Right Guard as a Redshirt Freshman. While he missed spring practices due to injury, Redshirt Freshman Tj Fiailoa used his opportunity to play with the starters. Whoever ends up starting will need to step up and meet the performance of Sutton.
2) Consistency at Center: When Bobby Reynolds returned from injury after the first 5 games last season, the OL took a big step forward. His development both in physical play and mentally recognizing how to adjust the line this season will play a large role in the OL’s performance.
3) Tackle Battle: With 2016’s starting LT Rey Baltazar’s graduation and some big off-season pickups, the battle to start at tackle will be another fun one to watch going into the season. While Eastwood Thomas started at Right Tackle in 2016, the addition of Texas Tech transfer Trace Ellison and big JUCO tackle Joquarius Savage, Thomas will be pushed for his starting position. Keaton Baggs began the season as the starting Right Tackle, but he was injured early in the first game of the year and missed the remainder of the season. If he is able to return from his injury, he could also push for a starting spot. Redshirt Freshman Sam Williams made some noise in the spring, but could use some more time to develop.
4) Stay Healthy: This one may seem obvious, but the offensive line group as a whole is very young. While there are some good young players in Fiailoa, center Noah Ramsey, Tackle Sam Williams and others, there isn’t much experience waiting in the wings if a starter goes down.