Bowling Green head coach Mike Jinks gives instruction to Ra'Veion Hargrove during opening day of practice Friday.
BOWLING GREEN — Twenty-nine days before kickoff at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Ore., the first whistles of the season sounded Friday at Doyt Perry Stadium.
Practice officially is under way for Bowling Green, and the next month will be a critical one for the Falcons. The program is coming off a 2-10 season, its worst since 2010, and returning to Mid-American Conference contention will depend heavily on development.
Mike Jinks and his staff accomplished the first step by signing the second- and third-rated MAC classes, according to 247Sports’ composite rankings, in their two full recruiting cycles at BG.
As expected, the Falcons will be counting on young players in several critical positions. BG’s first depth chart of the year has sophomores starting at middle linebacker, nose tackle, and one of the starting wide receiver positions, not to mention running back Andrew Clair and quarterback Jarret Doege, both of whom saw extended time as freshmen last season.
“I’ve been a little bit tougher on them than I was at this point last year,” Jinks said of the young players who have seen the field. “They need to be great. If our football team is going to reach our potential, those guys — sophomores or not — they got to be great.”
Last season Clair appeared in 11 games and averaged 6.8 yards per carry, the best mark on the team. Doege started five times, finished the season with more than 1,300 yards passing, and recorded a 12-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
More of their classmates figure to be joining them on the field when the Falcons travel to Oregon on Sept. 1.
Sophomores Kohlbe Coleman and Josh Croslen are the projected starters at middle linebacker and nose tackle, respectively, and 6-foot-4 receiver Quintin Morris likely will fill in for a team that lost three of its top four pass-catchers from last season.
Quarterback Jarret Doege, left, and Grant Loy, throw passes during opening day of Bowling Green football practice at Doyt Perry Stadium on Friday
“I feel like our class was a really big hit,” Doege said. “There’s a couple guys in there that are really good, and when the time comes, I think everybody will step up.”
On defense, the Falcons return six players who have started 12 or more games but are in the midst of a full overhaul under new coordinator Carl Pelini.
Jinks said after practice Friday that depth at a few positions — most notably defensive tackle — is not where he would like it just yet, but overall, he said “our team depth is as good as it’s been since I’ve been here.”
As the season approaches, Doege looks to be the Falcons’ answer under center. He split time last season with James Morgan, but Morgan since has transferred to Florida International University, opening the door for Doege to be the full-time starter from the beginning of the season.
Thrown into action as a true freshman, there were times when the game felt inundating for Deoge, but he said he’s going into 2018 with a better idea of what to expect.
“The game is a lot faster and you have to get used to it,” Doege said. “But now, going into my second year, I feel a lot more comfortable.”
“I feel like I know the offense like the back of my hand, and the game’s slowed down for me a little bit,” he added.
One practice into the season, Jinks said it’s still too early to evaluate where BG’s young players stand.
But, especially at the skill positions, the third-year coach is optimistic about the talent on the roster.
“What I will say is the depth is considerably better from a skill standpoint,” Jinks said. “Now it’s just a matter of how quickly they process the schemes.”
Guidelines: Please keep your comments smart and civil. Don't attack other readers personally, and keep your language decent. Comments that violate these standards, or our privacy statement or visitor's agreement, are subject to being removed and commenters are subject to being banned. To post comments, you must be a registered user on toledoblade.com. To find out more, please visit the FAQ.