As heavy rains pounded the turf at Morgan State's Hughes Stadium during Saturday's media day, talk inside the Bears' locker room centered on finding ways to lift the fog from an offense that in 2010 ranked dead last in the 117-team NCAA Football Championship Subdivision.
For a squad that averaged just over 216 yards per game a year ago, that task isn't likely to be easy. But 10th-year head coach Donald Hill-Eley believes a few new wrinkles in the Bears' multiple spread offense could make all the difference with the season-opener at Towson just three weeks away.
"We did too much east-west offense last year," said Hill-Eley, who in 2007 signed a three-year deal with the school and is now in the first of two option years. "We need to get back down to north-south football where we're running the ball, play-action and trying to play for the big plays."
"It's something we're really excited about," wide receiver Winfred Diggs added. "We've been working on a lot over the spring and summer with 7-on-7s. It will really open up the offense so we have the big plays that we were missing in the past."
The success of the offense will largely hinge on the play of incumbent quarterback Donovan Dickerson, who split time last season and completed just 38 percent of his passes, with one touchdown and eight interceptions, as the Bears finished 4-7.
The junior said he's now more comfortable in the offense, and believes that will transfer to the field with better reads and the ability to run a wider selection of plays.
"It's my third year in the system, so it's natural now," Dickerson said.
If he struggles, Morgan may not hesitate to turn to sophomore Nader Furrha, a former all-state quarterback out of in Michigan who spent his freshman year as a redshirt in Ann Arbor before last year serving as backup at junior college power Riverside (Calif.) Community College. He still has three years of eligibility remaining.
"[Dickerson] had such a horrific year last year that he had to have learned something, and it shows in practice," Hill-Eley said. "His leadership has gotten better, and his reads are a lot better. But whoever is moving the team, that's who we're going to ride with."
Senior Jourdan Brooks and junior David Brown will lead a downhill running game that, along with its run defense, should be the strength of the team.
The Bears also will get a boost from the return of defensive coordinator Alonzo Lee, who spent the past two years as the head coach of North Carolina A&T. Lee was the architect of a disciplined Bears unit that in 2008 led the FCS in total defense.
Morgan got off to a 4-3 start last season before limping to the finish with four straight losses, all against Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference opponents. Hill-Eley said those losses had a profound impact on many of his returning players.
"It got guys to recommit themselves, staying for the summer to work out and coming together as a team," he said. "We can't go anywhere but up."