(JONESBORO) Ten seconds had elapsed, and Arkansas State University’s new offense already had run two plays.
In the team’s first spring scrimmage Friday at Centennial Bank Stadium in Jonesboro, the most noteworthy aspect of the Red Wolves’ new offense under first-year coordinator Keith Heckendorf was the pace.
The Red Wolves take little to no time from the death of one play until the start of the next.
How does redshirt junior quarterback Logan Bonner feel about the offense’s uptick in tempo? “Faster,” he responded. “We’ve got to get it faster. We need to get it to a place where we’re running so smooth that we don’t even think about it. We need to go faster and faster.”
The focus of ASU’s offense next season will be the skill players, and there are many.
Senior wide receiver Kirk Merritt, the 2018 Sun Belt Conference Newcomer of the Year who finished with the third-most receptions in school history with 83, leads a crew of 7-8 receivers who have the potential to start.
There are the big-bodied guys like redshirt senior Dahu Green (6-5) — a transfer from the University of Oklahoma who broke his ankle in the season opener in 2018 and did not play another down — and junior transfer Eugene Minter (6-5), whom ASU picked up prior to this season from Dodge City Community College in Kansas.
Then there are the shifty skill guys such as Merritt, redshirt junior Brandon Bowling, redshirt senior Omar Bayless, redshirt junior Bubba Ogbebor and junior Jonathan Adams Jr.
“They’re ballers,” Bonner said. “All of them are ballers. They just need shots to get the ball.”
Other than Green (injured) and Minter (a new guy), Bonner has practiced plenty with ASU’s skill players previously.
Often in 2018, Bonner would run with ASU’s first-string offense. Some of ASU’s second-stringers last season are either back on the second team or are on this year’s first team.
Thirteen different receivers reeled in at least one reception in Friday’s scrimmage. The depth chart is cloudy because there are many potential starting options, but as of Friday, the pecking order was Merrit, Green, Bayless, Bowling, Ogbebor, Adams and Minter.
“It’s great,” Merritt said of the receivers’ chemistry with Bonner. “It was great last year. He got in with the ones, as well, at practice, and in the offseason we worked on chemistry with the other receivers as well.”
The Red Wolves have a ways to go before fully implementing Heckendorf’s offensive system.
Like years past, ASU will begin out of the shotgun plenty in 2019. Often, a running back will flank Bonner and 3-5 receivers station themselves along the line of scrimmage.
ASU scripted all drives Friday. Unless the Red Wolves’ offense drove itself into the red zone, ASU Coach Blake Anderson said the team would refrain from practicing goal-line or red-zone offense. Only seven practices into spring camp under Heckendorf, ASU’s offense hadn’t progressed to teaching and learning goal-line offense just yet.
Friday’s scrimmage was more of a visual exercise so ASU could see in a live-action setting exactly how much needs to be corrected or implemented prior to the fall.
If there’s anything ASU is close to having fully locked down with its new offense, it’s the tempo, although it needs some polishing.
“I would like for it to be cleaner,” Anderson said. “We like to play fast. We’re all-in with how we want to play. You’ve got to play clean and move the chains to be able to do that.”