April 16, 2010

Offense moving forward

KENT, Ohio-Behind returning starting quarterback Spencer Keith and an offensive line with 57 starts to its credit, the Kent State offense came out strong this spring. Through the first five practice sessions the offense had its way with the defense.

There was more balance during the sixth spring session at Dix Stadium on Wednesday.

"We didn't come out focused I guess," said Keith about the offense. "We've got to come out every day and know we have to work hard every day to beat the defense. They came out and played really good (Wednesday)."

Keith, who started six of 10 games he played in last fall before a shoulder injury ended his freshman season, added some weight to his frame and now takes the field at 6-foot-2, 210-pounds. He said that additional strength, and a healthy shoulder, should help him become a better quarterback in 2010.

"I feel bigger. It's tough getting back from the shoulder because it took a while to get it back to where I was, but now I've just got to build on that," he said. "The shoulder hasn't hurt the whole spring. I'm just working hard in the weight room in the winter and trying to get it back rehabbing and stuff. I've got about four months until fall so we have a long time to work on it more."

And come fall Keith should have plenty of weapons to work with.

The NCAA granted running back Eugene Jarvis--who was lost for the year after suffering a lacerated kidney at Boston College in week two--a sixth year of eligibility. Jarvis leads a stable of running backs that rushed for 1,233 yards and seven scores in 2009.

But it's on the perimeter where the biggest plays have been made so far this spring.

Leading receiver Tyshon Goode returns after a freshman campaign in which he caught 53 passes for 755 yards and five touchdowns. Junior Sam Kirkland has been cited by several players and coaches as being the most dominant performer of the spring thus far.

"Sam Kirkland has had the best spring of anybody on the field right now," said head coach Doug Martin. "He's made plays; he doesn't have any dropped passes. I think as of, before (Wednesday's) practice I think he had 24 catches with no drops. He's making play after play, so he's been real effective."

If Kirkland continues to make plays the Golden Flashes would become even more dangerous on offense. Goode has been a proven playmaker and a second option on the outside for Keith would open up the middle of the field for the running backs and tight ends.

"That would be huge. If you have two guys that are go-to guys and can make plays for you that's really big," Martin said. "That's what we have right now. It's opening up the middle of the field for us too. If those guys are on the outside the middle starts to open up, so I think they've got a good relationship right now with Spencer."

Junior Chris Gilbert returned from a short stint at cornerback to line up at wide receiver. On Wednesday he caught several passes then used his speed and strength to turn the completions into explosive plays.

"That's where he's most comfortable," Martin said. "He does give us a little more size, a little more strength, a little more physical presence at wide receiver."

And the Flashes have founds some consistency up front, too.

Even with a starting unit that includes two juniors, two sophomores and a freshman, the offensive line has played well. The challenge for Martin and his staff is to put together a second unit that can step in and play when necessary.

"Our first offensive line is really been pretty good. Even (Wednesday), they weren't too bad," Martin said. "Our second group is the one I'm a little bit worried about right now. We have some guys in there that have to provide depth for us, Tyler Arend, Max Plunkett, Josh Kline is there, he's played. We could put him in the first level and it won't hurt us much. We need those guys to step up. We've got to at least have eight or nine linemen that could go in the first huddle and play."

Kent State will conduct a closed scrimmage on Saturday. That will give the players Martin cited another chance to earn more reps.

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