Brock wants Hens in playoffs next season

NEWARK — Five long seasons have passed since the last time the Delaware football team made the playoffs.

That’s an eternity for a program with as proud a tradition as the Blue Hens’.

But, if coach Dave Brock has anything to do with it, he expects that streak to end next fall.UD football-Coach Dave Brock-2 by .

With all but four starters back from a 4-7 campaign that ended on Saturday with a 14-10 win over Elon, the third-year coach said, if he has anything to do with it, the Hens should be in the playoffs next season.

“I think we should be a playoff team, that’s how I feel,” Brock said on Monday. “I would have told you I think Delaware should be a playoff team every year. I’ve said it for three years. I think that is part of the deal here.

“Do I think we’ll have a more realistic opportunity to reach that? I do. Will I be disappointed if we’re not a playoff team? I will. I’m excited about what we’re doing, I’m excited about how we’re doing it.”

How much you agree with Brock probably depends on whether you’re a glass-is-half-full or half-empty kind of person.

Certainly the results in 2015, Delaware’s third losing season since 2001, were as perplexing as any.

On one hand, the Hens beat two of the three NCAA FCS Division I playoffs teams they faced (William & Mary, New Hampshire) and all but beat the third, James Madison, losing on a touchdown with just 17 seconds remaining.

They also played well against Villanova before the Wildcats rallied for a 28-21 win and even trailed North Carolina by just a TD well into the third quarter.

But, on the other hand, Delaware lost to the Colonial Athletic Association’s two worst teams, Rhode Island and Albany — squads that finished just 4-18. What’s worse, the Hens didn’t score a touchdown in either game.

Brock, who is now 17-18 at Delaware, agrees that the Hens have to be much more consistent.

“What we were able to show is what we’re capable of and how we’re capable of playing,” he said, referring to their wins. “The fact that we didn’t play that way too many times is, no question, disappointing.

“It’s something that we certainly have to look at, evaluate and make sure we get fixed.”

With a defense that allowed only one touchdown in seven of its 10 games against FCS foes, the Hens’ biggest issues are on offense.

Delaware averaged a meager 14.9 points and 286.5 yards per game. That’s comparable to the 17.5 points and 275.8 yards put up during the woeful 4-8 season in 2008.

Even with a run-first mentality, Delaware’s passing game was remarkably unproductive. At just 67.1 passing yards per game, the Hens ranked last among the 123 teams in FCS.

They also had just two passing TDs, one of which was thrown by receiver Diante Cherry.

Part of the problem was its receiving corps, which started preseason with seven players only to lose four of them during the course of the year. While several of those players are expected back from injuries, Brock said receiver is clearly a position where Delaware needs more depth.

But Brock also said that redshirt freshman quarterback Joe Walker has to be much more consistent. Walker completed 55.5 percent of his passes with six interceptions against only one TD.

Not counting yardage lost on sacks, Walker also ran for almost 500 yards with three touchdowns.

At his best, Brock said there were definitely times when Walker looked liked Delaware’s QB of the future.

“His body of work certainly gives you the feeling that he can be that guy,” said Brock. “There’s other games where you feel less confident. Some of that is him, some of it wasn’t.”

Brock made it clear, however, that nobody has a starting job locked up right now. Every position is up for grabs in the offseason.

That means, at QB, current true freshman Patrick Kehoe will be in the mix along with backup Blake Rankin. Brock compared the 6-foot-3, 225-pound left-handed Kehoe to running back Thomas Jefferson, who redshirted last season and then had a big year this fall.

“We feel like he’s got a great opportunity to be a really good player here,” Brock said about Kehoe. “I watch him and evaluate him against our defense in practice, he does a great job. He’s very, very competitive. I imagine he’ll come in and compete like crazy. That’ll make everybody better.”

The one position where Delaware has an abundance of talent is at running back.

After losing their top two backs, Wes Hills and Jalen Randolph, Jefferson (890 yards, 7 TDs) and sophomore Kareem Williams (795 yards, 3 TDs) proved themselves more than adequate replacements this fall. It’s the first time since 1997 that the Hens have had two 700-yard rushers in the same year.

While Williams might redshirt, Delaware should go into preseason camp with four first-string caliber running backs.

“When you look at our running back position, that’s what we want every position on our football team to look like,” said Brock. “We want quality depth, competitive depth. When you have that, you’re going to have guys who are going to raise their level of performance across the board.”

All told, Delaware expects to have 27 players back with starting experience. From the Hens’ final two-deep depth chart, 21 of 24 players on offense will return and 19 of 22 on defense.

After surrendering a school-record 31.6 points and 443.6 yards in 2013, Delaware finished 26th nationally in both scoring defense (20.5 points) and total defense (329.2 yards) this season.

All season, Brock has talked about the progress the defense has made over the last two seasons. He thinks the same thing could happen with Delaware’s offense.

“I felt like I knew exactly what the problems were,” Brock said about the defense, “I felt like we could address those problems in recruiting. I think we have.

“We’ll have that collection of guys on offense that played for the first time this year. I think you’ll see a significant bump in their performance, just like we have defensively.”

EXTRA POINTS

Over the last 25 seasons, only four FCS teams have won at least four games every year — Delaware, Eastern Kentucky, Montana and Northern Iowa. … Brock said the Hens already have four verbal commitments from high school recruits. He expects to have approximately 10 scholarships available. … Along with Williams, Brock said there are a few positions on defense where he could see redshirting players who played this fall. … Kickoff specialist Kevin McLaughlin, who still has a year of eligibility remaining, isn’t expected back. … Delaware will return 50 players who saw action this season. … The Hens are slated to open the 2006 season by hosting Delaware State on either Sept. 2 or 3.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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