Memphis Tigers spring wrap

May, 2, 2013
5/02/13
9:30
AM ET
Memphis Tigers

2012 record: 4-8

2012 conference record: 4-4

Returning starters: Offense: 9; defense: 8; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

QB Jacob Karam, RB Brandon Hayes, WR Keiwone Malone, DE Martin Ifedi, LB Charles Harris, S Lon Ballentine

Key losses

WR Marcus Rucker, LT Jordan Devey, LB Akeem Davis, CB Robert Steeples

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Hayes* (576 yards, 6 TDs)
Passing: Karam* (176-of-274 for 1,895 yards, 14 TDs, 3 INTs)
Receiving: Rucker (525 yards, 3 TD)
Tackles: Harris* (79)
Sacks: Ifedi* (7.5)
Interceptions: Ballentine* (3)

Spring answers

1. QB depth. Head coach Justin Fuente said that Karam would have to re-win the job going into 2013. Karam performed well this spring, but Paxton Lynch and Eric Mathews made strong pushes for the top spot as well. The trio combined to complete 23 of 36 passes for 222 yards in the spring game, with each showing the capability of stepping up when called upon.

2. Defensive playmakers. The Tigers return much of their top talent from that side of the ball from 2012, with Harris and Ifedi ready to lead the unit. Though facing the base offense in the spring game, the Memphis defense kept the offense from reaching the end zone on all 16 offensive series that started 65 yards away or further from the goal line.

3. Offensive line intact. The Tigers finished 69th nationally rushing the ball while playing in Conference-USA last season. Still, they return four of five starters up front, in addition to their top two rushers. They should be able to improve on their 1.92 sacks-against average from last season as well.

Fall questions

1. QB starter. Do you look at the position battle as a quarterback controversy or a quarterback competition? Memphis is likely choosing the latter, as Karam impressed last season and was pushed by a pair of promising up-and-comers. Still, no starter will be named until fall camp.

2. Secondary. Memphis loses Steeples and free safety Cannon Smith, two key starters on a team that does not feature all that much turnover from last season. Bakari Hollier and Anthony Watson have produced in limited action, but whether they can replace the production of Steeples and Smith (a combined five career fumble recoveries and 13 passes defended), in a new conference, remains to be seen.

3. Depth. This is a blanket term that, frankly, applies across the board for this roster. Fuente earned an extension after a strong finish to Year 1 and returns the bulk of his starters from last season, but 4-4 against Conference-USA competition is not going to cut it against Big East competition, as we saw Temple struggle down the stretch with a similar move last year from the MAC.

Matt Fortuna | email

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