Greetings, Lion fans, and believe it or not, there’s only 56 days remaining until the opener against Lincoln University on September 1, we here at The Wire are eagerly anticipating the start of football season.
There are so many new challenges, new opponents, and the now official move to Division 1, and Brian and I are doing our best to answer as many as we can. We’re currently working our sources, and as fall camp begins, we’ll have a more in-depth preview and hopefully have some more details on the new transfers.
Today, though, we’re going to focus on an overall view, and some things that we hope to see change for the better in 2022:
- Stability at Quarterback- We heard it directly from head coach David Bailiff himself. The main reason behind the epic offensive struggles in 2021 was lack of consistent play from the quarterback position. Whether it was the injuries that plagued Miklo Smalls, the early season struggles of Jaiave Magalei, or the inability to settle on an offensive leader between these two, and freshmen Eric Rodriguez or Brock Nellor, in addition to play calling that just never quite seemed to fit, the Lion offense never seemed to get out of first gear in 2021. Ohio State transfer Jagger Laroe seemed to have a firm grasp on the QB1 position. Standing tall in the pocket, Laroe displayed a strong, accurate arm, good decision and maneuverability. Not to be outdone, Texas A&M-Kingsville transfer Zadock Dinkleman, Magalie, and Rodriguez, all had very good spring practices, so the competition looks to be very fierce in the quarterback room this fall in Commerce. Could this lead to a position change for some? Possibly. One thought that intrigues us here at The Wire would be a possible move from quarterback to inside receiver for Eric Rodriguez to take advantage of his speed, quickness, and running ability. Likely? No. It is one of those thoughts that makes one go, “hmmmm”, and the kind of bold, unconventional move that would make the legend, Ernest Hawkins, smile.
- Retooling/Reloading the Offensive Line-The real strength of the Lion offense the last two seasons will see more than a few new faces in 2022. Senior Rehoboth Chiesa and Maryland transfer Mitchell Gorgas both had outstanding spring seasons, and there are plenty of experience that has seen playing time at some point during 2021. It is in this position group where the biggest battles for playing time will be fought during fall camp.
- Keep On Rollin’-The Blue Gang defense was the savior of the 2021 season and fueled an unexpected 2019 run to the Division 2 quarterfinals, as well as a 2017 National Championship in Division 2. For a program that prides itself on a great defensive tradition, there are issues yet to be addressed. Many of the standouts in recent history no longer wear the blue and gold. The Lions now have their four defensive coordinator in the past five seasons, although Kyle Williams is not an unfamiliar name, having come to Commerce in 2019 with former defensive wizard Xavier Adibi. That being said, duing the spring game, the Lion defense was, as legendary Alabama coach Paul Bryant said, “agile, mobile, and hostile.”, living up to the Blue Gang moniker. There are still a lot of personnel to sort out, and positions to settle, but the 2022 season looks very promising.
- Movin’ On Up- It’s time to address the elephant in the room. The Lions, after 90 plus years as a member of the Lone Star Conference, whether it be in the NAIA or NCAA, now strike out in a new direction, one that takes them to Division 1 FBS and the Southland Conference, while ineligible to compete for a playoff spot or National Championship for the next four years during the transition process, there are still lofty and notable goals for the Lions. Namely conference championships. And a 2022 Southland Conference Championship is well within the reach of the Lions. With the move to Division 1, however, the motto of the Olympic Games comes to mind….Citius, Altius, Fortius (Faster, Higher, Stronger). With this step up, it means the competition has stepped up. The athletes Lion teams will face this next year are sure to be bigger, faster, and stronger. The Lions will need to rise to that challenge, and under the direction of Senior Director of Sports Performance Joe Caldwell, they should be more than able to meet it. Despite the heat and humidity, the off-season program continues to progress. It is here in the Texas summers that resemble Hell’s Front Porch where championships are made. Want proof? Members of the 1980 team are, to a man, convinced that the record heat of that summer made them the only team in the last 50 years, besides the 1972 and 2017 teams to come within close to winning a title.
- Get That Man the Ball/You Better Recognize! – With all the flash and dash that came with revamped offense this spring, there were a couple of very important pieces to the puzzle missing. One, senior running back E.J. Thompson returns for one final charge. The lone holdover from the 2017 champions, Thompson was the thunder to the lightning of Carandale Hale that provided an unlikely, but powerful punch that complemented Luis Perez’s aerial circus. Thompson is slashing, power type of runner that draws comparisons to Lion legend and fifth all-time leading rusher Cary Noiel. Thompson’s only flaw has been, that because his is such a violent runner, an inability to stay healthy. If he can stay on the field, he will be a very dangerous addition to the backfield. In addition, senior J.T. Smith, Division 2 National Champion in the 100-meter dash, also returns. Smith possesses the type of breakaway speed that forces coaches to find a way to get him on the field and the ball in his hands. And there are multiple ways to do that. Kick returns, punt returns, hand offs and passes out of the backfield, as well as screen passes, jet sweeps, as well as creating mismatches in opposing secondaries out of the inside receiver position creates a real headache for Southland Conference defensive coaches. Given the real opening of the playbook by offensive coordinator Billy Riebock , David Bailiff and his offensive staff have a veritable buffet of possibilities of getting the ball in the hands of what looks to be some very exciting play makers.
- Discipline (Bonus)- There is nothing more damaging to a football team’s efforts to win a game besides silly, unnecessary pre snap and misconduct penalties. They have been a large, painful thorn in the paw of the Lions for more than a while now. The false start or offsides penalty that absolutely kills offensive momentum or keeps the defense on the field. The holding or block in the back penalty that gets a touchdown called back or gives the opponent’s offense a first down that they otherwise wouldn’t have. David Bailiff and his staff are sure to make this #1 on their list of things to address this fall.
58 Days. 58 days until we’re all back together in the friendly confines of The Hawk. It is then that these questions should have an answer. As many questions as there seem to be, one thing is for certain. The future is bright for the Lions.
See You at The Hawk