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Thursday, March 30, 2023


Cougars come reloaded with depth, skill

Since the coaching days of Bill Yeoman, the Cougars have made a habit of putting points on the board and having one of the nation’s best offenses.

This season should be no different.

“There’s always been a tradition here,” co-offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach Jason Phillips said. “UH has always been a place for a freestyle passing attack and then receivers and quarterbacks coming here and putting up numbers, setting records.

“We’re just continuing the tradition.”

The Cougars return many of the players who made them a top-five offense in the nation from 2007-2009, including senior quarterback Case Keenum.

“I think this is going to a fun time with a fun team,” head coach Kevin Sumlin said.

Keenum will be armed with many familiar weapons — including a three-headed monster in the backfield and a stable of skilled receivers.

“We’ve had a few guys leave,” Keenum said. “But we play about eight guys, about eight to 10 receivers. That’s a big deal because we need guys to come in and make plays. We’ve got our main guys who have been here awhile, but we have some new faces who are going to make some plays this year.”

Seniors Patrick Edwards and Tyron Carrier are guaranteed starting gigs, but the two others are less assured.

“There are a bunch of guys battling for those last two spots,” co-offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury said.

“E.J. Smith had a really good spring. Ronnie Williams has looked good this camp and then we have Dewayne Peace from junior college, who we’re really excited about.”

Edwards said that he has been impressed with the growth of Smith and Isaiah Sweeney, and Sumlin said that sophomore Darian Lazard is coming along as well.

One receiver who will find a home somewhere on the field is versatile senior Justin Johnson.

“He’s our do-everything guy,” Kingsbury said. “He’s played a bunch of positions for us and he’ll be a big contributor for us.

“He’s a bigger-type guy. He can block linebackers, but also be effective on routes inside against him. He has some tight end qualities to him, but we can spread him out and let him work.”

There are quite a few mouths to feed in the backfield as well, with senior incumbents Bryce Beall and Michael Hayes and the return of sophomore Charles Sims.

“We’re going to find a way to get them all on the field at a time,” Sumlin said. “They’re all three of our best offensive players.”

Beall had a comeback year in 2010, rushing for 890 yards on 163 carries, and scoring 12 touchdowns. Hayes was also a hit in his first season. After transferring from Blinn, he gained nearly 1,000 yards from scrimmage and scored 10 total touchdowns.

But Sims could be the most explosive of the bunch.

“He was here in 2009 and he was Freshman of the Year,” Kingsbury said. “I think a lot of people forgot about him, but he’s going to be fun to watch.”

Sims sat out last season after being ruled ineligible by the NCAA. As a freshman he rushed for 698 yards and caught 70 balls for 759 yards, scoring 10 total touchdowns.

The Brick Squad is back with a few new faces.

“It’s the same old, just the remixed version,” senior center Chris Thompson said.

Thompson and junior tackle Jacolby Ashworth are the two returning members of the starting unit.

Sophomore guards Ty Cloud, Kevin Forsch, Josh McNeill and freshman Bryce Redmen will compete for time flanking Thompson inside. At right tackle, freshman Rowdy Harper will battle sophomore Ralph Oragwu for playing time.

“We have a roster, O-line-wise, full of depth,” Thompson said. “We can go nine or 10 guys that can just come in and play. Every day I just look at the young guys getting better.

“We lost a couple of guys, good guys, (Jordan) Shoemaker, Isaiah Thompson, Roy Watts, but the Brick Squad name is here to stay and we’re going to carry on.”

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