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It's officially decision time for Kent State first-year head coach Paul Haynes and his staff.
Construction of the team's depth chart began in earnest moments after the Golden Flashes' final intrasquad scrimmage of the preseason, the annual Jersey Scrimmage held Saturday morning at Dix Stadium. The coaches planned to spend the rest of Saturday and today scouring film, and a two-deep is expected to be released based on their thoughts and findings by Monday.
"We've gotta go in and watch the tape as a staff right now, dissect it, set depth and move forward," said Haynes. "Nothing (depth chart-wise) will be super constant, but we've gotta start somewhere and this is where it starts. From this point forward I told the players there is no offense vs. defense, it's the Kent State Golden Flashes versus everybody else."
That first depth chart is expected to reveal the starters at several key positions, including quarterback. Redshirt freshman Colin Reardon and senior David Fisher, who backed up four-year starter Spencer Keith last season, have been battling for the spot throughout camp.
"We'll make a decision on the quarterback probably by Monday," said Haynes. "I'm not a rotating-type guy, I like one quarterback. It'll be week to week, though. The person's going to have to continue to earn it. You're the starting quarterback (in the opener against) Liberty, but (game two against Bowling Green) - we'll see."
Both quarterbacks were solid on Saturday. Reardon scored the offense's first touchdown on a 12-yard bootleg run, while Fisher made a nice throw into the back of the end zone to senior tight end Tim Erjavec while rolling to his left for a 2-yard score. Neither player was directly involved in a turnover.
"I'm not looking for how many plays they made or anything like that," Haynes said. "The only thing I wanted to see out of them is that they controlled the ball and managed the offense. How are they in the huddle, what do they look like when a bad play happens, what do they look like when a good play happens? All of those things to me are important."
Haynes and his staff will have to make difficult decision at several other spots, including the offensive line, linebacker and the secondary.
"It's just like recruiting, you're not going to make a decision off of a highlight tape," said Haynes. "You're going to watch, you're going to learn, get to know the kid. We won't make a decision off of one scrimmage, we'll make it off the whole camp up to this point."
After a day off today, the Flashes will practice Monday and Tuesday, then take a couple of days off before beginning preparations for the 2013 season opener against Liberty at Dix Stadium on Thursday, Aug. 29.
OFFENSE WINS SCRIMMAGE . SOMEHOW
The offense earned a tainted victory over the defense in Saturday's Jersey Scrimmage, snatching the coveted blue practice jerseys away from the defenders. Truth be told the defense completely dominated the scrimmage until the offense started producing touchdowns when handed the ball deep in the defense's end during the second half.
Overall, the defense still played better than the offense. But the scoreboard said otherwise, as the offense was able to overcome an early 24-4 deficit to win 53-34. No one in the press box knows exactly how points were awarded.
"A victory's a victory," Haynes chuckled. "We've been battling each other for awhile. Everybody knows what play they're about to run on defense by now; you know what's going on. You want them to come out here with energy and everything, but it's practice 20."
Trouble with center-quarterback exchanges both from under center and in the shotgun made the first half of the scrimmage quite messy, but the vast majority of those mistakes were made by players that likely won't see much action this season.
Still, the turnovers did not set well with Haynes.
"The big things are the turnovers; the snaps and little things like that," said Haynes. "Those are things that we sit there and talk about you beat yourself, it doesn't matter what the other team is doing. Those are the things that you've gotta clean up."
STARS SIT 'TIL SECOND HALF
Kent State's top playmakers, including RB/WR Dri Archer, RB Trayion Durham and wideouts Tyshon Goode and Chris Humphrey, did not see action during the first half of the scrimmage.
"I told (the assistant coaches) we had six or seven groups and sets that we were going to have, and I left it up to them to decide when you want them to play (the starters)," said Haynes. "So they could have played at the beginning, but they chose to play them at the end."
Archer shook loose on one of his patented cutback runs for about 20 yards, and later went into the end zone untouched from 5 yards out on a pitch play behind a great block from Durham. Running backs Anthony Meray, Julian Durden and Durham also scored on short TD runs.
GETTING THEIR KICKS
Anthony Melchiori, Kent State's standout sophomore punter from Aurora who is also taking on field-goal kicking duties this year, missed his only field-goal attempt from 39 yards out on Saturday but was perfect on several extra-point attempts. Fellow kicker Brad Miller had a 42-yard attempt blocked, but did make a 25-yarder.
DELLINGER FILLING ONE HOLE
One player who shouldn't be worried about the depth chart's upcoming release is sophomore Matt Dellinger, who will assuredly fill one of Kent State's vacant spots at linebacker.
Dellinger has had a solid camp, and made a nice open-field tackle on Archer Saturday.
"I'm just working my hardest to earn a starting position," he said. "I feel like I'm improving. I came off the (groin) injury during the spring and it feels great now. I'm getting my legs back."
Dellinger has been playing both linebacker positions in Kent State's defense along with senior Danny Gress and junior Devante' Strickland as they attempt to fill a crucial spot decimated by graduation.
"We've got five new guys I think, and I'm just trying to teach them all that I know," he smiled. "We're definitely feeling more comfortable. It started with Danny at (middle linebacker) and me at (outside linebacker), but we've kind of switched things up and a lot of other guys are competing. It's been good competition."
OFFENSIVE LINE SHAPING UP
Since senior left guard Pat McShane went down with a knee injury on Aug. 8, senior center Phil Huff has been the lone returning starter on Kent State's offensive line. But Huff believes the unit is coming together.
"I think we've grown a lot as a team, especially as an o-line," he said. "We started off a little shaky, but I think we've picked it up. As a whole team we've come together and started to love each other again like last year. It's been fun."
Huff admitted that he was shaken when McShane went down after a teammate rolled up on his leg from behind.
"At first I was worried. He's my best friend and I felt for him, wanted him to get healthy and for the pain to go away," said Huff. "Then I was a little worried about who would step into that left guard slot. I don't know if anyone's quite Pat McShane with the experience hie has, but we've had some guys step up. (McShane's injury) hurt our team as a whole, but it helped our depth on the o-line. We're getting other guys some experience with the first team."
Huff believes Kent State's young offensive front will continue to improve as the season progresses.
"As a first-year starter last year I look back on the film and I watch the first couple games and I'm like, who is that guy? What was I doing there?" said Huff. "By the end of the season I picked up a lot. I think that's how his o-line will be. Game by game we'll get better and better."
McShane is expected to return, although no timetable has been set.
TOUGH LEARNING ABOUT LIBERTY
Haynes said that Liberty has refused to exchange film with Kent State heading into the season-opening matchup. The Flames are coached by Turner Gill, who won a MAC championship in 2008 while spending four years at Buffalo (2006-09). He then left for Kansas, but was fired after a difficult two-year stint and wound up in charge of Liberty last year.
Liberty, an NCAA Division I FCS program out of Lynchburg, Va., went 6-5 a year ago.
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