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Spring practice gets underway Wednesday

Emphasis on ball security and playing fast

March 15, 2011 · Athletic Communications

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. - Middle Tennessee will return to the gridiron on Wednesday for the start of spring drills just 68 days removed from its third bowl game in five years. The first practice will begin at 3:30 PM Wednesday and the team will also workout on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.

The Blue Raiders welcome back 50 lettermen and 14 starters, along with two new coordinators in Willie Simmons (offense) and Steve Ellis (defense).

"I am really anxious to get back on the field Wednesday," said Head Coach Rick Stockstill. "The fun part of coaching is to get on that field with the players and staff, and compete. Last year was a very emotional and frustrating season because of all the outside factors but it is clearly in the rearview mirror now."

The focus for the Blue Raiders over the next three weeks will be ball security and playing fast, really fast.

"Turnovers cost us a lot of games last year so we will definitely have an emphasis on ball protection," said Stockstill. "But we also want to play as fast as any team in the country on both sides of the ball, so tempo will be another area we will spend a lot of time on this spring."

That tempo gets started on the offensive side of the ball where the Blue Raiders have 25 returning lettermen and seven starters from a year ago. Four starters are back along the offensive line in Preston Bailey, Colin Boss, Brandon McLeroy, and Mike Williams but only Williams will go through spring practice. Bailey, Boss, and McLeroy are all out following off-season surgeries.

Lining up under center this spring will be sophomore Logan Kilgore and junior Jeff Murphy. Both will be competing for the starting job which will go to the guy who protects the football and moves the chains and gets into the endzone more consistently.

The running game appears to be in great hands with junior Benny Cunningham, senior D.D. Kyles and sophomore William Pratcher.

In the receiving department, Middle Tennessee returns 12 pass catchers from 2010 including starters Malcolm Beyah, Tavarres Jefferson, and Sancho McDonald. The unit will also add explosive players Reggie Whatley and Kyle Griswould. Whatley was redshirted last year and is moving from running back to receiver, while Griswould sat out 2010 after transferring from Duke.

Defensively, the Blue Raiders have to replace eight starters from a unit that had SBC Defensive Player of the Year Jamari Lattimore and first team all-conference performers Jeremy Kellem and Rod Issac.

Up front all four starters are gone but a strong group of talented players are ready to take their turn. Omar McClendon, SaCoby Carter, Patrick McNeil, Jimmy Staten, and Dearco Nolan all have experience. The unit has also added Gorby Loreus who is making the move from linebacker for his senior year.

The Blue Raiders are really excited about the potential at linebacker where starters Darin Davis and Justin Jones return. The team also has speedsters Craig Allen, David Jones, Stephen Roberts, all expected to make big contributions, along with the consistent Corey Carmichael.

The secondary will also be a place of concern since stalwarts like Kevin Brown, Jeremy Kellem, and Rod Issac are no longer on the team. Seniors Arness Ikner, Derrick Crumpton, and Eric Russell will be counted on to lead the way.

As for special teams, all four key ingredients are back for 2011. Alan Gendreau, a two-time first team all-conference pick, will handle the place-kicking duties, while sophomore Josh Davis takes care of the punting. Davis, who doubles as the team's holder on field goals and extra points, earned second team all-conference honors in his first season with the Blue Raiders. Deep snapper Zeke Anderson also returns.

"The players have had a wonderful off-season, in fact, one of the best since I have been here," said Stockstill. "They have worked extremely hard; they have a great attitude, and are very focused. Now we just have to improve in all facets as a football team during the spring, carry that into the summer, and be ready to go in August."

The Blue Raiders will conclude spring drills on April 9 with the annual Blue-White Game in Floyd Stadium.

SPRING PRACTICE DATES
March: 16, 17, 18, 19, 23, 24, 25, 26, 30, 31
April: 1, 2, 6, 7, 9 (Spring Game)

PRO DAY: March 24
FOOTBALL LETTERMEN'S GOLF TOURNAMENT: April 8 at Indian Hills

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