Slightly new offense: Braves replace a lot of production on offense, have breakout stars

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 29, 2018

LORMAN — Can you feel it? Alcorn State University football is almost back — 95 days to be exact.

Some of the players will report back in June, but a majority of them will arrive in Lorman for summer workouts in July. The Braves look to build upon a decent 2017 campaign, as they went 7-5 overall and 5-2 in the Southwestern Athletic Conference — all but one of their losses (Grambling State) were decided by a single score.

While there is optimism surrounding the program about Alcorn State’s chances to claim a SWAC title this season, the team will be experiencing turnover on offense. Starting quarterback Leonaris Footman has graduated. All-American running back De’Lance Turner also graduated and is with the Baltimore Ravens now. Plus, the Braves said goodbye to nearly 70 percent of their receiving yards as well.

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Not only does Alcorn lose a lot of talent, it has a new offensive coordinator in Ryan Stanchek (who was formerly the Braves’ offensive line and run game coordinator) and is working on opening up its passing game. Despite the offensive exodus, Alcorn does have players who are ready to breakout and make an impact, according to the coaching staff.

What will the Braves’ offense look like in 2018? The Natchez Democrat answers what the offense might look like with the help of questions from  Twitter.

With the backfield being loaded, who will get the nod with P.J. Simmons? — @BraveAtl on Twitter

Alcorn loves to utilize the two-back system. Last year it was Turner and Simmons. This season, I expect it to be Simmons with redshirt freshman Marquise Forman being the second half of the duo.

When talking to Stanchek about the running back group this spring, Forman’s name came up almost every time.

“Marquise Forman … very excited about him,” Stanchek said. “He did a great job at tailback this spring. He is electrifying.

“I’m very excited about him. He has a chance to be special as well. (Him and Simmons), as of right now, we are expecting big things out of them.”

Despite Simmons and Forman both being elusive runners, Simmons has been working on getting stronger so he can finish his runs better this year. So expect Forman to be the lightening to Simmons’ thunder this upcoming season.

What types of changes should we expect with Alcorn’s offensive scheme and are there any offensive players who stood out in the spring that we can expect a bigger role for the fall? — @GeeAyeee on Twitter

Probably the biggest thing that Brave fans should prepare for when it comes to the purple and gold offense this year is the improved passing attack — which was one the main areas Alcorn worked on this spring.

“We will do some things differently,” said coach Fred McNair on the passing game. “Get the ball downfield a little bit more. Hopefully, we can expand our passing game and get things moving in the right direction.

“We have some good receivers now. We have a lot of height at the receiver position. So that’s going to be a big thing for us this year.”

Instead of 60 percent run plays and 40 percent pass plays — which was the breakdown of Alcorn’s offense last year — expect the offense to be more 50-50 in terms of run to pass plays. However, still expect the Braves to run the inside, outside zone and power read option scheme that they have utilized in the past.

Now to answer the second part of the question, I have two players who could breakout on offense for Alcorn: either JUCO transfer receiver Chris Blair or redshirt freshman receiver Tim McNair Jr.

During spring practice, both Blair and McNair Jr. earned praise from their coaches. Blair, who transferred from Hinds Community College, stands at 6-foot-3 and averaged 19.1 yards per reception last year. Plus, he had an offer from Mississippi State. As for McNair Jr., he worked on getting bigger and stronger in his first season in Lorman, which paid off as he ran with the first team offense this spring.

Someone will have to replace Norlando Veals’ team-leading 901 receiving yards in 2018, and those two receivers seem like the frontrunners to do so at the moment.

Penalties, turnovers and unforced errors cost Alcorn State the game against JSU. Got the Braves smoked at Grambling State. Killed/staled momentum in would be pivotal moments too often. Does Alcorn State plan to be more efficient/less generous in 2018? — @TendentiousG on Twitter

Every team wants to have an efficient offense that doesn’t turnover the ball. But, like you mentioned, Alcorn was a little too generous to opposing defenses last year as the Braves turned the ball 20 times and was penalized 135 times for 1,288 total yards — which averages out to 107.33 penalty yards per game.

McNair did talk about how the Braves need to cut down on their penalty totals this spring. But he wasn’t the only one to mention that.

Quarterback Noah Johnson, who is the frontrunner to be the starting signal caller, said he has been working on his accuracy — he only completed 52.9 percent of his passes and had a 1-to-1 touchdown to interception ratio last year.  While Johnson is hoping to be more effective through the air, expect the running game to still be efficient with Simmons back.

Last season, Simmons led the nation in yards per carry. With a deep and experience offensive line coming back and with the Braves’ past running success, the rushing attack should be one of the best in the nation. So, if the Alcorn wants to be less generous in 2018, it will fall on the shoulders of the passing game.