It was a turbulent offseason for Kent State. On Jan. 17, the Golden Flashes' multi-talented senior quarterback, Joshua Cribbs, was charged with felony drug trafficking. Then on Feb. 25, six-year head coach Dean Pees accepted a position coaching linebackers for the New England Patriots. After a 3-30 start, Pees had brought Kent State football to respectability -- not an easy task.
Offensive coordinator Doug Martin was elevated to head coach. The challenge for Martin is to make the Golden Flashes a MAC contender, easier in the short run with Cribbs under center.
"[Cribbs] will be a little bit rusty possibly from missing spring ball," Martin said. "But if we can get his situation resolved in the summer, he can start work again."
New coordinator Pete Rekstis will attempt to restore Kent State's defensive prowess.
OffenseIt's difficult to evaluate Kent State's offense minus Cribbs. A two-time 1,000-yard rusher and a three-time 1,000-yard passer, Cribbs is a game-breaker, and the player largely responsible for the Flashes' 10 MAC wins over the last three years. If he isn't allowed to suit up, sophomore Antwan Smith, who has a similar style of play, may get the nod. Senior Darryl Polk has nearly 500 career passing yards, but Martin would rather go with Smith at this point.
Senior David Alston was second-team All-MAC in 2001, but injuries have kept him out of the backfield most of the last two seasons. Redshirt freshman Rasheed McClaude emerged from spring practice No. 2 on the depth chart.
There are plenty of talented receivers to fill out the Flashes' multiple sets. Senior Darrell Dowery Jr. caught 41 balls a year ago for 783 yards -- a healthy 19.1-yard average -- and figures to be the first option.
Three starters are back on the offensive line. Left tackle Jason Andrews, who missed seven games last year with a broken leg, had ankle problems during spring drills. Versatile performers Chad Bandiera and Craig Rafdal should settle in at left guard and right guard, respectively. Daniel Carter started 11 games last season at right tackle.
DefenseThe Flashes ranked 12th in the MAC in total defense last fall, and it all started -- or failed to start -- up front. Kent State managed just 13 quarterback sacks, the second-lowest total in the league. Junior end Daniel Muir (46 tackles, 7.5 for a loss) is a legit talent but needs help.
Senior linebacker Eric Mahl is a returning All-MAC performer after registering 126 tackles last fall. Still, this group will need to tackle better if Kent State is going to improve defensively. Opposing quarterbacks enjoyed a 63.4 percent completion rate; the Flashes need better coverage from their linebackers to lower this number.
The good news is that all four starters return in the secondary. The bad news is that this group allowed over 260 yards per game through the air. The coaching staff would like to see free safety Shannon Davis emerge as a leader. Strong safety Vashawn Patrick and corner Barry Drakeford are being asked to step up their physical play.
SpecialistsKicker, punter and long snapper all return. Travis Mayle converted 16-of-24 field goals and has proven himself in clutch situations. Joshua Brazen dropped 15 punts inside the 20 and still managed a 40.4-yard average. Damian Stolowski is the long snapper.
Final AnalysisAfter a tough offseason, Martin's challenge is to fight through the adversity and make Kent State into a MAC contender. The transition should be easier with Cribbs on the field. Martin will allow his elusive quarterback to rejoin the team once his legal issues are resolved.
Even with Cribbs, Kent State must improve defensively. If new coordinator Pete Rekstis can get his defense on track, a winning league record could be an attainable goal.