By MAT SCHLISSEL
TOWSON, Md. - The Tigers went into spring football with more answers than questions. Unlike previous springs, the goal was to build up the depth of the team and give an opportunity for newcomers trying to make the team.
"It was interesting and fun," said Towson Coach Rob Ambrose of the spring. "We started the spring with 92 players. We can only carry 97 and there's 20 kids waiting to join in the fall so there's going to be cuts. There were guys fighting for roles, you get to find out how much these guys like football."
The Tigers had to work in several transfers in the secondary and on offense, including junior cornerback Jordan Love, who transferred from Georgia. Love, at 6-feet-1, 180-pounds, will start from Day One. Love started one game for the Bulldogs last year and spent the rest of the year as the nickel back, recording nine tackles and forcing a fumble. He was listed as the number one cornerback in Virginia by Rivals.com coming out of Deep Run H.S. in 2008. Love made six tackles in Tiger Bowl II (Spring Game).
"His speed and quickness is off the charts," said Ambrose. "How that equates to a game remains to be seen. You take that fast, that quick, he's really smart and loves football. He'd give me a headache if I was playing against him."
The Tigers also added junior safety Darrell Givens (6-1, 195) from Rutgers. He is competing with redshirt sophomore Thomas Bradley (6-2, 200) for one of the starting safety spots opposite senior All-American Jordan Dangerfield. (below) Sophomore defensive tackle Brendan Gannon (6-2, 260) also played a lot inside and started in the spring game. With senior defensive ends Romale Tucker (hamstring) and Frank Beltre (head) out, Gannon, a transfer from Western Michigan who played his high school ball at Cardinal Gibbons, made three tackles in Tiger Bowl II.
The defensive tackle spot was a bit of a concern coming into the spring, along with depth at defensive end. Redshirt frehsman Jon Desir (6-5, 310) and junior Arnold Farmer (6-1, 325) rotated with Gannon and senior Matt Morgan (6-4, 285), who also played some defensive end. With Tucker out most of the spring and Beltre missing some time, redshirt freshman Stefan Janik (6-4, 250), was able to get more time on the line (he had four tackles and two for loss in Tiger Bowl II) along with redshirt freshman Ugonna Awuruenye (6-6, 230) and 2011 Scout Team Defensive Player of the Year Tyler Magill (6-2, 235)..
With everyone returning healthy heading into the summer, the defense should make some major strides. The defense is coming off a season in which Towson allowed 26 points per game and 227 passing yards per game. While they did allow some yards, they also forced 25 turnovers The newcomers and improvements from the younger players should make the defense even tougher.
Love, Gannon and Givens aren't the only newcomers coming in to help the defense.
Linebacker was a little thin during the spring with senior Danzel White sitting out after surgery. The return of sophomore Kenton Powell should help.
As always, the infamous "player to be named later" is always an option for Coach Ambrose. The Tiger coach pointed out that Towson has been looking like a much more attractive alternative for prospective FBS players after last season.
"Recruiting is a never-ending thing," said Ambrose. "I know a lot of people, I keep the door open and the phone always stays on."
Offensively, Towson was working with two redshirt freshmen quarterbacks in Connor Frazier and Price Litton. Junior Grant Enders played sparingly, while junior Peter Athens was playing lacrosse. Frazier completed 14-of-25 passes for 167 yards in Tiger Bowl II for the Black team.
"The greatest thing for the growth of those kids is Peter (Athens) playing lacrosse and Grant not being able to practice for so long," said Ambrose. "They got two years worth of experience in the last 10 practices because there was nobody else to take reps. There are times I look at these kids and I know that we definitely didn't miss. I think they
can play, they are going to do good stuff. And then you see the holes in their experience.
"They need the opportunity to fall down so they can realize how much they don't know for themselves," Ambrose added. "I thought they did a decent job and made a ton of mistakes."
With some injuries at the running back position and Terrance West coming off surgery in the off-season, the Tigers got some unexpected help in Tiger Bowl II. Redshirt freshman wide receiver Tommy Brown, a walk-on who was looking to make an impact, had a game-high 141 yards rushing for the White team. Brown had an electrifying 67-yard run down the right sideline to open the third quarter before getting tackled out of bounds. According to Ambrose, Brown earned a spot on the team.
Normally, the defense is normally ahead of the offense during the spring and things didn't always go smoothly, with two freshmen quarterbacks learning the offense. But there were some bright spots, along with Brown, redshirt freshman running back Clayton Minott and right tackle Cory Kirby, who is competing with junior college transfer Jake McDowell and redshirt freshman Jake Schunke for the starting spot.
"Cory Kirby had a great spring," said Ambrose of the former tight end and pitcher at Dundalk Community College. "Cory and Jalil Gordon were named most improved (in the spring). We thought some of these other guys (on the offensive line) were going to step up. He wouldn't give it up. We are a little deeper there but not good enough."
Towson will open up on the road against FBS opponent Kent State on August 30 at 7 pm. While there are still some concerns coming out of the spring, Towson goes from the hunter to the hunted for the 2011 season, a role they are unaccustomed to.
"I think we kept moving forward," said Ambrose. "The distance in growth would be less this year from a year ago. But then again, that's comparing how far we had to come. We're always going to be moving forward. Did we make as big a gains as I would like? No way, not at all. I'm not shy about telling them that either. We still have a lot of work to do and I think we're behind. We do pretty good when we're behind."