Spring preview: Georgia State’s offense

nick arbuckle, georgia state panthers

Georgia State quarterback Nick Arbuckle will lead Georgia State’s offense this season. (CURTIS COMPTON / CCOMPTON@AJC.COM)

Georgia State will begin spring practice on Monday, looking to build off a 2014 season that started with promise, but ended with many disappointments.

The Panthers finished 1-11 with many close losses early, before injuries and the resulting lack of depth saw the blowout losses pile up.

Much of the recruiting focus in the offseason was on improving a defense that was statistically one of the worst in the FBS last season and strengthening an offensive line and running backs group that was hurt by injuries.

Today, however, let’s break down the position groups on offense, looking exclusively at the players who are on campus heading into the spring:

Quarterback: The team seems set with Nick Arbuckle, Ronnie Bell and Emiere Scaife returning. Arbuckle passed last season for 3,283 yards and 23 touchdowns, but also threw 17 interceptions, a total he vowed to reduce this season. Scaife, at 6-foot-2, 218 pounds, is the most physically gifted of the three. With a good spring, he should see playing time in certain packages of the fall. But much depends upon the progress this spring. Bell is back for his final year after serving as the starter two years ago but is suspended for the entire spring for academic-related reasons.

2014 stats            Passing yards     TDs         Int.         Cmp-Att

Arbuckle                                3,283           23           17           259-429

Bell                                             29           0              0              3–11


Running back: After suffering a season-ending knee injury in the loss at Washington, Kyler Neal is healthy and is the presumed No. 1 starter. However, two transfers, Kendrick Dorn (San Bernardino Valley) and Demarcus Kirk (UAB) will push Neal for time. Neal, whom I nicknamed the Battleship last year for his straight-ahead, no-cut style (like trying to turn a battleship) may become the short-yardage back with the other two competing for the every-down responsibilities. The player that can prove he is the best pass-blocker may get the most snaps.

2014 stats            Yards     Avg        TD           Long

Neal                          209         5.2           1               25

WR/TE: Along with quarterback, the two positions on the team that seems solidified. Joel Ruiz, Keith Rucker and Bill Teknipp are back at tight end. Ruiz was one of the best pass-catchers in the FBS last season with 39 receptions for 478 yards and three touchdowns. His season was impacted by injuries.

Robert Davis headlines a wide receiving group that includes Donovan Harden, who will miss the spring after sustaining shoulder injuries related to horse-collar tackles last year. Davis caught 50 passes for 732 yards last season and Harden caught 60 for 885 yards. Joining them are returners Todd Boyd and Glenn Smith. There are two wildcards. The first is Nyiakki (pronounced Nike) Height, a redshirt senior from UAB. He is big (6-1, 190) and had 17 catches for 136 yards last season. The second is Ari Werts. He signed in 2014 but delayed his enrollment until January. The coaches rave about his athletic ability. Originally thought to be a tight end, he may move to wide receiver where he will be a big (6-4, 225 pounds) target.

2014 stats            Yards     Avg.       TD           Long

Harden                 885         14.8        7              68

Davis                     732         14.6        2              75

Ruiz                        478         12.3        3              36

Boyd                      119         14.9        2              38

Smith                    83           11.9        1              39

Rucker                  32           6.4          1              14

Offensive line: This will be the most-scrutinized position group for a lot of reasons, starting with the face that the Panthers couldn’t run the ball last year. Averaging less than 100 yards per game, Georgia State had one of the worst-rushing attacks in FBS. That wasn’t entirely the line’s fault. Losing the top three running backs to transfers or injuries didn’t help. Losing Mike Ivory, the starting left tackle, to a season-ending foot injury midway through the season didn’t help. Consistently having to playing from behind in most of the final games also didn’t help.

Ivory is on schedule to return but will be limited in practice. He should be joined by returning starters Alex Stoehr (out for spring with a back injury) and Taylor Evans at the two guard positions. Senior and UAB transfer Kelepi Folau and redshirt freshman Gabe Mobley will compete the starting spot at center, with another transfer, 350-pound Dom Roldan at right tackle. Evans and Folau will also compete at guard. Tyler Simonsen, Akil Hawkins and Davis Moore will compete at guard while Stoehr recovers. Steve Wolgamott, Sebastian Willer and Jah-Mai Davidson will also push for time at tackle.

2014 stats            Average points     Average yards        Rushing              Passing     Sacks

Offense                               22.7                        375.3                     96.3                        279              31

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