BOWLING GREEN - Dave Clawson approached the start of spring football at Bowling Green State University this year unlike any previous spring workouts in his head coaching career.
The thought that 44 of 85 scholarship players at BG have four years of eligibility is reason for Clawson to feel ambivalent about his second spring experience in Bowling Green. It's the youngest team he's been responsible for during his career.
"We will be unusually young next year," Clawson said. "But there's a part of that that's very exciting because we have such a group of young players that are going to have an opportunity to play together for so long."
The Falcons, who began spring practices a week ago, are coming off a year in which Clawson's first season as BG's coach concluded with a 7-5 regular-season record that led to a trip to the Humanitarian Bowl in Boise. Senior quarterback Tyler Sheehan and senior wide receiver Freddie Barnes registered record years, which included Barnes catching a NCAA single-season record 155 catches.
Sheehan and Barnes are only two of 16 starters on offense and defense Clawson will replace because of graduation.
Spring practices at Doyt Perry Stadium will allow Clawson and his coaching staff their first chance at evaluating some of the prospects competing for starting positions heading into the upcoming season.
"It's not like they're not talented," Clawson said. "If you're young and untalented, then you say, 'Watch out, you've got problems.' We've got young players with talent and we've got to do a great job of developing them and they've got to fight for their roles and playing time and that's what's going on right now."
Running back Willie Geter and offensive linemen Ben Bojicic and Tyler Donahue make up the returning offensive starters while defensive back Adrien Spencer and defensive linemen Chris Jones, Angelo Magnone, and Kevin Alvarado are experienced defensive starters. Geter is the top returning offensive threat after rushing for 705 yards on 176 carries, including nine touchdowns in 2009.
Aaron Pankratz, Matt Schilz, Kellen Pagel, and Caleb Watkins are the four quarterbacks in camp competing for the starting spot left vacant by Sheehan, who was a three-year starter.
It's anyone's job to claim, Clawson said.
"Right now they're all so young that until we get the offensive system in and until they're given equal opportunity to run the team, it wouldn't be fair to them or the team to start separating them yet," Clawson said. "We're just going to let this thing play out until it starts separating on its own."
The competition at the wide receiver spots also appears to be highly competitive this spring. Calvin Wiley and Tyrone Pronty, who received medical redshirts as seniors a year ago, are among the most experienced pass-catchers among a deep and talented group of returners that also includes Ray Hutson, Justice Jones, Adrian Hodges, Kamar Jorden, Jordan Hopgood, and Southview graduate Shaun Joplin, who was a redshirt freshman last fall.
"I don't know if we'll have anybody that will be as productive as Freddie, but in terms of a collection of receivers, I think from top to bottom it should be a better and deeper group," Clawson said.
ALVARADO ON THE FIELD: BG defensive lineman Kevin Alvarado is participating in spring practices after not being allowed to participate in the Humanitarian Bowl last December. Alvarado had been charged for allegedly assaulting a female in mid-November.
Clawson said the redshirt sophomore is not fully reinstated but is taking steps to be on the field for games in the fall.
"If he continues to do the things that have been placed in front of him, the plan is we will have him reinstated by next year," Clawson said. "He is cleared to practice and he's got a couple of things that he needs to do and if he does those things we expect to have him back next season."
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