The University of Rhode Island only has a few more Saturdays left without football, and Jim Fleming’s Rams are only a week into camp but itching to get back into action. They take on an in-conference opponent at Delaware on Aug. 30 and have a chance to start off the season with a few wins.
Despite showing noticeable improvements last season, the Rams were still ranked last in the CAA Preseason Rankings- behind William and Mary, despite having more conference wins and overall wins than them in 2017. The Rams have also improved offensively, and went from averaging around 13 points a game in 2016 to roughly 20 a game last season.
“As they say in the wild west, it’s a burn in your saddle,” Fleming said. “Our whole focus is on going 1-0, and if you do that all good things can happen. We’ll look at the end of the season and see where those rankings are.”
Fleming is coming into his fifth year with the program, and arguably off of his best season in Rhode Island. While last year’s senior running-back duo in Harold Cooper and T.J Anderson have moved on, Fleming’s offense still has plenty of weapons to get the job done.
The receiving core is returning five players, three of them upperclassmen. Of these five are redshirt senior Marvin Beauvais, senior Kharyi Denny, and junior Aaron Parker- the three of them combined for 136 catches, 1,894 receiving yards and 13 touchdown receptions last season.
Parker is coming off of an impressive senior campaign. He was third in the CAA in touchdown receptions, with seven, and fifth in yards per game, with 74.8. He was named to the 2018 CAA Football All Conference team along with defensive lineman Brandon Ginnetti.
The two sophomore wideouts on the roster are Isaiah Coulter and Ivory Frimpong- Coulter scored a touchdown on his first reception last year, and both stand at 6’3 and give a serious height advantage to the Rams.
There is a decision to be made as to who will be throwing to this talented group of receivers, but neither Fleming or his quarterbacks seem to worried about that. Both JaJuan Lawson and Tyler Harris started for Rhode Island last season, with Lawson taking over for the final five games of the season.
“I’m not worried about anyone before, ahead, or even with me,” Lawson said. “I’m just going out there every day and practicing as hard as I can. I know what I can do, and we’re excited for the season to come.”
While both guys got time in each of URI’s 11 games last season, Lawson’s stats were slightly more impressive: He finished the season with 1,298 throwing yards and seven touchdowns. He completed 59.7 percent of his passes- the fourth highest single-season percentage in program history. Lawson is a dual threat, as well, and finished third on the team in rushing with 270 yards last season and had three touchdowns to go along with it.
Both quarterbacks are in their final year of eligibility with the program. Harris, a grad-student transfer from UCF in his second year with URI, earned the start on opening night last season. He finished with 1,375 yards and nine touchdowns with 13 picks.
“I just want to get better each day, and work on myself individually and then as a team,” Harris said. “Both me and JaJuan can run the offense. It's not a matter of who’s running it, just making sure whoever is doing things to make the team successful.”
When making his decision on who to start, Fleming says the main thing he looks for in his quarterbacks is consistency.
“Just consistency in the operation of the offense,” Fleming said. “They've got slightly different skill sets, and being able to utilize both guys is very helpful and comforting.”
Lawson leads the depth chart at the moment, and was out there with the starters during the intersquad drills in training camp. Earlier in the week, he was able to connect with Aaron Parker on a nice crossing route for an 18-yard touchdown.
With last season’s backfield graduating, the Rams are going to use a committee of running backs in the backfield. Redshirt junior Zoe Bryant Jr. will lead the group of several backs, while sophomores Matt Pires and Justice Antrum should see a decent amount of snaps, as well.
The backs, as well as Lawson and Harris, will benefit from one of the best offensive lines Fleming has coached. Dwayne Scott, a redshirt junior, will start at center, being the anchor of the experienced line. He has 22 career starts for URI, and next to him at left guard will be junior Kyle Murphy, who has started in 14 straight and moved all over the line last season. Junior Kevin Lawrence will likely start at right guard, and Keith Coleman Jr. could see some time with the starters as well.
“We’re just excited for the season,” Lawson said. “We’ve got a good O-line up front, a stable of backs to pound it away for us, and we’ll be comfortable with whoever’s up there.”
The defensive side of the ball is strong on the defensive line as well as the secondary. Junior Brandon Ginnetti, who was a star last year on the defensive front, comes into the season being nominated to the Preseason CAA All Conference Team. He led the team last season with 7.0 sacks, and finished with 37 tackles total- 10.5 of them for a loss. He’s joined by senior Tez Wilson and junior L.B. Mack III, who were also important contributors last season to a talented defensive line.
The secondary is led with experience as well. Juniors Rashod Dickerson and Momodu Mbye are both coming off impressive sophomore campaigns, and look to make a huge impact in the secondary. Ahkema Evans and Isaiah Hill are coming back for their final seasons in Kingston and are going to lead the group of cornerbacks.
“Good players make good coaches,” Fleming said. “We have a very good football team. We need to be able to continue to reach our fullest potential every week, and see where it ends up.”
The Rams have a very optimistic start to their schedule, playing Delaware, Albany, UConn, Harvard, and Brown to start the season- all games they can win. They play William and Mary before the start of November before opening up their toughest stretch of the season, battling James Madison, New Hampshire, and Elon to close out the schedule.
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