Old Dominion came up just short of earning the program's first bowl berth last season. Back-to-back losses to end the campaign left the Monarchs at 5-7, just shy of that magic six-win threshold. Sixteen starters are back as ODU looks to break through in just its fourth season as an FBS program.
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Previewing Old Dominion’s Offense for 2016
Quarterback was a question mark last season and is likely to stay that way for now. Shuler Bentley and David Washington, a converted receiver, traded the starting gig last season. After taking over for Bentley midway through the year, Washington started in three wins before tearing his ACL. Bentley finished out the year throwing six touchdowns and one interception in the final two outings. With Washington limited in the spring, Bentley, a pocket passer, focused on improving his mobility. Coach Bobby Wilder expects the position to remain unsettled into the fall.
There are two solid options at running back as junior Ray Lawry and sophomore Jeremy Cox give the Monarchs what Wilder says should be as good a rushing tandem as there is in the league. The speedy Lawry, the conference’s top freshman in 2014, carried for 1,136 yards and 11 touchdowns last season. Cox, who is the more physical of the two, filled in nicely as a banged-up Lawry missed time late in the season.
The Monarchs return the players who caught 211 of last season’s 235 receptions. But Wilder says he wants more out of this veteran group, which is led by senior Zach Pascal and junior Jonathan Duhart.
Prior to last season, the Monarchs’ staff decided to involve the tight end more. But when Melvin Vaughn suffered a season-ending knee injury late in fall camp and his backup, Adam Swann, broke his leg a few days later, the plan was scrapped. With Vaughn, Swann and a group of younger options all healthy, look for the tight ends to play a larger role. That will be important since the Monarchs will be young along an offensive line that will have to replace two starters.
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Previewing Old Dominion’s Defense for 2016
Old Dominion welcomes back 13 players who saw time on the defensive line, including senior nose tackle Rashaad Coward, who racked up 47 tackles, as well as sophomore Oshane Ximines and junior Bunmi Rotimi, who were first and second on the team in sacks, respectively.
While the strength of the unit will be up front, there’s reason to be optimistic elsewhere. Conference USA’s leading tackler, senior T.J. Ricks, will move from inside linebacker to outside to better take advantage of his size and quickness. In his place, a deep group of linebackers — including Wilder’s son Derek and promising sophomores Isaiah Worthy and Marvin Branch — expect to make an impact.
The Monarchs return three of last season’s four starters in the secondary, with Denzel Williams looking likely to find a prominent spot in the rotation. Look for corners Aaron Young and Brandon Addison and strong safety Justice Davila to play major roles on a unit that’s steadily building depth.
Previewing Old Dominion’s Specialists for 2016
In an effort to bolster an underwhelming special teams game, the Monarchs brought in former Vanderbilt assistant Charles Bankins. He’ll have some promising pieces in sophomore kicker Chris Kirtley and sophomore kick returner Kesean Strong. But Bankins will have to find answers at punter and punt returner.
Thus far, change has been the only constant for the modern incarnation of Old Dominion football. After restarting the program, the Monarchs spent two seasons as an FCS Independent, two seasons in one of the FCS’ top leagues, one season as an FBS Independent and now two seasons in Conference USA. So this season marks unprecedented consistency. According to Wilder, that will start showing as more high school recruits with redshirt years on their résumés start making their way to the field.
One of the youngest teams in the league last season, the Monarchs finished one win shy of their first bowl bid. If they can nail down some big questions — i.e., quarterback — this group should be in good shape to get over that barrier.