It’s May 4, and the countdown to kickoff and the start of the 2017 Great Northwest Athletic Conference football season for the Simon Fraser Clan is exactly 120 days.
National Signing Day has passed and so has spring camp.
But that hasn’t stopped the chatter as it pertains to a Clan team coming off a winless 2016 campaign.
On our next time out, we’ll look at the defence.
But today, four months ahead of SFU’s non-conference opener in Phoenix against Arizona Christian, here’s 4 Things to Watch from the Clan offence.
The Clan had the lowest passing efficiency in the GNAC last season, and scored under 10 points in seven of its 10 games.
Richardson, the 6-foot-3 former back-up at Div. 1 Eastern Washington, passed for 1,600 yards last season, fourth in the conference, yet completed only 46 per cent of pass attempts (169-of-365) and threw just four TD passes.
Richardson and head coach Kelly Bates are welcoming a fresh start in 2017, one precipitated as much by a growing relationship between the pair (Bates is also SFU’s offensive coordinator and QB coach) as a new, more simplified offence.
“He has re-dedicated himself to the game of football and I have had a ton of fun working with him,” explained Bates of Richardson.
“You are always looking for young men to grow, and although Miles is a very mature young man, his football experiences the past few years have taken him to a lot of different places and that can tire you out,” added Bates of Richardson, a redshirt junior out of Burien, WA., who in addition to his time at Eastern Washington also made a stop at Pima Jr. College in Arizona where he battled injury.
In concert with all of that is a new offence, one with not quite so many bells and whistles as last season.
“He has a very strong arm, but what we have to do as a staff is put Miles in a position to be athletic,” said Bates. “We are simplifying the offence and that is going to allow athletes to get the ball in their hands.”
The back-up duties will fall to Patrick Pearson (Fenelon Falls, Ont.), last season a touted newcomer who tore his ACL before fall camp.
A RYSEN GROUP
To re-work an old adage, you can’t put the pass attempt before the completion, but simplifying matters to get the ball into the hands of its athletes could do wonders for a receiving group which returns three key players in redshirt senior Justin Buren (Coquitlam-Centennial) and sophomores Gavin Cobb (Victoria-Mt. Douglas) and Nathanael Durkan (Nanaimo-John Barsby).
Buren, a Top 10 receiver in the conference last season in catches and yards, has home run potential. Cobb was an absolute revelation as GNAC’s best freshman return man, a facet of his game which allowed him to sit fourth in all-purpose yardage with 1,268 yards in 10 games. And Durkan has a chance to gain a bigger foothold in the offence with the transfer of J.J. Deslauriers to UBC.
With all of that said, if second-year receiver Rysen John (Vancouver College), a talented 6-foot-7 target with solid hands, can build on a freshman season in which he was able to make six catches for 71 yards and one score late in the season, the unit can take on an entirely different look.
“Justin is our senior and I expect him to be what he is,” said Bates, “and that is a guy with a calm and cool demeanor and who is one heck of an athlete. Gavin just has tremendous control of his body, and for a guy who might be a little shorter and lighter than most (5-10, 170 pounds), defensive backs have trouble covering him. And Durkan is just a pure receiver.”
That leaves John, one of the tallest receivers in all of college football, to begin carving his own niche.
“We are going to give him reps and see if he can carry things,” said Bates. “He moves well and he has tremendous hands.”
For all of its struggles last season, it’s a group capable of holding its own and three of its top four are pure sophomores.
The term mano-et-mano is Spanish for hand-to-hand.
As it applies to the Clan’s running game this fall, you can amend it to mano-et-Jana, as in hand-to-Jana.
Running back Jalen Jana, the 5-foot-11, 200-pound junior transfer out of St. Thomas More gave the Clan its most memorable offensive performance of 2016 when he rushed 29 times for 277 yards and a touchdown in the team’s home-opening 56-24 loss to No. 25 nationally-ranked Humboldt State.
Unfortunately, the same success could not be replicated the rest of the way as Jana added just 260 yards and two TDs outside of that game.
The first positive for 2017?
Jana came to Burnaby Mountain last season trying to shake the injury bug and was completely healthy the entire season.
The second is that he will be bigger and stronger and more ready to be an every-down threat.
“We try to teach our running backs where to go and where to look but Jalen has a sixth sense about him that you can’t coach,” says Bates. “I expect big things from him because he has tremendous hands and he can be a difference maker.”
With bruising feature back Ante Litre graduated and looking towards a hopeful CFL career that could begin with Sunday’s draft, Bates has made a significant tweak in his backfield, installing 6-foot-4, 210-pound wide receiver Tom Franklin (South Delta) as a fullback.
“He has a prototype pro body, he is very strong and he wants to play in a more physical position,” said Bates.
It’s a backfield with plotlines and potentially unique methods of production.
Jana made 30 catches last season with a 13.0 yards-average, while two of the eight passes Franklin caught were for touchdowns.
It’s yet another version of Thunder-and-Lightning and one which could give second-level defenders trouble.
LINE OF QUESTIONS
It all happens from the offensive line, and the Clan have to replace three graduated starters from a season ago in Felix Gacusana, Evan Telford and Jacob Christensen.
“They really came together as a group over their last three games, but now we have to replace them,” said Bates.
Eight players return at the O-line spots from last season and Bates, the former longtime B.C. Lions’ offensive lineman, is bringing in five more in his 2017 recruiting class.
How the group shapes up, finds chemistry and ultimately consistency, is going to be a huge part of any success SFU is able to start building on in one of the most competitive D2 conferences in the NCAA.
To that end, keep an eye on newcomer Samuel Couture-Dumas, a 6-foot-4, 280-pound tackle who prepped at Quebec’s CEGEP level (Champlain College) and enters the program as a 20-year-old freshman.
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