Senior running back Stacey Bedell (No. 21) breaks through a tackle. The Seawolves look to improve their offense this season with a more solidified running game. ARACELY JIMENEZ/STATESMAN FILE

Offense

The goal for Stony Brook Football’s offense this year, according to the players and head coach Chuck Priore, is to take advantage of the veteran talent the team has amassed and share the ball with as many weapons as possible.   

“We’ve got enough talent to spread the ball around. We’ve got a veteran quarterback. We’ve got a kid behind him that can wing the ball around,” Priore said. “When things don’t go well, a lot of times it’s you didn’t have the depth built, so we’re spending a lot of time make sure our backups and their backups are ready to play the game.”

The depth is there. Senior running back Stacey Bedell and junior running back Donald Liotine took the majority of carries at tailback in the first game of the season, but junior running back Jordan Gowins — Bedell’s second cousin and a transfer from Boston College — is likely to help carry the load as well.

“It’ll be interesting to see if we can find everybody enough carries,” Priore said. “We have what it takes to be successful [in the backfield].”

Against USF, the four aforementioned running backs scratched out 104 yards on 25 carries. Take away Bedell’s 54-yard touchdown sprint and the four would have ran for 50 yards on 24 carries. Depending on Bedell to break out a long-scoring run once a game has worked to an extent for the Seawolves in the past, but a more reliable running game needs to solidify if Stony Brook wants to win more than five games for the first time in five seasons.

The Seawolves appear to be moving the offense in a new direction after they finished last or near-last in every offensive category in the Colonial Athletic Association last season.

“I won’t say this is a completely new offense,” senior wide receiver Ray Bolden said. “But just the way we attack defenses, it really [gets] guys out in space and we create a lot of one-on-one matchups.”

Bolden was targeted six times by junior quarterback Joe Carbone in the season opener, but the pair only connected once. Carbone passed more than he had since 2015 and distributed to eight different receivers, including graduate Harrison Jackson who tore his ACL two games into 2016. This could be a sign that the offense could transition to a more pass-heavy offense, after running the ball more than they passed in every game last season.

Two other receiving weapons the offense hopes to use are junior receiver Nick Anderson and junior tight end Cal Daniels. Daniels started in eight games in 2016 but only had five receptions for 39 yards. In the team’s first game of 2017 against USF, Daniels led the team with four receptions for 35 yards.

“Nick Anderson… had a really good camp. I’m excited about him,” Priore said. “And Cal Daniels… is really developing into a really good player.”

The offensive line is crucial to offensive production, anchored on the left side by senior tackle Timon Parris and senior guard Armani Garrick. Both have started every game of their careers and Parris’ name frequently finds its way into 2018 NFL draft discussions. Parris was named to the preseason STATS FCS All-American first team.

Sophomore guard Mason Zimmerman, who started the final six games of the 2016 season, and senior tackle Jackson Miller, a converted tight end who put on 40 pounds and started all 11 games in 2016, man the right. Sophomore center Joe Detorie earned his first career start in the season opener.

“I just try and lead by example. Just go on the field, working on technique, fixing up the little things,” Parris said of the new front-five unit. “The fundamentals are the most important things to focus on and show these guys.”

Defense- 

As one of the best defenses in the Football Championship Subdivision in the last four years, Stony Brook’s defense enters the 2017 season stocked with returning starters and a renewed focus under new coordinator Bobby McIntyre.

“Nothing [has] really changed. We lost a good coach, but we gained a good coach,” senior defensive back Tyrice Beverette said. “[McIntyre] has been here, so he knows what’s going on, he knows this defense, and he knows these players. It’s very comfortable.”

McIntyre, the linebackers coach since 2011, replaced Lyle Hemphill in January. After four years as defensive coordinator, Hemphill departed for a defensive assistant job at Wake Forest University.

Beverette led the Seawolves defense in 2016 with 98 tackles (59 solo), 4.5 sacks and four interceptions. His contributions helped Stony Brook achieve third among FCS teams in yards allowed per game (274.9). Eight of the top 10 tacklers from 2016 are returning to the team, including junior linebacker Shayne Lawless, who was named to the 2017 CAA Football Preseason All-Conference team last week. Lawless earned second team honors last year thanks in part to his 78 tackles.

In the worst losses last season, the Seawolves defense was often put in tough situations due to turnovers and poor special teams. Often, the biggest deficiency appeared to be mental, not technical.

In the 38-10 loss to Sacred Heart last September, three straight touchdowns on short drives in the second half put a tie game well out of reach. Two weeks earlier, Temple blew out Stony Brook 38-0 thanks to four offensive turnovers and poor special teams, but also six plays of 15+ yards or more allowed by the Seawolves.

“I just don’t think we did a good job handling the adversity, so we spent a lot of time talking about that,” Priore said. “I think the captains have done a great job. I think our coaching staff has really set the tempo on handling adversity.”

Beverette, one of the team’s four captains, spent the offseason focusing on how to lead the defense and avoid the same shortcomings as last year.

“I stepped away from myself and tried to work on my leadership. Work on how to get through to each and everyone of my teammates,” Beverette said. “I had to learn each and every one of my teammates and I had to get through to them in different ways.”

The defense’s ability to handle adversity was tested immediately with the season opener against FBS No. 19 USF – the first ranked FBS opponent Stony Brook played in program history. Despite losing, Stony Brook’s defense displayed an incredible effort, containing Heisman candidate Quinton Flowers to his worst four-quarter output since 2015.

Lawless led the way with a career high 13 tackles and a sack, followed by redshirt sophomore linebacker Noah McGinty who had 10 tackles. Senior defensive back Chris Cooper also had a career day with nine tackles, including six solo and two in the backfield.

On the defensive line, senior defensive lineman Ousmane Camara logged his 30th career start at USF. 2016 Third-team All-CAA junior defensive end John Haggart started and had five tackles after starting the majority of games the past two seasons. Sophomore defensive tackles Sam Kamara and Jordan Scarbrough started alongside them, with Scarborough recording a sack in his first career start.

All told, the defensive line other than Camara and Haggart has a total of 13 career starts divided among 12 players, so it may take the team some time to decide on the starting four they want to run out every week.

Despite going 4-4 in conference play last season, Stony Brook held CAA opponents to a conference best 4.1 yards per play and 700 total rushing yards. Two opponents were held to three points and four others to 20 points or under. In 2017, Stony Brook will face all the same opponents, including Albany (who won last year 13-6) and Richmond, the No. 2 team in the FCS when Stony Brook beat them 42-14 in a week 3 shocker in 2016.

“The main difference is our mental approach as a team, our mental toughness,” Priore said. “I think that’s going to be the difference in this upcoming year.”

Player to watch- 

Carbone says he is “100 percent” healthy after a shoulder injury ended his 2016 season two games early and Priore backs him up on the assessment. The quarterback got the start in the season opener, but a preseason competition with redshirt-freshman quarterback Tyquell Fields complicates matters.

“He’s athletic. A little bit more athletic than Joe when it comes down to some of those things – escapability in the pocket,” Priore said. “He’s young, he’s learning… his performances each day keep on building correctly.”

If the offense stagnates, Priore may decide to make a switch to the Yonkers, N.Y. native. Stony Brook has not posted a winning record since 2012, the program’s last season in the Big South before joining the CAA.

Carbone did not have a good sophomore campaign. Three passing touchdowns in 11 games were dwarfed by 12 interceptions. He managed two rushing touchdowns on 75 yards. Opening the 2017 season, Carbone had a solid 17-yard rush up the middle and was 17-34 passing for 137 yards. He was picked off twice in the final three minutes. The first interception ended all hope of a comeback for the Seawolves and the second coming after the game was already lost.

Priore describes Fields as a “long rangey kid” with a quick release. Fields threw 2,268 yards for 24 touchdowns and six interceptions en route to Archbishop Stepinac High School’s undefeated Catholic High School Football League AAA Championship. He also rushed for 435 yards and five touchdowns against the best private schools in the New York metropolitan area.

Fields did not see any action last season, but he has played the opposing quarterback in training camp scrimmages, impressing Priore. If Stony Brook wants to move to a faster, pass-heavier offense, Fields could provide a necessary midseason spark for a team struggling to find success in the CAA. Priore has done it before: Carbone, as a redshirt-freshman, replaced senior Conor Bednarski for large stretches during the 2015 season.

Tim Oakes contributed to the reporting of this story.

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