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Ball State football 2014: 5 areas to focus on

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For more on college football, follow Tom Davis via Twitter at www.twitter.com/Tom101010.

Offense has a lot of experience, despite loss of stars

Wednesday, July 23, 2014 - 8:42 am

Ball State will be participating in today's Mid-American Conference Football Media Day at Ford Field in Detroit, which is the site of the league title game in December.

Here is a look at the area of concerns for Cardinal fans entering the 2014 season:

1. Is Ozzie “the Mann?”

The first five questions could be devoted to which player replaces, or how this program survives the graduation of All-Everything quarterback Keith Wenning, but truth be told, the 2013 version of the Cardinals lost great players all over the place. So to insinuate that the program takes a step back due to one guy would be unfair and inaccurate.

Redshirt sophomore Ozzie Mann has the most experience at quarterback and cannon of an arm. However, redshirt freshman Jack Milas has been involved in the program for over 18 months and possess the “it factor,” of calmness amidst chaos that the coaches have been impressed with since he arrived on campus.

Mann will probably get the first chance to start in the opener against Colgate (Aug. 30 at Schuemann Stadium), but if he struggles, Milas won't have to wait long. Ball State coach Pete Lembo has played multiple quarterbacks (even during the Wenning era) many, many times throughout his career.

2. Will Ball State finally be on the defensive?

Anyone that has watched the Cardinals since Pete Lembo's arrival can attest to the fact that the offensive side of the ball has often proven more effective than the defensive side. However, the Cardinal defense will be particularly imperative to any success this season, as the offense tries to replace guys like Wenning, Willie Snead, Jamill Smith, Jordan Hansel, and Zane Fakes.

And the unit should be able to do that.

Since Lembo's arrival, the Cardinals have made redshirting players a foundation of their program and in year four of Lembo's tenure, fans will see the results of that through improved depth.

Ball State has 16 defenders listed on its defensive depth chart that have redshirted a season and the chart features 20 players that have spent at least three seasons immersed in Cardinal strength coach Dave Feeley's program.

There is talent on that side of the ball in guys like linebacker Ben Ingle, defensive end Nick Miles, backs such as Brian Jones and Eric Patterson, but really the improvement will come through depth, and the increased everyday competition that is a result of that.

3. What (or who) will carry the offense?

Though the Cardinals will be inexperienced at the most notable offensive position (quarterback), they aren't just about everywhere else on that side of the ball.

The team features All-MAC performers in Jahwan Edwards (running back), Jake Richard (offensive line), and a lot of veterans that could (and will) step up in notoriety such as Jalen Schlachter (offensive line), Sam Brunner and Dylan Curry (tight ends). Oh and there is a pass-catcher named Williams that ain't too bad. And that brings us to…

4. Who will help the quarterback as much as anyone?

Without question, an experienced offensive line and Edwards will be the quarterback's best assets, but someone has to fill the hole left by Connor Ryan, Snead and Smith, and that man is Jordan Williams.

He's big (6-foot-2, 224 pounds), has speed and can catch the ball.

Williams will be an All-MAC selection for the second straight season and if you want to know who the next Cardinal to have a chance at playing on Sundays is, it's this guy.

5. New faces can be a good thing

For the first time since Lembo arrived in Muncie, the Cardinal coaching staff was raided by other programs during the off-season. That’s never a great thing, but it is flattering to the program and it isn’t a new situation for Lembo to deal with.

He’s brought in very, very experienced guys like Kevin Kelly (defensive coordinator) and John Strollo (offensive line), as well as young “energy” guys such as Pat Dougherty (tight ends) and Nick Siatras (defensive line and recruiting coordinator).

Veteran coach Joey Lynch takes over the offense, while guys like Justin Lustig (running backs, special teams), Shannon Morrison (pass defensive coordinator, defensive backs), Daryl Dixon (outside linebackers, nickel backs), Keith Gaither (wide receivers), and support staff Tillmon Clark and Jackson Boyd are all experienced within the program.

If this program takes a step back this season, it more than likely won’t be due to coaching.