Football Camp Notebook for Friday

Blue Raiders 'getting there'

August 18, 2006 · MT Media Relations


"I thought today was a little better than yesterday. I was very disappointed in Thursday's practice from an effort standpoint. I thought today they came out with a lot of enthusiasm, showed great effort, hustled and focused much better. We still have to get better in a few areas like taking care of the football. We put it on the ground a couple of times today and that is not acceptable. Mistakes like that are frustrating but as far as our hustle and enthusiasm I thought that was great today."

Where team is after a week of two-a-days: "If you asked me that last night I would say we had a long, long way to go but asking me that today I would say we just have a long way to go. We are getting there. I think guys are starting to understand what we expect and that we are trying to raise the standards and expectations for this program."

Progress of the secondary: "The three guys who have stood out to me the most during camp are Damon Nickson, Jonathan Harris, and Reggie Doucet. I think all three have had an excellent camp. They have been there every day, bring a smile, and work hard every snap. I am very pleased with them."

ART KAUFMAN ON THE LINEBACKERS: "The big thing we have going for us is that we have a lot of seniors who understand what I want and that is a big advantage right now. The biggest thing is that they really know what they are doing right now which allows them to go out and be the players they are capable of being.

KAUFMAN ON WHO IS IMPRESSING: "The guy who has done the most from spring practice to now is Lonnie Clemons. He has really jumped his game and is running with the first group. J.K. Sabb has become a more physical player and is more confident in his ability and is starting to play with a lot of instincts and fundamentals. Before, he was playing with mainly instincts and no fundamentals."

SABB BACK TO BEING SABB: One of the most pleasant surprises for the 2005 Blue Raiders was newcomer J.K. Sabb. The junior college transfer led the team in tackles and tackles for loss on his way to earning all-conference honors. Then came spring practice with the new staff.

During spring drills, Sabb lost his starting position and wasn't anywhere close to being the player he was during the season.

"I had a meeting with Coach (Art) Kaufman and he told me I was out of shape and overweight and that I had to be a more physical player," said Sabb. "I started concentrating on those areas and right now I am in the best shape of my life."

Sabb is back to 221 pounds, is a lot more physical, and has a great understanding of what he is doing on the field. And yes, he has his starting job back.

"J.K. has done everything we have asked of him and is really playing well," said Kaufman. "He plays a big role on this defense and we expect a lot out of him, especially since he is a senior."

O-LINE PROGRESSING: Offensive line coach Jimmy Ray Stephens is pleased with the progression of Middle Tennessee's offensive line midway through fall camp.

"There are a lot of good things happening," Stephens said. "To see guys improve from one day to the next, whether it is pass protection technique, run block technique, or assignments, some guys just have a hard time picking things up and learning it and then all of a sudden the switch comes on and they get it and you see the improvement. That's the reward and joy you get out of coaching. We are just trying to chip away at it and get better every day, mentally, physically, the whole way."

Veteran tackle Germayle Franklin, one of the mainstays in the trenches for the Blue Raiders, has been one of the mainstays within the unit and says he likes what he sees from a position that was somewhat under the microscope entering the preseason.

"We are coming together slowly, but surely," Franklin said. "There have been a lot of personnel changes, but we are just looking for that right combination. We have some key people out right now, or that have missed a few practices, so we are excited about getting them back in the mix and seeing if they are part of the right combination. Overall, though, I'm pleased with our development. I think we are getting better each time out."

Stephens said Franklin's leadership and consistency not only have been pleasing, but also have demonstrated the type traits expected from a veteran leader.

"(Franklin) is the guy that has been consistent in run and pass blocking, as well as assignments, throughout the camp and rightfully so because he's a senior and he's been starting for a few years," Stephens said. "We just have to find some of those other guys."

While numerous members of the offensive line are making strides and putting themselves in position for playing time, injuries at various positions have enabled some of the newcomers to make a jump.

Jamal Lewis is practicing with the second team and Stephens has been able to successfully bring along many of the youngsters who are playing at the college level for the first time.

"Jamal Lewis is ahead of the other (newcomers)," Stephens said. "It has been a cram session for him trying to learn his assignments but, physically, he is going to be an outstanding player, he really is. I'm also encouraged with Chris Hawkins' athleticism and his quickness. We just have to develop the young guys with time and see what happens."

1,000 REASONS WHY: Linemen rarely get the attention they deserve for making an offense click but Franklin says players at the position have goals just the same as players at the skill positions.

"We just have to push everyone because we want a 1,000-yard rusher," Franklin said. "If (Eugene Gross) gets 1,000 yards that looks good on us. We are striving for any back we have to get 1,000 yards."

Stephens, a veteran offensive line coach and a stellar player in the trenches during his playing career at Florida, understands the concept well.

"You have to do your job at each and every position and if everybody is doing their job then the offense will click as a whole," Stephens said. "Regardless of whether you get a 1,000-yard rusher or 3,000-yard passer, it doesn't matter to us. They call them, we haul them and that's the way we have to see it. We have to be able to run block and pass block equally well and take advantage of what the defense is giving us. You have to have goals like that and it's always good for an offensive line if you can have a 1,000-yard rusher. Two years ago at Tennessee we had two 1,000-yard rushers (Gerald Riggs Jr., and Cedric Houston."

NEXT PRACTICE: The Blue Raiders will hold their 20th practice of fall camp on Sunday from 4:15 PM to 7:00 PM.

FAN/MEDIA DAY: Middle Tennessee's annual Fan/Media Day is scheduled for August 19 at Noon in Murphy Center. There will be free hot dogs and cokes given away while supplies last, games for the kids, and various drawings. Also, tickets will be on sale as well as this year's football media guide. As always, fans can get player autographs and photos so make plans now to check out this year's team as they prepare for the season-opener on Aug. 31.

FENTON PAYNE AND FRED 5K: On Saturday morning, Aug. 19, the third annual Fenton Payne and Fred 5K Run/Walk to take place on the campus of Middle Tennessee with Head Football Coach Rick Stockstill firing the starting gun. The event will get underway at 7:30 AM with registration at Peck Hall. The cost is $25 with cash prizes going to the winning male and female and the overall masters (40 years and over). There will also be awards to the top three finishers in all divisions, male and female, 9 and under, then 5 year age groups through 80 and over. For more information, contact Mark Hardison at 615-848-9063.

Follow the Blue Raiders on Twitter @MTAthletics for continued updates.