Bobby Lewis, NewsOn6.com
TULSA, Oklahoma-- With just under three weeks to go before the opening kickoff in Norman, the Golden Hurricane is ready to be graded. The team is ten days into fall camp and the coaches are impressed with the progress from some of the young players looking to earn some playing time.
Tulsa has time left, but here's how each unit grades out to this point:
Kevin Fitzpatrick has hit 30-of-40 career field goals and accounted for 111 points on his own last season. The senior is tenth on the school's career points list. He'll try his hand/foot at punts this year as well.
This is the biggest no-brainer in the history of no-brainers. Damaris Johnson is the perfect returner. He's fast. He's shifty. He's proven. The senior has more kickoff return yards than anyone who ever played college football. His ability to make people miss in the open field is a big reason why he's returned four kick for scores in his career. He has 14 career games of 100+ yards of KO return yards.
The Golden Hurricane beat Notre Dame last year because of two huge plays on special teams. Damaris Johnson scored on a punt return and Cory Dorris blocked the Irish kick that Curnelius Arnick returned for a touchdown. Those two plays won the game for the Golden Hurricane.
Arnick is joined by Shawn Jackson and DeAundre Brown in the starting lineup. The trio will have more opportunities to make plays this year in the team's new 4-3 scheme. Alan Dock and Cody Wilson provide depth at that position.
DEFENSIVE LINE: B+
Dorris and Tyrunn Walker are solid on the line. Freshman Brentom Todd, from Union, has really impressed coaches. So has Derrick Luetjen. That unit was a big concern for coaches heading into fall camp. The lack of depth was tabbed as an issue for Tulsa. If the young guys follow Dorris and Walker's lead, the group will flourish.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: B+
It's more than just Marco Nelson, but last year's freshman-standout gets most of the headlines. New defensive coordinator Brent Guy calls him ‘special'. Dexter McCoil is a ball hawk with 141 career tackles and seven interceptions. Six of those picks came last season as a sophomore. Dewitt Jennings will factor into the mix and so will James Roberson, who contemplated leaving the team to walk-on at Oklahoma this spring. John Flanders made the biggest play of Tulsa's history last year with his game-clinching interception in the final seconds against Notre Dame.
The defensive line needs to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks like it did a year ago. The loss of lane-clogger Odrick Ray is a bit of a blow, but the guys that are stepping in have the talent to fill that role. Expect big numbers from Arnick and McCoil again this year.
G.J. Kinne is the perfect quarterback for Bill Blankenship's team. He has the ability to make plays with his arm and his feet. He ran for 190 yards against Houston on the road last season, and passed for 406 yards and four scores at home against Southern Miss. He's the reigning Conference USA Offensive Player of the Year.
RUNNING BACKS: B+
The Golden Hurricane has a good problem at running back. They have four capable ball carriers who all have different skill sets. Ja'Terian Douglas is the speed guy that can open up the middle of the field. Alex Singleton is the muscular bruiser that they'll use in short yardage situations. Willie Carter will take on an H-back role similar to what Charles Clay played a year ago. He will catch the ball out of the backfield a lot. Trey Watts, the starter according to the depth chart right now, is a combination of all of those guys. Don't expect one player to stack up big numbers this year on his own, but look for big games from that quartet overall.
Hard to think that a unit that has Damaris Johnson on it only gets a B, but the rest of the receiving corp is just too unproven for a higher mark. Coaches are high on freshman Keyarris Garrett out of Dangerfield, Tex. He helped lead his team to three state titles in the prep ranks. He's got great size and speed. Zach Epps is a 6-foot-5 freshman that could see valuable minutes. Ricky Johnson, Thomas Roberson and Jordan James will all be counted on to produce alongside Damaris. James had the best spring of anyone on the team not named Damaris.
OFFENSIVE LINE: B+
This is the deepest group on the team. There are upwards of 16-17 players looking for playing time this fall. Coach Blankenship called that competition intense and says he's looking for the top five players, regardless of position. Those five will play the bulk of the minutes. Tyler Holmes, Clint Anderson and Brian DeShane are mainstays. Jake Alexander is back from a knee injury and will push Trent Dupy at center.
The key to the season will be developing young guys like Keyarris Garrett and Jordan James. The running backs will be solid and Kinne is a dark horse Heisman candidate. It will take a heck of a season for him to win that trophy, but if the team wins enough games, it's possible.