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Rams looking for big things from passing game in 2011

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

ALBANY -- Uyl Joyner knows exactly what his bread and butter is going to be this year.

After all, Albany State certainly feasted on it last season.

Star quarterback and reigning SIAC MVP Stanley Jennings is back for his senior season, and Joyner -- the Rams' new offensive coordinator -- is ready to hit the ground running.

Joyner and the rest of the ASU coaching staff spoke to alumni, fans and media at Friday's 12th annual Quarterback Club Kickoff Football Reception at Eula Lovett Hall, and excitement floated around the room every time Jennings' name was brought up.

"We are looking for big things out of the quarterback play this year," said Joyner, who will also remain the quarterbacks coach -- a position he has held for the past two seasons. "That's the one solid area we do have on offense. Stanley is ready to go, and I am ready to run with him."

Jennings, a 2010 Harlon Hill Trophy nominee and one of Heritage Sports Radio Network's four nominees for last season's National Division II Football Player of the Year Award, led the Rams to an impressive 11-1 overall record in his first season for ASU after transferring from Southwest Mississippi State Community College.

He emerged as ASU's biggest offensive weapon, completing 139 of 253 passes for 2,392 yards and 26 TDs and rushing for 142 yards on 106 carries for two touchdowns.

Needless to say, the expectations are there for Jennings to pick up right where he left off. And Joyner said that Jennings' one real weakness last year -- not stepping into his throws -- was a point of emphasis for the quarterback in the offseason.

"The biggest thing that stuck out watching Stanley is that Stanley leans a lot when he throws and is kind of pushing his weight forward on the throw," Joyner said. "That tends to make a lot of balls come up short. That is the biggest thing that we addressed this summer: To get him to get his 250 pounds behind the ball. And you will see a lot of crisp passes and him putting a little more touch on some balls."

Jennings lost his No. 1 receiver from last season in 6-foot-3 Ronnie Childs, who had 1,005 yards and 12 touchdowns and led the conference in receiving. This year's receiving corps will include returning slot receivers Octavius Staton and Orion Ponder and newcomer Ronnie Tubbs, while Janell Jones and Dougherty grad Michael Nelson will also see some action.

Along with Jennings, Staton was named to the All-SIAC Preseason First Team Offense during last week's SIAC Kick-Off Luncheon in Atlanta.

"We had a very good spring for receivers, and I think the transition will be fine," said Kelly, referring to his transition from running backs coach to receivers coach this year. "The receiving group will be one of the most important groups on the field because all of those guys gotta be able to make plays. All of them are capable of making plays, and that is one of the things you will see this year.

"I am a stickler for route running and being in the right position, and I think with the offense that coach Joyner is bringing in, you will see those routes and you will see the plus-yards after the catch."

Staton was ASU's second-leading receiver last season with 518 yards and six touchdowns, while Ponder had 380 yards and one touchdown. On Friday, Joyner said that both of them have the potential for plenty of YAC -- that's what receivers call "Yards After Catch."

"(Staton) is one of those type of guys who you have to get the ball to early and let him do what he does, and I think moving him to the slot is the best way to do that," Joyner said. "(Ponder) probably has one of the best set of hands in the conference. He can make things happen after the catch, and that is pretty much what we are looking for."

The Rams are youthful at the quarterback position behind Jennings, who was backed up by Wayne Campbell last season. Campbell was a senior, so backing up Jennings this year will be freshmen Blaize Schaeffer, a 6-foot-2 recruit from Langston Hughes High School in Fairburn, and Kendrick Armstrong, also a 6-2 high school star from Ben Hill High School in Augusta.

Joyner said the two freshmen have a lot of the same strengths as Jennings.

"The two guys that are coming in, (scrambling) is one of their strengths, too," Joyner said. "They can ad-lib and make plays, make something out of nothing."

Practices are set to begin Aug. 8, and the Rams will kick off the season at 5 p.m. on Sept. 3 in Macon against Savannah State in the Music City Classic.