1. Has J.T. Barrett improved?
Barrett, a dual-threat quarterback who holds most of the major school records at the position, says he has grown bolder as he enters his fourth year as a starter. Coaches think he could provide an uptick in the passing game. Barrett was reluctant to put passes up for grabs last season to a group of receivers who often found difficulty in gaining separation. He has been urged by new quarterbacks coach Ryan Day to trust his accuracy and give those receivers a chance to make a play.
2. Aren’t those the same receivers?
Yes, mostly, except that last year’s top two pass-catchers — Curtis Samuel and Noah Brown — are in the NFL. As a hybrid back, Samuel caught more than twice as many passes (74) as the No. 2 receiver on the list, Brown (32). Among the returnees, Terry McLaurin, new hybrid back Parris Campbell, K.J. Hill, oft-injured Johnnie Dixon and sophomores Austin Mack and Binjimen Victor have earned praise from coaches throughout the preseason. And yet those six combined for only 54 catches and four touchdowns a season ago. There’s opportunity at the position, for sure, and freshman Trevon Grimes could work his way into the picture.
3. Trouble on the right?
The right side of the line consists of tackle Isaiah Prince, who struggled against top defenses a year ago, and a newcomer at guard to replace Billy Price, who slides to center. But don’t reaching for the “Look out, J.T.” horn just yet. Teammates and coaches say the towering Prince has improved greatly. Malcolm Pridgeon and Branden Bowen are the front-runners at right guard, braced by returning starters Jamarco Jones at left tackle, Michael Jordan at left guard, and the captain Price. Freshmen Thayer Munford (right tackle) and Wyatt Davis (right guard) could press for playing time.
4. Can a freshman see time at RB?
The answer to that question may depend on whether returning starter Mike Weber’s sore left hamstring haunts him, though he was cleared for full go last week. Regardless, freshman J.K. Dobbins has been deemed ready for prime time by the coaches. He shows speed, elusiveness and toughness as a runner, and he picked up the pass protection schemes quickly.
5. How much difference will Wilson make?
The players have said that new offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson, the former Indiana head coach, has had major impact on the scope of the passing game while teaming with Day to make the up-tempo attack a regular part of the scheme. Wilson worked wonders at times with the offense at Indiana, and he’s now working with the kind of talent he hasn’t seen since his days as Oklahoma’s coordinator. Expectations are huge.