After a two-year hiatus, UAB football is back. Fortunately for the Blazers, head coach Bill Clark decided to stick around, but don’t forget that this is a team that last played a game that counts back on Nov. 29, 2014. UAB went a surprising 6-6 that season, but don’t expect similar results this time around. There are players for Clark and the coaching staff to work with and build around, but it will take time for everyone to get on the same page. Wins may be at a premium this fall, but they will be celebrated by anyone associated with the program, and with good reason.
Previewing UAB Football’s Offense for 2017
Veteran Les Koenning was hired to direct an offense that wants to make its mark with its toughness up front and with the running game. Former Middle Tennessee quarterback A.J. Erdely and 2015 Alabama Mr. Football Tyler Johnston are battling for the starting quarterback job. Both have good enough arms and can make plays with their feet but have to limit turnovers. UAB is in trouble if both players get hurt — and as much as they will run the ball, the quarterbacks will take some hits.
At running back, former walk-on James Noble outperformed scholarship players Lucious Stanley and Kalin Heath in the spring, and UAB moved Donnie Lee from linebacker to running back. Noble is only about 5'7" and 180 pounds, so Stanley and Lee will be counted on to get the tougher yards. Coach Bill Clark is looking for a go-to back out of those four, although if Cedric Battle (academics) returns this fall, there will be even more competition. Freshman Spencer Brown, at 230 pounds, is another one to watch. UAB had a playmaker at running back, but Greg Bryant Jr. was tragically killed in a highway shooting in South Florida in May 2016.
UAB’s run game will have to be on point, because the Blazers don’t have much proven depth at the receiver position. Collin Lisa, who began his career at UAB in 2014 before playing a season at Buffalo, will be the go-to receiver and is in line for a big season. Jonathan Haden, whose older brother Joe is an NFL cornerback, is electric in the open field. UAB is looking for consistency on the outside, and 6'5" late signee Justin Walker could provide that along with Xavier Ubosi and Ronnie Turner. UAB will use tight ends Logan Scott and Thair Blakes plenty in the passing game.
UAB signed four offensive linemen in December, and all four will factor into the rotation. The left side — tackle James Davis and guard Chris Schleuger — was the most consistent in the spring.
Previewing UAB Football’s Defense for 2017
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Shaq Jones is the veteran presence on a defense led by first-year coordinator David Reeves. Jones was UAB’s third-leading tackler in 2014 and stayed with the Blazers despite opportunities to transfer elsewhere. The Blazers are big up front and need 6'5", 352-pound Anthony Rush to take a big step forward.
Freshman Thomas Johnston is talented enough to play from Day 1 in the linebacker rotation. Walk-on Fitzgerald Mofor has been one of the top playmakers since he stepped foot on campus.
Veteran cornerbacks Jordan Petty and Darious Williams, who were both part of the 2014 UAB team, will lead the secondary. Darez Diggs is the brother of Minnesota Vikings receiver Stefon Diggs and one of several long, versatile athletes in the back four. Louisville transfer Duke Culver will be the nickel.
Previewing UAB Football’s Specialists for 2017
Nick Vogel returned to UAB from Southern Miss and is unchallenged as the team’s placekicker. The Blazers signed Australian Joel Dixon to handle punting duties. Lisa, Andre Wilson and Demetrius Davis are shifty in the return game.
You can never count out a team coached by Clark. The Blazers were among the worst teams in the country going into 2014, but he coached them to a six-win season. UAB has a deep front seven on defense and should be physical on the offensive line. With a new team, it’s hard to pinpoint many definite wins on the schedule, but Clark signed several junior college players and Division-I transfers so that the Blazers would be competitive from the start. If some playmakers can emerge on the offensive side of the ball, UAB can win a few games in its first season back from a two-year hiatus.
National Ranking: 130
C-USA West Prediction: 7
(Shaq Jones photo courtesy of UAB Athletics)