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Appalachian State football: Focus on ground attack

By Tommy Bowman
Winston-Salem Journal

One above-average component in Appalachian State’s subpar 4-8 season in 2013 was the performance of a freshman running back – Marcus Cox emerged and led the Southern Conference with 1,250 yards rushing and 21 touchdowns.

Interestingly enough, when spring practice for the 2014 season begins Friday, the Mountaineers’ running game will be a point of emphasis. Despite Cox’s impressive performance, Appalachian State ranked seventh among the league’s nine teams in rushing offense. Scott Satterfield, the Mountaineers’ coach, said that won’t cut it in a move to the Football Bowl Subdivision and the Sun Belt Conference.

“Marcus had a great year – he rushed for 1,250 yards – but what else did we do?” Satterfield said. “That was it. You go back and look at the rushing yards and he was basically it. We want to expand on that. We want to see who else can run the football and create some schemes to be able to run.

“We want to be able to run the football when everybody knows we’re going to run it. You go back and look at the mark of a lot our great teams, and you’ll find that when we had to run the ball and get first downs, we were able to do that. We’ve got to be able to do that.”

In line with that thinking will be focus this spring on short-yardage and goal-line situations, on both sides of the line of scrimmage.

“Offensively, when we get down there we’ve got to score, obviously; and defensively, we’ve got to be able to stop teams in those situations,” Satterfield said. “We didn’t get as much work in on that last fall camp and it probably showed throughout the season. It came down to a couple of possessions in some of those games and that was the difference between 4-8 and 8-4.”

Satterfield said that competition and evaluation will be evident and important at every position. There remains an abundance of younger players filling spots and aiming for starting roles on a team that is building its numbers for the move to the FBS. That includes quarterback, where there is an incumbent starter in Kam Bryant but challengers in redshirt freshman Taylor Lamb and newcomer J.P. Caruso.

“They’re all competing,” Satterfield said. “There’s nothing guaranteed. That goes across the board at all positions. We’ll have some great competition.”

The Mountaineers will have about 80 players available for spring practice. In August, the number will approach the 105-player roster limit with the addition of incoming signees. They’ll be limited a bit in the spring, especially at wide receiver, before the new arrivals.

“Right now we have only three wideouts who have really played – Bobo Beathard, Simms McElfresh and Malachi Jones,” said Satterfield, who expects to have about eight receivers to work with in the spring. One of those is Tacoi Sumler, a former Oregon player who has been hampered with a knee issue since his arrival in 2012 but now appears healthy.

“We’re excited about seeing what he can do this spring because we haven’t seen him totally healthy,” Satterfield said.

Spring practice will offer enhanced opportunity to evaluate a group of freshmen who redshirted last season. Included in that group are Lamb, running back Terrence Upshaw, receiver Dante Jones, offensive linemen Beau Nunn and Colby Gossett, outside linebacker Lee Wright, inside linebacker George Vinson, safety Treyon Garnett and cornerback Brandon Pinckney.

“We are in better shape than we were last year but we’re still not quite where we need to be depth-wise – but with one more (recruiting) cycle we will be,” Satterfield said. “We’re sitting here now with 12 seniors this year but we’re bringing 22 (recruits) in and each year we’re building it up. We’re getting closer to that.

“Out of the 102 that we’ll have in the fall, only 39 have played a snap. So we still have some young guys that are going to have to play. Last year and this year, we are pretty young but we feel good about setting up that foundation for the future. This spring will be a big part of that.”

The Winston-Salem Journal is a news partner of the Observer. For more Appalachian State coverage go to http://www.journalnow.com/sports/asu/
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