Conor Bednarski is coming back from offseason surgery on his throwing shoulder, but even so, Stony Brook football coach Chuck Priore says his offense is far ahead of where it was at the same time a year ago, if only because of the certainty at quarterback.
The Seawolves struggled last season until Bednarski established himself as the starter over Syracuse transfer John Kinder for the final eight games of a 5-7 season.
"In the early part of the year, we struggled to find our identity," Priore said Tuesday during SBU's media day. "We had a chance to be 8-0 in the last eight games."
Stony Brook went 4-4 in Colonial Athletic Association play in that stretch but led in the fourth quarter of three of the losses and trailed FCS runner-up New Hampshire by a point because of a missed extra point. With Bednarski in control of an offense that has more depth at running back and wide receiver, Priore said, "I expect us to contend for a playoff spot in the CAA."
Bednarski is one of several Seawolves who spent the entire summer attending class at SBU while rehabbing after surgery and preparing for the coming season, which opens Sept. 3 with a tough game at FBS Toledo, which is coming off a victory in the Go Daddy Bowl. Preseason FCS All-American defensive end Victor Ochi also is returning from shoulder surgery and key defensive tackle Aaron Thompson figures to be about 90 percent by the opener after knee surgery.
"It doesn't feel like work," Bednarski said of his spring and summer of rehab drudgery. "It's fun getting out there and competing after missing spring ball. It makes me gain a greater appreciation for what you have. I have one more go-round, and I love this team."
After sitting out spring practice, Bednarski began throwing every third day on May 1 and gradually increased the frequency of his sessions until he was ready for the start of preseason camp just over a week ago. He looked sharp in the first scrimmage Monday.
"I'm feeling great right now," Bednarski said. "It was hard at first. But it made me mentally stronger and helped me grow as a person and as a player by taking that mental approach to the game while sitting out spring ball and having to help coach the guys. It's a different approach when you're leading from the sidelines rather than leading from the huddle, but it's something I'll benefit from."
Priore said redshirt freshman Joe Carbone, who took all of the first-team snaps in spring practice, is Bednarski's backup ahead of redshirt freshman Pat Irwin. The Seawolves lost leading receivers Adrian Coxson and Will Tye, both of whom are in NFL camps, but have quality replacements lined up.
Junior college transfer Ray Bolden, Western Michigan transfer Timmy Keith and returning wideouts Donavin Washington and Julius Wingate provide depth at that position. Stacey Bedell, who rushed for 1,070 yards, and veteran Tyler Fredericks will be joined in the running back rotation by freshmen Isaiah White and Travis Liburd.
"I think we're really deep," Bednarski said. "I really like our running back corps, our tight ends and our receiving corps. In the skill positions, I think we look really good right now. It's about how we progress, but physically, I really like these guys."