KINGSTON, R.I. – Since he arrived at Rhode Island, Jim Fleming has been waiting for his offense to take noticeable strides forward. Midway through the second week of camp, there are evident signs of such progress.
On Monday, it was senior running back Harold Cooper taking a handoff and bursting up the middle for a long touchdown run. Tuesday, it was sophomore Aaron Parker capping off a long scoring drive on a touchdown pass from redshirt freshman Vito Priore. Or junior quarterback JaJuan Lawson pulling the ball down and running for 20-plus yards to make a play. Lawson's run was made possible in part by a blitz pickup block from freshman running back Messiah Horne.
Several times this week, the offense has chunked the field, through a variety of ways. Tight ends Joey Kenny and Tyler Burke have shown strong hands, and the wide receiving crew continues to have the look of the deepest, most talented group of receivers in many years for the Rams.
"We are seeing a semblance of rhythm, and hits on a lot of timing throws," Fleming said. "The quarterbacks are all doing what they need to do. Our running game has a chance. We've got a good scheme in place that needs to be executed with precision, and we took a step forward offensively today."
At different times, several of the receivers made big-time plays. Senior Harold Buckner III and freshman Ivory Frimpong both had impressive sliding catches for long gains. Redshirt junior Marven Beauvais and freshman Edward Lee have shown up consistently, making plays every practice. Isaiah Coulter showed the physical side of the game, catching a bubble pass, turning up field and bowling over a couple defenders for extra yardage.
"I've been waiting to see that step forward," Fleming said. "It has been inch-by-inch and we can see it coming, but for the first time since I've been here, things are moving along the way it should be. The defense is ahead of the offense at the start, and the offense is now catching up."
Lee – who caught a touchdown pass from fellow freshman Jahkari Grant during 7-on-7 drills – has been among the most impressive players in camp thus far. The coaching staff was excited on signing day about the additions of Frimpong, Isaiah Coutler and Matt Pires. Lee appears to be making a strong case to be another impact freshman.
"Recruiting is an inexact science. Ed is a recruited walk-on for us, and he was looking for an opportunity to play," Fleming said. "He is putting his best foot forward every day. As coaches, we have conversations about who the dark horse candidate for the surprise of camp is, and a couple of our coaches talked about Ed before camp.
"He came in over the summer, took some classes and got himself ready to go. We can see that he has the ability to help us. He's showing that each day, and we are really pleased that we've got him."
The newest member of the offense is linebacker-turned-running back Zoe Bryant. In his first day at running back, all the redshirt sophomore did Tuesday was catch a swing pass and take it 50-plus yards down the sideline for another score by the offense.
"We've been banged up a little bit, and moving Zo gave us the opportunity to have a big back in the offense," Fleming said. "We've always known Lorenzo is a talented tailback. He's been doing okay at linebacker, but we thought this move might give us another tool on the offensive side."
Fleming and his staff are running into a quality problem, where they will need to start making important depth chart-related decisions. This is evident at the quarterback spot, where Tyler Harris, JaJuan Lawson, Vito Priore and Jahkari Grant have all looked solid. The quality of depth is apparent, but the first scrimmage of camp – Thursday morning at 9:30 a.m. in Meade Stadium – will go a long way in helping the team identify the main guys.
"That competition is making it tough on us. We are going to have to go ahead and make some tough decisions in terms of ones and twos and figure out where we go from there," Fleming said. "We need a team attitude at that position because you can't rep four guys to prepare for a game. Today was practice number nine, so we have a little bit of time, but obviously we have a big scrimmage on Thursday, and we'll see how that goes."