Appalachian State starts preseason football practice Friday under new coach Eliah Drinkwitz with a specific goals in mind: first, to beat East Tennessee State in its Aug. 31 opener at Kidd Brewer Stadium, but also to win a fourth consecutive Sun Belt title and play in (and win) a bowl for a fifth consecutive time.
Here are five things to watch for as the Mountaineers gear up for the season:
1. Getting to know each other.
App State will spend the first two weeks getting their systems installed, then begin concentrating on East Tennessee. As good as the Mountaineers have been, and as much as winning is baked into the Appalachian culture, getting acquainted with Drinkwitz and a mostly new coaching staff (assistant head coach Shawn Clark is an important holdover from former coach Scott Satterfield’s staff) will take a while.
2. Sutton’s status
If there’s any uncertainty on what’s certain to be a high-powered offense, it’s about the status of star receiver Corey Sutton (Mallard Creek High), who was arrested earlier this summer in Boone on a marijuana charge. Drinkwitz said Thursday he’s waiting for the judicial and student-conduct processes to play out before deciding on Sutton’s status.
3. Defensive losses
The defensive line took an unexpected hit with the loss of junior Chris Willis (Crest High), who will miss the season with a lower-leg injury. But Elijah Diarrassouba, who had one sack and 2.5 tackles-for-loss last season, is back. Finding replacements for cornerbacks Clifton Duck and Tae Hayes will be key.
4. Change for Thomas?
Appalachian has probably the top quarterback in the Sun Belt in junior Zac Thomas, who threw for 2,039 yards and ran for 504 more last season. Look for Thomas’s rushing totals to dip this season, however, as the Mountaineers tweak their offense to “Pro Tempo,” relying more on possession than big plays. In other words, Thomas will be making more, shorter throws rather than keeping the ball himself.
5. Deep RB corps
The Mountaineers’ deepest spot will be at running back, so much so that starter Darrynton Evans might be used elsewhere on the field at times. Drinkwitz said redshirt freshman Camerun Peoples is too talented not to play, and sophomore Marcus Williams gained 561 yards last season.