Blue Raiders hold scripted scrimmage in stadium

Stockstill pleased with the game management of his coaches and players

August 23, 2006 · MT Media Relations
MURFREESBORO, Tenn. - With the season opener against Florida International rapidly approaching, Middle Tennessee first-year head football coach Rick Stockstill put his team through a dress rehearsal of sorts at Floyd Stadium Wednesday afternoon.

Middle Tennessee will kick off the Stockstill era when it entertains Sun Belt Conference foe Florida International Aug. 31 at 6 p.m., and the Blue Raiders were put through every situation possibly imagined during Wednesday scripted scrimmage.

"It was a scripted practice where we went through 18 different kicking plays that can occur in a game from onsides to hands teams to kick after a safety, a return after a safety, a regular kickoff, kickoff return punt safe and punt block," said Stockstill. "Then we put the first team offense against the second team defense in certain situations during a 10-play drive."

Attention to detail was prevalent throughout the scrimmage, from prior to kickoff when Stockstill addressed where players would be on the sideline, to the flip of the coin and other various situations throughout the two-hour workout. Coaches wore headsets and relayed the plays onto the field. Sun Belt officials were working the field and replay officials were in the booth.

As important as the run-through is for the players, Stockstill says it is equally important for the coaches and everyone who is involved with the program during the course of game.

"A lot of times people think this is just for the players but this is a very valuable practice for our coaches as well," said Stockstill. "We work on everything from the pregame warmup to the coin toss. It's all very important and we want to make sure everybody knows what to do during any type of situation."

Plays went according to a pre-determined script regardless of what the outcome of a particular play may have been. For example, quarterback Clint Marks connected with receiver Taron Henry for a 17-yard pickup on a second-and-7 play from the opponent's 25. Instead of first-and-10 on the 8, Middle Tennessee's offense faced third-and-4 from the 22.

"No matter what happened on the play, whether it was a 50-yard gain or a 10-yard sack, we moved the ball on the next play to a different situation," said Stockstill. "We did this so our coaches can call a game with 2nd-and-6, 3rd-and-1 or whatever, while also working in various kicking situations. Everybody had to be alert and attentive on the sidelines with our substitutions."

Some scripted plays were fake, but seemed way too real for a few onlookers.

"We scripted in a fake injury by our center and told him how we want him to stay on the field and wait for the medical staff to come attend to him," added Stockstill. "We do this so the quarterback will have time to come over to the sidelines and work with the backup center for a few snaps. I told Paul Cantrell, our center, that he was too good of an actor because his girlfriend started coming out of the stands to check on him."

As far as big plays actually recorded in the workout when the ball was snapped, there were several registered in all three facets of the game. For example, linebacker J.K. Sabb hauled in an interception and raced 50 yards for a touchdown. Sabb also had two tackles for loss, while Chris McCoy had a pass deflection and a sack. Trevor Jenkins added a couple tackles for loss, while Roy Polite came up big with a break-up on third-and-2 at the 42. Marcus Brandon came away with a fumble recovery. Some of the big plays were scripted, others were not.

Middle Tennessee's running game continued to impress with Eugene Gross and DeMarco McNair consistently gaining yards and moving the chains.

Special team's performers had their shining moments, too. Colby Smith nailed a 38-yard field goal and added a 57-yard punt, while also sending the opening kickoff into the end zone for a touchback. There also was Jonathan Harris' 72-yard return of a blocked field goal to send a charge up and down the sideline.

These are just a sampling of the plays turned in by Blue Raider players during the situational scrimmage. More important than the plays, Middle Tennessee took another huge step forward in preparation for its anticipated opener.

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