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Blue Raiders begin spring practice Tuesday

MT returns 42 lettermen

March 14, 2010 · Athletic Communications

STOCKSTILL ADDS TO SIMMONS' DUTIES
Willie Simmons, who has served as the Blue Raiders' running backs coach the past three years, will take on the added responsibility of passing game coordinator as announced by Head Coach Rick Stockstill.

WHAT IS THE FEELING AROUND THE PROGRAM AFTER WINNING A BOWL GAME, GOING 10-3, AND BEING RANKED IN THE TOP 35 TO END THE 2009 SEASON?

I think there is a higher level of confidence, not just with individuals, but as a team. We had a very good year last season but that was last year and the 2010 team will be a different team. I think the biggest thing is seeing the increased level of confidence in each player as they progress through the off-season workouts.

WHAT AREAS WILL YOU CONCENTRATE ON THE MOST DURING SPRING DRILLS ON BOTH THE OFFENSIVE AND DEFENSIVE SIDE OF THE BALL?

Offensively, we have to develop some depth at the quarterback position. Brent (Burnette) played sparingly last year and now he will not be able to go through spring drills because of his shoulder surgery. Jamal (Ramsey) and Logan (Kilgore) have never taken a snap in college football so we have to get them as much work as we can during spring practice. With Brent out, these two should get the reps they need.

I think some of the younger guys who did not play last year like David Jones, William Pratcher, Richard Drake, Arthur Williams, and all the skill guys need to get a lot of work. Basically, they only received about two weeks of coaching last year when they arrived in August because then they played on the scout team and did not receive as much individual attention. We have to see right away if they can contribute this year. The same thing goes for the offensive linemen that we redshirted.

I think the biggest concerns offensively will be filling the void left by five departures at the wide receiver position and depth along the offensive line. Another key area will be settling on a center.

Defensively, the secondary is where we lost two guys at corner but really it was four because Jawan Carson and Hakeem Johnson quit. We have moved Malcolm Beyah to corner from wide receiver which is the position we originally recruited him to play. I still think there is a place for him offensively but right now we need him more on defense. Marquise Dixon was redshirted last year so that corner position is very green. We will also look at Sammy Seamster at corner but hopefully Arness Ikner can shore up that spot and we can leave Sammy at safety. We will experiment a lot with those guys in the spring.

At linebacker we will be more athletic but those guys have not played in a college game. On the defensive line we return a lot of guys but two or three will not compete in the spring due to injury. The guys we redshirted last year like Jimmy Staten, Derrek Upshaw, Jadarieus Hamlin, and Dearco Nolan will get valuable time to see where they fit in. We are young on defense at nearly every backup position so we will spend a lot of time seeing who can fill those roles.

WITH A NEW OFFENSIVE AND DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR, WILL FANS SEE MANY DIFFERENCES ON EITHER SIDE OF THE BALL?

We will make subtle changes. This is Middle Tennessee's offense and Middle Tennessee's defense. When we hired Manny (Diaz) I said this is what we want to become and it has evolved and the same thing on the offensive side of the ball, except it has been a little slower transition on that side.

With any year you do not want to stay the same. You want to tweak things a little and improve on what you did the previous year.

Offensively, we have to find out what these younger receivers can do and how they can help us. In the secondary, how the corners and linebackers play, will determine a lot of what we can do defensively.

There will be a few changes but the basic parameters will stay the same.

DWIGHT DASHER HAD AN UNBELIEVABLE JUNIOR SEASON, SO WHAT DO YOU WANT TO SEE FROM THE TALENTED SIGNAL-CALLER IN 2010?

He needs to be more consistent and eliminate the bad play; the play that gets you beat. For the most part, he did a good job with that last year. I want him to protect the ball a little better because I thought he had some careless interceptions last year. I don't want to coach him to where he is scared to make a throw but I thought there were five interceptions that he threw last year that were throws he should know not to make.

Just continue to evolve as a complete quarterback. I think he can still improve fundamentally from a throwing stand point. He has improved as a leader and team player and I think he can continue doing that. He needs to lead both on and off the field.

YOU ONLY LOSE ONE STARTER ON YOUR OFFENSIVE LINE FROM A YEAR AGO. TALK ABOUT THE PROGRESS THAT GROUP HAS MADE OVER THE PAST TWO YEARS AND WHAT YOU EXPECT FROM THAT UNIT THIS SEASON?

In 2008, Alex Stuart, Brandon McLeroy and Mike Williams all started as freshmen and last year they were sophomores. Mark Fisher has started since his freshman year. There are growing pains that you go through, especially up front, with that much youth. Last year, I thought our line played well the last half of the year. They came together as a group and stayed healthy. The key to our strong second half was getting Alex Stuart back so the entire line could develop the continuity needed to be successful. When other guys played late in the year it was to give the starters a rest. They were not pressed into action because of an injury, which was instrumental in our offensive success.

Now the offensive line needs to take it to another level. Mike Williams, Brandon McLeroy, and Alex Stuart will be starting for the third year and Mark Fisher will be in his fourth. We will have a new guy at center but we will have four guys who have been in a lot of games and know what it takes to prepare both physically and mentally. I would like to see the offensive line be the hardest working and closest group on the team. When your offensive line leads the team then you usually have a successful team because they are your tough guys.

YOU RETURN A 1,000-YARD RUSHER, AN 800-YARD RUSHER, AND A TALENTED SENIOR IN TAILBACK PHILLIP TANNER. TALK ABOUT YOUR RUNNING GAME WHICH IMPROVED DRASTICALLY IN 2009 AND WHAT IT COULD MEAN TO THE 2010 TEAM?

The improvement our running game made from mid-October to mid-December was keyed by our offensive line. Those guys came along as the season grew and they were pretty good the last half. D.D. Kyles was basically playing college football for the first time so there is a natural learning process that all those guys go through. D.D. was not very good running the ball early but with each game he got better and ended up with nearly 900 yards.

Getting Phillip (Tanner) back gives you a guy with experience and someone who has played in a lot of games. I hope he can have his best year. Dwight (Dasher) was basically all our running game the first half of the year because of Tanner's injury. Most of his rushing yards came in the first half of the year and they decreased after that because we were getting better production from our running back position.

Ideally, I want a 1,000-yard rusher from the tailback spot and around 600 or 700 yards from the quarterback. It would be great to have two 1,000-yard rushers and still throw for 3,000 yards but I am not sure how realistic that is.

YOU LOST YOUR TOP TWO RECEIVERS FROM 2009, SO HOW DO YOU SEE THAT POSITION AS SPRING PRACTICE BEGINS?

We lost three guys in Patrick Honeycutt, Chris McClover, and Desmond Gee who were very productive during their careers so it will be very hard to replace those guys.

Tavarres Jefferson only played about half the year as a true freshman so he is far from polished, and Sancho McDonald has potential but he is coming off an inconsistent year. McDonald played better the last few games of the season so hopefully he can improve from that and become a more consistent player. Garrett Andrews was consistent for us last year and Shane Blissard was consistent for the most part.

You look at Richard Drake, Arthur Williams, Tyler Mason, Jamar Brown, and Jared Bamber and you have five guys who have never played Division I football so we have to find out in the spring who can help us out this season.

I still think we need to sign two more receivers in this class for us to continue to do what we want to offensively. When you lose six receivers it is hard to replace that many guys in one year. So far we have filled needs with the junior college guys but I would like to have two more.

DEFENSIVELY, YOU LOST A LOT OF EXPERIENCE AND TALENT AT LINEBACKER SO ASSESS THAT POSITION ENTERING SPRING PRACTICE.

We will replace Danny (Carmichael) and Cam (Robinson) with guys who are more athletic and faster but we will not be able to replace their leadership, toughness, and passion. That will be hard to do this year because those guys meant so much to our football team last year. They had a lot of intangibles.

Gorby Loreus and Darin Davis will be juniors this year and they have to step up and play consistently and up to their potential. Justin Jones is a very smart, good football player who we think has a bright future at the position. Craig Allen, Stephen Roberts, and Roderic Blunt are guys on paper who have what you are looking for but we need to see how they respond on grass.

OBVIOUSLY, THE KICKING GAME IS A CRITICAL PHASE OF FOOTBALL AND YOU RETURN THE SUN BELT'S TOP PLACEKICKER IN ALAN GENDREAU. HOWEVER, YOU WILL BE BREAKING IN A NEW PUNTER AND A NEW DEEP SNAPPER. TALK ABOUT SPECIAL TEAMS PLAY AS YOU PREPARE FOR THE 2010 SEASON.

Alan (Gendreau) had a great year last season and hopefully he will build off that as a junior. Another year in the weight room and over the summer will give his leg even more strength so he can help us improve on our kickoffs. I would like to see him have that job full-time but we have to be better than last year because we were too inconsistent.

Nate Toulson has been here for two years now behind David DeFatta and I am hopeful he can handle the job. He has not given us any reason to think he can not do the job but we will have to see how he is under fire. We also have a couple of walk-ons who will be here in August to compete for the job as well but I am hopeful Nate can be our guy.

I was really disappointed in Adam Wade leaving. I am proud of him graduating and what he accomplished here but the timing of his departure was not ideal for our program. I was hoping he would work on his graduate degree here and be our long snapper this season but he chose another route. It's left a big void in our football team because when he told us he would not return we did not have time to bring someone in. We have a couple of guys coming in August that we are excited about and Zeke Anderson, who traveled with the team last year, will also have chance to win the job.

This position is a huge concern for us and we probably will not have it figured out until we get into August camp.

YOU HAVE SIX NEWCOMERS AND PRESTON BAILEY WHO WILL BE GOING THROUGH SPRING PRACTICE. HOW IMPORTANT IS THE EXTRA WORK FOR THESE PLAYERS AND WHAT ARE YOUR EXPECTATIONS?

Preston was here in the fall so he knows what we are doing offensively and our expectations. It is critical for Jeremiah Black to learn the offense and our expectations because the center position is important for us to develop some depth. The three receivers, a quarterback, and our corner coming in for spring practice will also be very valuable. It just gives them a head start and provides them a better chance to compete for playing time in August.

WHAT POSITION CHANGES DO YOU FORSEE THIS SPRING?

We will experiment with Preston Bailey at tackle and guard, and will also see how Alex Stuart does at center for about a two-week period. Chris Hawkins has played about every position on the offensive line so we will continue to shuffle him. Jeremiah Black and Jesse Grisham are guys who have to stay at center, and I think we might see how Josh Walker does at tackle and guard. It's good to have all your linemen familiar with different positions in case an injury occurs.

We will play around in the secondary with Malcolm Beyah at corner and Sammy Seamster at both corner and safety. This will help us create more depth.

Depending on what happens we could take a guy off the defensive front and put him on offense. This will just depend mainly on the health of Evon Lettsome.

As for receiver, we just have to figure out who will be inside guys and who will be outside guys.

DO YOU HAVE ANY PLAYERS WHO WILL BE KEPT OUT OF SPRING DRILLS DUE TO INJURY?

We have four players who will definitely be out all spring in QB Brent Burnette, CB Kenneth Gilstrap, DE Phillip Tinsley, and DT Gary Tucker. There will also be six players that will be limited during practice in WR Wes Caldwell (due to baseball), DE Jarrett Crittenton, OT Mark Fisher, DT Jadareius Hamlin, OG Brandon McLeroy, and WR Marcus Thurmond. Also, we are still waiting to hear about Evon Lettsome's status.

2010 SPRING PRACTICE DATES
March:
16, 17, 19, 20, 22, 24, 26, 27, 29, 31
April: 2, 5, 7, 8, 10

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