Head coach Charlie Weatherbie wasted little time shaking up his staff after Louisiana-Monroe finished 1-11 in 2003. Weatherbie fired four coaches, including offensive coordinator Tommy Condell, at the end of his first season in Monroe. In Condell's place, Weatherbie, the former head coach at Navy, hired former Army boss Todd Berry to fix a unit that averaged just 19.9 points per game in '03. Berry installed a simplified, one-back attack that should help the team get the most out of its talent.
The offense has a veteran quarterback in Steven Jyles, a deep corps of receivers and a pair of big running backs in Kevin Payne and Jason Schule.
"I'd like to think we'll be very explosive on offense," Berry said. "I want to think outside the box."
OffenseA hand injury prevented Jyles from building on his breakout freshman season, but he still managed a respectable 2,112 yards and 14 touchdowns as a sophomore in '03. He also has the mobility to be a dual threat in ULM's new offense.
Shule, a 241-pound converted fullback, emerged from spring atop the depth chart, but Payne, who ran for nearly 1,000 yards last fall, will see plenty of action in the Indians' one-back sets.
Despite losing career receptions leader Mack Vincent, the Indians felt so good about their depth at wide receiver, they didn't sign any in their last recruiting class.
The major question on offense is up front. After losing four offensive linemen to graduation, the Indians had just eight linemen for spring practice. Returning starters included All-Sun Belt left tackle Bruce Hampton and center Hayden Wadsworth.
DefenseThe Indians haven't had quality depth up front in several years, but the situation is starting to improve. If junior college tackle Thomas Chambless can step in and contribute, and former high school star D.J. Ernst returns from back surgery, ULM could have the two-deep rotation it needs.
ULM lost leading tackler Maurice Sonnier, but standout linebacker John Winchester, who finished second with 91 tackles, returns for his senior season. Junior Josh Alexander finished spring as the starter alongside Winchester.
The Indians have experience in the secondary, and the coaching staff hopes that translates to production. ULM had just seven interceptions a year ago.
"We're really starting to make plays in the secondary, which is big," Weatherbie said. "We're closer to receivers than we've been. I see our secondary continuing to improve."
Shelton Williams was the talk of spring ball, using his 4.3 speed and aggressiveness to stake his claim to even more playing time next fall.
SpecialistsPunter Joel Stelly ranked third nationally last year at 46.3 yards per kick, and he is back for his junior season. With the loss of Tyler Kuecker, placekicking chores will fall on incoming freshman Ragan Walters. He kicked a 57-yard field goal last year but still must make the transition to the college game.
Final AnalysisULM lost six games by a touchdown or less last year. The biggest culprit was an alarming turnover ratio of minus-1.58 per game.
With six starters back on offense and eight returning on defense, the Indians have a nucleus of talent that could turn things around quickly. Add to that rising young players like Jacobs and Williams, and it's quite possible that the Indians could escape the Sun Belt cellar.