With training camp opening today the Seminoles are coming off of a positive off season with record-setting attendance for voluntary workouts and a trouble-free offseason (save for the Rouse & Nicholson mess), we here at Tomahawk Nation look at the important training camp battles that will set the tone for the season.
More after the jump
Strong Safety: With the departure of Antonio Cromartie and Pat Watkins (draft) and Trevor Ford (transfer), the Seminoles will be young in the secondary again. The biggest battle should be at strong safety where former walk-on Anthony Houllis tries to hold off true freshman and Prep All-American Myron Rolle.
Rolle enrolled in January and had a super spring where he got everyone's attention. There isn't a question of who's more talented in terms of ability and athleticism, but Houllis is a senior with four years of experience and a guy who has worked hard to get from walk-on status to full-time scholarship. A true rags to riches story.
While the humanist in me appreciates Houllis, the realist in me knows the Houllis, senior or not, has no business being ahead of Rolle on a depth chart as long as things are equal. An inexperienced Rolle has the athletic ability to compensate for the mistakes he will make early. Houllis doesn't have the instincts to make up for his. In the ACC, receivers are deep and talented so it's a necessity that Rolle jump out the gate starting.
Fullback: Joe Surratt comes into camp as the starter after losing weight. He is known for his blocking skills and that is crucial to a successful running game.
His challenger will be redshirt freshman Matt Dunham, who has the ability to be a great offensive threat from the position and in short-yardage situations after breaking Herschel Walker's Georgia Prep touchdown record.
I expect Surratt to get the starts early because there are some questions about Dunham's ability to block and blocking is VERY crucial to getting the Seminoles' running game back on track. Eventually Dunham's versatility will give him the edge unless Surratt can prove to be more than a good blocker.
Right Guard: This could be a three-way battle and frankly the success at this position may decide how well the Seminoles will do on offense this year.
Cory Niblock will come into camp fresh off of surgery and as the starter. Niblock played tackle last year and his lack of footwork to play the position was quickly exposed. He is a natural guard and he played the position respectably as a replacement for Matt Meinrod in 2004. He also has a penchant for drawing holding calls.
David Overmyer and freshman Matt Hardrick will challenge him for this spot. Overmyer was terrible last year, no kind way to put it. He wasn't productive and was replaced by JuCo recruit Shannon Boatman during the first week of spring. He doesn't have the speed to play tackle or the strength to play guard for now.
Hardrick is the wild card. He was out of condition when he came on campus, but he's worked hard to control the battle of the bulge. He's probably stronger and more talented than Overmyer or Niblock, but Niblock's work ethic will never be questioned.
All in all I expect Niblock to win this three-way battle and Hardrick will back up Jacky Claude on the left side.
Defensive Tackle: Talk about some options. Andre Fluellen has one side locked down. The other side will be a multi-player battle between Emmanuel Dunbar, Kendrick Stewart, Aaron Jones, Paul Griffin and possibly Letroy Guion.
The good news is all these guys are immensely talented and will play. The bad news is only two will play at a time. Jones may have made the biggest strides to go from dog house to possible frontrunner in the last seven months. Guion was on a roll as a true freshman until injuries slowed him down.
Griffin, a JuCo recruit and Stewart, had strong springs and both spent time with the first team. Dunbar was the most productive reserve defensive tackle last season.
Without any research. My guess is that Griffin and Jones will take the top two spots on the depth chart. Guion will back up Fluellen.
Tight End: Returning Starters? None. Returning players with experience? None. Charlie Graham will enter training camp with the first team. A dominating blocker in high school, I feel like Graham is the key to the Seminoles' running game. Not only does he go for the kill on his blocks, but he LOVES doing it.
Brandon Warren is the type of tight end prospect the Seminoles have dreamed about since Melvin Pearsall. A big guy (245 pounds) with 4.5 speed, the top-rated defensive end prospect in the nation will get a great shot for early time.
Caz Piurowski is the wild card. At 6'8, he's a huge target and expect Drew Weatherford to do his all to help his former high school teammate get a leg up on the competition. Piurowski is also the slowest tight end on the roster and the least accomplished blocker.
My feeling is that all three will get looks, but Warren has the potential to provide a major offensive threat while Graham will get the running game started. That gives them the edge and from there I like Graham's ability to start for the majority of 2006.