JONESBORO, Ark. — The return of six offensive starters and five defensive regulars from a team that went 5-7 last season indicates Arkansas State could perform better than expected in the upcoming season, coach Steve Roberts says.
The Red Wolves were picked by Sun Belt Conference coaches to finish fourth in the league this year. Roberts doesn't argue with that assessment, and neither does returning quarterback Corey Leonard.
But Leonard sees an upside to the relatively low expectations.
”I think we're in the best position we can be,“ Leonard said Monday as ASU players met with the media. ”It's kind of like nobody expects too much, but they don't expect us to do really, really bad.
”For us, it's nice. We hope teams take us lightly. Go ahead and make that mistake and let us catch you when you're taking us lightly, and we'll show you how you shouldn't have,“ Leonard added. ”I think we're a great team.“
Roberts, in his seventh year guiding ASU, didn't talk like a coach with middle-of-the-pack expectations.
”Obviously, every coach in the country in college football right now is undefeated and optimistic, and there's a lot of work to be done before we can project how this season is going to turn out,“ Roberts said. ”But I can tell you I'm as excited as I've ever been going into a season with a football team and the product we're going to put on the field.“
Areas of concern include the secondary, where the Red Wolves must replace all four starters, and the offensive line, where four of the five starters will be new.
Leonard returns to guide ASU's offense after setting school records last season for total offense, 2,782 yards, and passing touchdowns, 16. With him in the offensive backfield will be preseason All-Sun Belt tailback Reggie Arnold, who rushed for 1,000-plus yards in each of his first two seasons.
On defense, the front seven features senior linebacker Ben Owens and junior end Alex Carrington, two preseason All-Sun Belt selections. Owens is the team's top returning tackler after making 96 stops last season.
”The defense as a whole, we have to fill some positions in the secondary, but on the front seven, we're pretty solid,“ Owens said. ”We know what we've got to do.“
He said the new secondary players are learning their roles and learning the plays after a good spring practice and a great summer.
”Everybody is really optimistic and has a positive outlook for the defense. We feel pretty strong going into camp,“ Carrington said.
Information from: The Jonesboro Sun, http://www.jonesborosun.com