Middle Tennessee kicked off fall camp Monday with more players than ever during the Rick Stockstill era. The offense is ready to step up the pace while Manny Diaz is imploring his defense to constantly stay on the attack.
Read on for an in depth notebook prior to the team hitting the field for the first time.
Tempo is the buzz word
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Rick Stockstill has been adament that new offensive coordinator Tony Franklin doesn't have to overhaul the Blue Raider offense in his first year at Middle Tennessee.
Instead of completely remaking the playbook, the biggest difference Franklin's system will include is a quicker tempo.
Middle Tennessee played relatively fast last year, but going to an exclusive no huddle attack this year will allow the offense to dictate tempo at varying speeds from the same no huddle look.
"At times I didn't think we were as fast (last year) as I would have liked to have been," Stockstill said of the offense's pace. "Hopefully we'll be better at changing tempos and better at different paces in our no huddle offenses. We'll still run the same plays and do the same things we've done in the past but the change in tempos will be the most noticeable thing."
In Franklin's second year as Troy offensive coordinator, the Trojans averaged more than 80 offensive snaps per game.
While Franklin doesn't have a set number of plays per game he wants his team to get off, he does want to make that number as high as possible to keep the pressure on the defense.
"What we want to do is maximize the number of plays that we can every game," Franklin said. "We want to make first downs, move the ball, and play fast. There is such a huge advantage to playing fast. It makes coaching much less important. I don't like to match wits with defensive coordinators because they are always smarter than I am, so I want to play fast and they won't be able to coach as well ... if you can do it fast, it should work better."
Last year, the Blue Raiders averaged a shade less than 69 offensive plays per game.
Defense will stay on attack
Talk to Blue Raider defensive coordinator Manny Diaz for just a few seconds and you might hear the word "attack" enough times to make you think you're entering a combat zone.
Diaz, entering his fourth season as defensive coordinator, wants his defense to stay on the attack so much that opposing offenses pray for the game to be over.
"We are in attack mode from the moment we get off the bus," Diaz said. "Tony Franklin wants to attack defenses and I want to attack offenses ... You want to have the mentality as a team that people don't like to play you. I hope now when people get done playing us regardless of what's on the scoreboard that they say they are glad they don't have to play us again for at least another 365 days."
Diaz fosters that attack mode by utilizing his philosophy of playing the best "space players" on his unit, players that can make plays in space and are athletic enough to be able to perform on an island if that is what is required.
Finding the best 11 players that fit that style if what will set the table for Diaz's attacking defense in 2009.
"If you can't tackle in space, you're going to have a hard time stopping offenses ... We want to play our 11 best guys. We might have three defensive ends that we feel very highly about. We may feel better an extra defensive lineman over a linebacker or we may feel like our third safety is better than our third corner. We want to have the flexibility year in and year out to showcase those guys and play our best."
Defensive tackle Dwight Smith is very familiar with Diaz's demands for attacking football.
How exactly does Diaz instill that kind of mindset in the defense?
"He harps on ball get offs with the defensive line, and with linebackers and safeties he harps on blitzing and timing blitzes really good," Smith said. "As a whole we just want to keep the offense off balance. Up front, we aren't your typical defensive tackles. We aren't 6-5 or 6-6 and 315 pounds. We are smaller and quicker so we have to attack in order to have the advantage. We have to have an attack mindset to get penetration or else we will get pushed back."
Mistakes behind him, Dasher ready to roll
Stockstill has been rather public in his observation that he felt like junior quarterback Dwight Dasher grew complacent after a very promising true freshman season in 2007.
With a prime chance to win the 2008 starting quarterback job, Dasher lost out in the battle to senior Joe Craddock, who was at the controls for nearly the entire season.
With a year of maturity under his belt, Dasher has taken a much healthier approach to this offseason.
"Last offseason, I'm not going to lie, I was out of shape when I came back from being at home," Dasher said. "I wasn't running like I should have been running. This offseason I have pushed myself every day. I'm not going to let anything get in my way of winning the starting spot this year.
"(Being a leader) is something I have to work at and I am still working to make myself a better leader. I want to lead the team to wins and to earn my teammates' confidence in me."
Dasher will enter fall camp as the starting quarterback and will almost assuredly get the nod under center when the Blue Raiders take field at Clemson in the season opener on September 5th.
When that day comes, Dasher is confident he will be prepared for the challenge after an offseason and fall camp of working under new offensive coordinator Tony Franklin.
From his first day on the job, Franklin has let Dasher know exactly what he needed to be working on this summer.
"He said I could pass the ball and I have a strong arm but that I have terrible feet," Dasher said recalling his first meeting with Franklin. "That was the first thing he told me, and I agreed with him. I had never really taken the time to look at the details of how my footwork affected my passing. Having better footwork makes it a lot easier to throw and hit spots better."
Tanner looking for replacement ring
Senior running back Phillip Tanner didn't think it would hurt to give away the 2006 Sun Belt championship ring he earned in his true freshman year when the Blue Raiders enjoyed a 7-5 regular season and went to the Motor City Bowl.
He figured there would be plenty more to follow, so he parted ways with the jewelry.
Now, he would love nothing more than to add another championship to bookend his career and get his jewelry collection re-stocked.
"That's all I have dreamed of as a senior is to leave on top," Tanner said. "Coming in as a true freshman and winning the conference, I thought 'Wow, is it going to be this easy?'My sophomore year, it didn't happen and last year was almost (a bowl year). This year, even if hypothetically we don't win conference or go to a bowl game, I would still take it as success if I can look back and say that I got better every year."
Don't confuse that for a lack of desire to win a title though.
After all, he's got a ring to replace.
"I'm just determined and (a championship) is my goal, not just for me but for all my teammates and the seniors going out with me as well as the freshmen coming in."
Johnson leaves program
Redshirt freshman cornerback Hakeem Johnson has left the program and will return to his Jacksonville, Florida home to continue his education, Stockstill said.
Stockstill said Johnson informed him of his decision over the weekend and cited a lack of love for football.
Johnson, from Andrew Jackson High School in Jacksonville, was slated as a third team cornerback on the preseason depth chart.
Five current or former Blue Raider football players graduated from Middle Tennessee over the weekend.
Trevor Jenkins, Alex Suber, Ted Riley, Mark Thompson, and Michael Cannon all received their degrees.
With Jenkins and Riley now holding degrees, all members of last year's football senior class have now graduated from Middle Tennessee.