Mensa membership, or even coaching experience, aren't required to figure the area of emphasis as William and Mary kicks off spring football practice.
The Tribe's inconsistent and at times unproductive passing game in 2011 led directly to its first losing record in four years and a bottom-half finish in the Colonial Athletic Association.
Weather permitting, the Tribe is going to fling it around quite a bit, as practice commences Friday and extends to the April 14 spring game.
"We've got plenty of guys to run routes and plenty of guys to compete and plenty of guys to work," Tribe coach Jimmye Laycock said. "We've got four quarterbacks who can throw, so we're going to do a ton of that."
Injuries and inconsistency at quarterback led to a revolving door among Mike Paulus, Michael Graham and Brent Caprio, who provided some stability and consistency at the end of the season. Multiple injuries to all-conference receiver Ryan Moody robbed the Tribe of its best pass catcher for much of the season.
As a result, the Tribe averaged 168.5 passing yards — ninth in the CAA — and completed just 55 percent of its passes. W&M was 10th in the CAA in scoring (18.4 ppg) and in pass efficiency (116.4).
Moody again is healthy, and Graham and Caprio return at quarterback, along with redshirt sophomore Raphael Ortiz and redshirt freshman Christian Brumbaugh. Laycock said that all four quarterbacks will get ample work.
"It may not be scrimmage work or 11-on-11 type of work," he said. "We might not be able to totally evaluate decision-making and running a team and all that. I'm not going to worry about whether we get all that done. But so far as the fundamental work: the throws, the techniques. We're going to do a lot of throwing, because receivers need it, too.
"We've got to be better on routes and we've got to be better at catching the ball, and we've got to be more accurate throwing the ball. Those are things we're going to work and work hard on. We'll get them reps on that kind of stuff, that's for sure. We can make an evaluation off of that."
Pitching and catching, with all of its variations, dovetails with Laycock's other stated aim: a renewed emphasis on fundamentals. Several linemen are recovering from offseason surgeries, he said, so it's liable to limit the team's ability to scrimmage.
"How far you can go and how many things you can do kind of depends on how healthy you stay and who's there at different positions, because that's always a variable in the spring," Laycock said. "We can get better on fundamentals and techniques."
The Tribe's most significant loss is All-American Jonathan Grimes, the school's career leading rusher and all-purpose yardage leader. While there's no replacing Grimes, Laycock said there are several capable backs, including Keith McBride, Meltoya Jones (Tabb), Darnell Laws and Jarrell Cooper (Woodside).
The offensive line will return four of five starters. Though the defense loses several key players — notably linebacker Jake Trantin and end Marcus Hyde — a core group returns led by linebackers Dante Cook and Jabrel Mines, defensive backs B.W. Webb and Brian Thompson, and linemen George Beerhalter and Stephen Sinnott.
Laycock said there was no overhaul of offseason workouts or spring schedule following last year's 5-6 performance. He said that he thought the defense wore down by the end of last season, though that may have been due to unproductive offense as much as anything.
The Tribe also is in the process of replacing two assistants. Running backs coach Brendan Nugent took a position with the CFL's Montreal Alouettes, and defensive backs coach D.K. McDonald took a job at Toledo. Laycock said the other coaches will fill in as he interviews candidates.
He was encouraged by the players' offseason workouts and is eager to see how they translate to the field. Though he knows where success often begins.
"I think a lot of it is going to come down to our quarterback play," Laycock said. "We've got four good, solid young men that really want to do well, want to do everything necessary. That's going to be a big factor, to see what we get, quarterback-wise."
W&M key dates
Friday: Practice starts.
April 14: Spring game at Zable StadiumCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun