Akron first-year coach Rob Ianello wanted to establish an identity during his first spring. The former Notre Dame assistant said he got a good sense for his players after 15 days of spring practices.
"I believe we have established a foundation on how we want to practice, on how we want to do things," Ianello said. "I believe we are on the right track. We have a lot of work to do, but I feel good about where we are headed."
The Zips are coming off four consecutive losing seasons, including a 3-9 mark in 2009. Akron returns 17 starters among its 56 lettermen, but the returnees struggled learning a new offense and defense under the new coaching staff.
Offensively, the Zips spent the spring implementing a pro-style attack. Don't expect to see a spread offense next year. Ianello installed the pro-style offense to bring better balance. The offense will feature the quarterback under center complete with two running backs, two wide receivers and one tight end.
The Zips welcome back Alex Allen and top receiver Jeremy LaFrance, but they have an unsettled situation at quarterback. Patrick Nicely and Matt Rodgers will compete for the starting position. Rodgers is the main candidate, but not fully recovered from a torn ACL in his left knee suffered last year.
Ianello said the quarterback position is wide-open after the spring.
"It will be wide open, in all fairness to Matt and in all fairness to our football team. Competition will bring out the best in them," Ianello said. "Patrick will run out of the huddle with the first team on the first day and Matt with the second team, because that's how we finished the spring. But then we will work the reps and work some things in there . . . to make a fair evaluation of both of them."
The Zips changed their defensive philosophy to create more big plays and turnovers. Akron tallied just 22 sacks in the last two years. The Zips will switch from a 3-3-5 defense to a conventional 4-3 look, with four defensive linemen, three linebackers, two cornerbacks and two safeties.
New defensive coordinator Curt Mallory expects good results from the new defense.
"'We are going to try to put eight in the box when we can, with either a corner or safety," said Mallory. "It's what my background is. You always start with stopping the run. To do that, we will try to pack the box."
The leader of the defense will remain sophomore linebacker Brian Wagner. The Zips plan on getting better at stopping teams from running the ball. The defense showed some growth with a solid performance in the spring game, outscoring the offense, 53-38, in the first-ever spring game at InfoCision Stadium.NOTES, QUOTES
--QB Patrick Nicely took advantage of Matt Rodgers missing the majority of spring practices due to an injured left knee. He worked on learning the new pro-style offense and adjusting to more plays under center.
--TB Alex Allen received a sixth-year of eligibility from the NCAA before the start of the spring. Allen can bolster Akron's offense with his running ability. He had eight rushes for 57 yards and one touchdown in the spring game.
--LB Brian Wagner had a monster freshman season. Wagner is a key part of the move from the 3-3-5 to 4-3 defense. Expect Wagner to make more plays and become a national name.
QB Patrick Nicely -- Started last seven games of the 2009 season. Spent the spring learning the new pro-style offense. Gained valuable experience taking the bulk of the snaps.
DT Almondo Sewell -- Expected to be a major part of the 4-3 defense. Sewell had a solid showing in the spring game.
WR Jalil Carter -- Moved from safety to wide receiver. The Zips have a history of players turning into solid performers after switching from defense to offense.
WR Jeremy LaFrance -- The top returning receiver, LaFrance must carry the bulk of the load and help the development of quarterbacks Patrick Nicely and Matt Rodgers.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I was pleased with our energy today and I was pleased with the competitiveness of the spring game. It was good for our guys to be in this setting, playing before the crowd and going through a pregame routine. There were a lot of benefits today. Most importantly, we came out healthy. After 15 days (of spring practices), I think we made some progress, but we still have a lot of work to do" -- First-year Akron coach Rob Ianello after the spring game.STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
2010 OUTLOOK: The Zips suffered through an injury-filled 2009 campaign, leading to a fourth consecutive losing season. First-year coach Rob Ianello is bringing stability to the offense and defense, switching to a pro-style offense and 4-3 defense. The Zips should be improved on offense and defense, but must handle a schedule with three BCS opponents in the first four weeks. Expect the Zips to make positive steps with the new coaching staff, but the bigger jump will come in the next two years with a talent infusion.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Zips must adjust to utilizing a pro-style offense instead of the spread under former coach J.D. Brookhart. The quarterback spot is the glaring question mark, with Matt Rodgers and Patrick Nicely the two main candidates. The running game is solid with Alex Allen headlining a talented backfield, but the Zips lost four of their top five receivers from 2009. The offensive line is solid with three starters returning.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Akron used the spring getting adjusted to the 4-3 defense. The Zips shelved the 3-3-5 defense used by former coach J.D. Brookhart. The conventional 4-3 defense is expected to getting a better pass rush on the quarterback and make more plays. Linebacker Brian Wagner leads the defense after a stellar season as a freshman.
SCOUTING THE SPECIAL TEAMS: Kicker Branko Rogovic enters his senior season after making just seven of his 15 field goal attempts in 2009, while Zack Campbell is the leading candidate at punter after averaging 38.3 yards per punt last year. The Zips must find a kick returner after the loss of Dashan Miller, who averaged 25.7 yards per return.
--QB Matt Rodgers didn't play in the spring game to rest his knee. Rodgers sat out most of the spring after tearing his ACL in his left knee.
--Jalil Carter was moved from safety to wide receiver. Carter was third on the team in tackles in 2009.
--CB Randy Greenwood was moved to running back early in the spring, but shifted back to cornerback.
--Nineteen Zips sat out the annual spring game due to injuries.
--RB Alex Allen was awarded a sixth year of eligibility prior to the spring.
Previous Report: 04/28/2010