(JESUS PICHARDO / THE STATESMAN)
The Stony Brook football team was missing several key players due to injuries last year. This season, the team looks to improve on its 5-6 overall record for the 2013 season. (JESUS PICHARDO / THE STATESMAN)

The Seawolves’ first year in the CAA did not go as smoothly as many expected. The team suffered a considerable amount of injuries to key players and did not have enough depth to navigate through a difficult schedule loaded with matchups against tough conference opponents. Stony Brook was able to come away with a few promising late-season wins over James Madison and Albany, but still ultimately finished the 2013 season with a disappointing 5-6 overall record (3-5 record in conference play).

A season like last year’s might be enough to drive some head coaches to look to make big changes to their team’s game plan. But Seawolves Head Coach Chuck Priore is still a big believer in the ground and pound philosophy that the program has had so much success with in recent years.

“That’s who we are when it’s all said and done,” Priore said. “(We focus on) our ability to control the line of scrimmage and run the football. We got some options and we’re excited about it.”

One of those options will be Marcus Coker, a 1,000-yard rusher for the team back in 2012, who returns after missing all but two games last season due to an abdominal injury. He could be primed to deliver the big senior season that everyone expected him to have last year.

Behind him on the depth chart are senior James Kenner and sophomore Stacey Bedell, who both could be featured heavily in the offense this year.

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Last year, Kenner stepped up in a big way in Coker’s absence, rushing for 829 yards and five touchdowns over the team’s final nine games of the season. In 2013, he finished with four games of 100 or more rushing yards and averaged 4.6 yards per carry.

Bedell will begin his first year with Stony Brook, after transferring from the University of Massachusetts. Last season, he had 93 carries and ran for 301 yards and a touchdown for the Minutemen. He also pulled in 88 receiving yards. His quickness could make him a big weapon in both Stony Brook’s running and passing game.

There is plenty to be excited about on the ground for the Seawolves, but where there is a lot less certainty is how the offense will get the job done through the air. Lyle Negron, who started all 11 games for the SBU last season, has graduated, meaning the team will have a new starting quarterback this season.

Last Tuesday it was announced that Syracuse University transfer John Kinder will be given the first chance to grab hold of Stony Brook’s starting quarterback position.

“John’s overall athleticism and ability to escape and make plays with his feet adds a different dimension to our offense,” Priore said in a statement.  “He’s still learning the offense, but I think he gives us the best chance to be a dynamic offense.”

Kinder was the New York State Class A Player of the Year back in 2009, and during his time at Lawrence High School on Long Island, he threw for more than 3,000 yards and rushed for more than 2,000 yards.

However, once Kinder got to Syracuse in 2010, he struggled to move up the depth chart as quarterback. But, despite his lack of playing time with the Orange, Priore still saw plenty of reason to try and bring Kinder aboard.

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“We recruited him very hard five years ago as a high school player,” Priore said. “He’s a local kid, and I think he got some great experience in a college system at the FBS level.”

Some of Kinder’s top returning receiving targets will be senior wideout Adrian Coxson and senior tight end Will Tye. Both players had over 500 receiving yards in 2013.

Coxson and Tye along with receivers such as Jahrie Level, Louis Murray and Nick Wagner will have to try and find a way to replace the production of graduating senior Malcolm Eugene, who led the team in touchdowns, receptions and receiving yards in 2013.

In 2013, the Stony Brook defense was strong overall statistically, only allowing 22.0 points per game, 195.2 passing yards per game.

But, the Seawolves defense struggled in conference play, as they gave up 30 or more points in five of their eight CAA contests.

One major area where the defense also had problems last season was getting stops on the third down. Stony Brook allowed their opponents to convert 40.1 percent of the time on third down last season, which was the fourth highest percentage in the conference.

A major reason for the defense’s inconsistent play last year was injuries. The team’s secondary was depleted early on in the year, and as a result players were constantly moving in and out of positions, making things extremely challenging when going up against talented CAA quarterbacks.

This year, the secondary seems to be much more stable going into the season, as Davonte Anderson, who had a team leading six interceptions in 2012, is now back in the lineup. Priore will need him to stay healthy this season, and knows that he brings so much more to the secondary than just talent.

 “He’s a three year starter who got hurt last year,” Priore said. “So he brings leadership and consistency.”

Anderson along with defensive backs Christian Ricard, Naim Cheeseboro, Jaheem Woods and Kye Morgan potentially give Stony Brook one of the more talented secondary units in the conference.

Up front on the Seawolves defense, there is also plenty of promise. Defensive end Victor Ochi established himself as one of the CAA’s best emerging pass rushers in 2013, leading the team with 5.5 sacks per contest. Defensive tackle Aaron Thompson also is expected to be a big part of the SBU pass rush, after putting together a strong rookie campaign last season.

The head coaches around the CAA clearly do not expect much from Stony Brook this season, as they voted SBU to finish ninth in the conference’s preseason FCS Coaches Poll, and voted no players on the team’s roster to the preseason All-Conference teams. But, the Seawolves should have a strong enough running game and defensive unit to keep them in most games, and if they get strong quarterback play this season may be able to surprise people.

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