5 things to watch as UAB football opens fall camp

The UAB football team opened fall camp Monday at the UAB Football Operations Complex in Birmingham and enter a new age in the American Athletic Conference under new head coach Trent Dilfer.
The Blazers were 56-32 overall and 38-17 in Conference USA during the Bill Clark era (2014-2022), including last year under interim head coach Bryant Vincent, and aim to keep their winning ways as they open the season, Thursday, Aug 31, against North Carolina A&T at Protective Stadium.
Here are five things to keep in mind as the Blazers open fall camp:
Position Battles
UAB returns about half of its starters and is in need of new leaders at various positions throughout both the offense and defense, as well as a new punter to wage war on field position.
Jacob Zeno is entrenched as the starting quarterback and it would take a monumental effort from the rest of the room to usurp him during fall camp. Jermaine Brown Jr. has first dibs on carries at running back but the Blazers have the ability to go five to six men deep at the position. The passing game returns experienced receivers and there are more than enough new additions in which to spread the ball.
However, the offensive line will see the most change and competition with five new starters needed following the departure of a unit that led the way for both Spencer Brown and DeWayne McBride.
Defensively, Fish McWilliams was an every-game starter last year on the defensive line, along with Michael Fairbanks II at SAM, and there should be plenty of reps to around for a position expected to rotate at a high volume. Jackson Bratton earned plenty of snaps behind Noah Wilder before taking over in the middle of the UAB defense but the other middle linebacker spot is up for grabs among a talented but less experienced room. The outside linebackers are without Kelle Sanders but have enormous potential with a few returners and an influx of transfer power.
In the secondary, the Blazers face the tall task of not only replacing Starling Thomas V at one cornerback spot but also safety Jaylen Key following his post-spring transfer to Alabama. Colby Dempsey has the first opportunity to secure the role opposite of Mac McWilliams and UAB brought in a couple of transfers expected to compete right away along with true freshman Ricky Lee III.
Kyle Greenwell departed after a consistent and productive career at punter and Caden Long has the advantage over Arkansas transfer Patrick Foley heading into fall camp.
Freshmen Flood
Dilfer and staff signed an enormous class in their first recruiting go-round and 20 of the 33 official signees on national signing day were freshmen. Only a handful enrolled early for spring practice but the entire lot -- plus a few walk-ons -- are now on campus and ready to contribute to the program.
Comprising almost half of the signing class, defensive line and wide receiver were positions of focus and the Blazers stocked up on both in the offseason. Pinson Valley standout Amare Thomas enrolled early and has the ability to break into a deep receiver rotation and any arriving linemen have the chance to grab a piece of the cake with a defensive staff that intends to keep the position on a constant rotation of fresh faces.
UAB signed four prep offensive linemen that will help fill the void by five starters lost and former prep teammates Everett Roussaw and Ricky Lee III were early enrollees and should compete for time at linebacker and cornerback respectively. Jaylyn Ferguson and Chris Bracy are both talented additions to a defensive backfield in need of a supporting cast.
Reinventing the Steel
Offensively speaking, during the Clark era, the UAB offense was known for its dominating rushing attack – powered by Jordan Howard, Spencer Brown and DeWayne McBride – and a boom-or-bust mentality in the passing game. The former isn’t changing anytime soon but the aerial attack is upgrading to modern times with a think-tank of assistants and the addition of multiple receivers from the transfer portal and prep ranks.
Jermaine Brown Jr. quietly put up more than 2,000 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns behind Brown and McBride and leads a stacked unit tasked with more than just toting the rock. The offensive line needs five new starters but the clean slate may not be a negative in placing the right pieces together for an offense designed to perform at a high level in both facets.
Offensive coordinator Alex Mortenson and his collective of quarterback whisperers are an intriguing addition to the UAB staff and have accepted the challenge of guiding Jacob Zeno from Big 12 transfer and CUSA backup to one of the most efficient and productive quarterbacks in the nation. With an already deep receiver pool on hand, UAB signified its commitment to expanding its usage at the position by bringing in plenty of talent to develop and supplement future losses.
D-Line Swarm
Fish McWilliams and Drew Tuazama lead a deep group of defensive linemen that was made even stronger by the addition of multiple prep signings in the offseason. Considering the advent of the spread offense around college football, the ability to maintain afresh and aggressive defensive line is paramount.
Birmingham area signees Emmanuel Waller (Oak Mountain) and Connor Knight (Hewitt-Trussville) were instrumental in starting an avalanche of prospects that include Jonathan Allen, Miquon Merriweather, Tyler Thomas and Eamon Smalls, the latter of which is currently sidelined with an injury. Along with a large number of freshmen, former Florida State transfer Antavious Woody joins the cause after redshirting his first year with the Seminoles.
Expect almost everyone from McWilliams and Woody to get their fair share of reps during camp before a true depth chart can be determined. Tyrique Howard, Joker Hill and Kevin Penn round out the experienced returners in the room but it would not be surprising if one or more freshmen made their way into the rotation.
Seniors Bestowing the UAB Wisdom
Although there are gaps in experience at varied positions, senior leadership exists throughout the roster and in critical positions to ease the transition for transfers and underclassmen.
The Blazers are retooling the entire offensive line and quarterback Jacob Zeno, running back Jermaine Brown, wide receiver Tejhaun Palmer and tight ends Terrell McDonald and Bryce Damous are carrying the load of responsibility as the unit settles into a confident mindset. Brady Wilson and Trey Bedosky have starting experience and will be leaned upon to guide the rest of the green line.
Fish McWilliams and Michael Fairbanks II are guiding a deep but young defensive line group while Jackson Bratton has assumed leadership in the middle of the defense. In the secondary, Mac McWilliams is seeking to play a full season -- ending prematurely the past two years -- but is the most talented corner on the roster. The loss of Jaylen Key (Alabama) is substantial but Keondre Swoopes and the Miller twins (Damien and Damon) should provide enough stability in the backend at safety.

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