By Ralph Lauro, Associate College Football Editor
2009 SEASON IN REVIEW: For the third straight year under head coach Neil Callaway, the UAB Blazers suffered through a losing campaign, finishing 5-7 overall in 2009. However, the program continues to make strides under the
guidance of Callaway and that was evident in a 4-4 showing in Conference USA
play last season.
The Blazers' 2009 campaign began on a promising note, as the squad opened up
the season and league play with a convincing 44-24 win over Rice. The
following week however, UAB suffered a tough 35-33 home defeat to SMU, sending
the team on a three-game slide. UAB ended the skid with a surprising win over
bowl-bound Southern Miss, 30-17, but faltered in each of its two games
following the triumph.
With just a 2-5 record in late October, the Blazers appeared to be headed for
a dismal finish. The team though, ripped off three straight wins to give
itself an opportunity at a winning mark as well as a shot at the East Division
title. Unfortunately, losses to East Carolina and UCF to close out the season
ended those hopes. The experience gained though, should only help a UAB club
which welcomes back 17 starters for the 2010 season. Callaway will also have
a full allotment of scholarship players for the first time in his tenure, as
the program's future appears to be on the rise.
"We have 84 scholarship football players this year which is a far cry from
where we started three years ago," stated Callaway. "We are excited about not
only the numbers, but also the quality of guys and the quality of young men we
have in the program."
OFFENSE: The Blazers were able to move the ball successfully in 2009, as they
ranked 22nd in the nation in total yards (455.2 ypg) and seventh in rushing
(229.8 ypg). Those numbers were aided by the outstanding play of quarterback
Joe Webb, who was voted the Conference USA Offensive Player of the Year. The
versatile Webb accounted for 72.9 percent of the team's offense and scored 32
total touchdowns, while becoming the first quarterback in NCAA history to pass
for 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000 in back-to-back seasons. He was clearly the
heart-and-soul of this unit and his departure leaves a huge void to be filled.
Getting the first look to replace Webb is David Isabelle, a sophomore that
served as the team's backup in 2009. Much like Webb, the 6-3, 185-pound
Isabelle can get the job done in more ways then one and he showed some
potential last year, rushing for 288 yards on just 23 carries. Also fighting
for the starting job is Bryan Ellis (6-2, 205), who is more of a pocket-
passer. Emmanuel Taylor is the darkhorse in the race, but might end up at wide
receiver due to his play-making abilities.
While the Blazers may be inexperienced at quarterback, the rest of the offense
is pretty set with the return of seven starters. The wide receiver corps is
deep, big and talented, though this group needs to be more productive. For the
fourth year in a row, Frantrell Forrest is expected to be the go-to-target, as
the 6-2, 195-pound wideout pulled in 34 balls for 558 yards and a team-high
nine scores last season. Another weapon for UAB is tight end Jeffery Anderson,
who is ready for a big campaign after posting 26 catches for 398 yards and
five touchdowns last season.
In the backfield, the Blazers don't have a No.1 back at the moment, but there
are plenty of players that could emerge into that role. Justin Brooks (5-11,
215) and Daniel Borne (5-11, 205) combined for nearly 400 yards rushing last
season, while Pat Shed (5-9, 180) is a junior college transfer with big time
potential. All three players will certainly see their fare share of carries.
"I really like our situation at running back," stated Callaway. "We have three
guys. I am not sure who will start, but I feel comfortable with any of the
three of them. Justin Brooks and Daniel Borne are seniors. Pat Shed is a
junior. He added a lot of excitement to the field offensively. Being
realistic, we will need all three of them to get through this fall."
The offensive line is deep and experienced with three starters welcomed back,
though replacing four-year starter Jake Seitz at center will be no easy task.
DEFENSE: If the Blazers are too compete for a winning campaign, they will need
a big improvement on the defensive side of the ball, where they ranked 114th
overall, allowing 455.2 total ypg in 2009.
Along the defensive line, UAB welcomes back all four starters, though none are
guaranteed to return to their spots. After making 43 tackles last season,
sophomore linebacker Daniel White (6-2, 225) was moved up to end this spring
in order to help with the pass rush. UAB managed just 19 sacks last season,
with six coming from Bryant Turner (6-2, 265), who is penciled in as the
other starting end, so an improvement in that area is certainly needed.
Darrion Wilson (6-3, 220), Marvin Burdette (5-11, 240) and Lamanski Ware (6-2,
220) are the starting trio at linebacker. Wilson made 14 stops in more of a
reserved role last season, while Burdette came up with 43 tackles. Ware is the
lone returning starter of the three and he finished second on the team with 71
stops last year.
The final line of defense is experienced and got even better with the signing
of junior college star Jamie Bender (6-0, 200), who has been a big hit in the
spring and could attract NFL scouts. He will push for the starting job of
Hiram Atwater (6-0, 200), the team's top tackler last season. Atwater missed
spring practice after breaking team rules and that could have opened the door
enough for Bender to push through. Either way the Blazers are in better shape
than last season, when they ranked last in pass defense, allowing 311.5 ypg.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The Blazers welcome back placekicker Josh Zahn as well as
punter Trey Ragland, giving them an edge in the kicking game. Zahn connected
on 14-of-21 field goals last season, while Ragland averaged 42.8 yards per
OUTLOOK: UAB may have lost its best player from a year ago, but the team is in
arguably better shape thanks to 17 returning starters. Unlike years past,
depth is no longer a concern and Callaway should have this team primed for a
winning season. However, a difficult schedule, which includes the likes of
Mississippi State and Tennessee, could make this more challenging. Still, the
Blazers should return to the postseason, as long as they can get consistent
play under center and some improvement from the defense.