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Blue Raiders open spring practice Saturday

46 lettermen and 17 starters return from 8-4 team

March 22, 2013 · @MTAthletics

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. - Middle Tennessee will return to the practice field on Saturday for the start of spring drills as the Blue Raiders embark on its first season in Conference USA. Saturday's practice will begin at 11 AM inside Floyd Stadium.

The Blue Raiders will practice on March 23, 24, 26, 28, and 30, and will hit the field in April on the 2nd, 4th, 6th, 9th, 11th, 13th, 16th, 17th, 18th, and 20th. The Blue-White Spring Game is set for April 20 at 1 PM.

"I am really looking forward to getting back on the field and starting spring practice," said Head Coach Rick Stockstill. "We are coming off a good season and I really like how we competed and improved over the winter. Nearly every player on the roster had considerable gains in strength and weight which shows a lot of dedication on their part. By getting slighted by the bowls last year it has put a bigger chip on our shoulders, so I am anxious to see how we compete during the spring."

Middle Tennessee returns 46 lettermen, including nine starters on offense and eight starters on defense (this includes LB Craig Allen who will not go through spring drills and will determine his future playing status at a later date) while new coaches Jeep Wade (offensive line), Mike Polly (running backs), and Rick Mallory (offensive tackles/tight ends) hit the field for the first time.

Offensively, the Blue Raiders welcome back 19 lettermen and nine starters including signal-caller Logan Kilgore, running back Jordan Parker, receivers Kyle Griswould and Tavarres Jefferson, and linemen Josh Walker, Darius Johnson, and Isaiah Anderson.

Kilgore is coming off his best season in blue after throwing for 2,571 yards, 16 touchdowns and only six interceptions. The senior is just the second quarterback in school history to register back-to-back 2,000-yard seasons.

Parker will lead an explosive group of running backs that also includes game-breaker Reggie Whatley, Jeremiah Bryson and William Pratcher. Parker was pressed into action last year as a true freshman after Benny Cunningham was lost for the season and responded by rushing for a freshman record 851 yards.

Up front, the offense returns four starters in Walker, Johnson, Anderson, and Jadareius Hamlin who have accounted for 56 career starts. One of the big tasks during the spring will be finding a center to replace all-conference pick Micah James and the front runners will be Nick Nunez, Patrick Hughes, and Jesse Grisham.

Despite losing all-conference receiver Anthony Amos, Stockstill likes the nucleus of pass catchers returning in 2013. Griswould and Christian Collis are the top two receivers who return to the lineup while the Raiders also gain the services of Jefferson who missed all of last year with an injury. Marcus Henry also returns after getting hurt early against FIU last year and missing the remainder of the season.

Defensively, Middle Tennessee returns 25 lettermen and eight starters while six others also saw starting time. Two starters return up front in defensive end Shubert Bastien and tackle Jimmy Staten but there's a lot of experience with guys like Pat McNeil, Dearco Nolan, Jiajuan Fennell, and J.D. Jones.

All three starters at linebacker return with T.T. Barber and Roderic Blunt while Allen's status will be determined at a later date. This is a group that showed a lot of improvement in 2012 and coaches feel they will only be better in 2013.

In the secondary, Kenneth Gilstrap and Chris Sharpe are returning starters at corner. Gilstrap had a solid junior year before his injury against South Alabama and Sharpe showed improvement each week. At safety, Kevin Byard is back after earning freshman all-american honors a year ago. Byard was third on the team with 74 stops and led the team with four interceptions and two forced fumbles.

The Blue Raiders showed a lot of improvement on the defensive side in 2012 by cutting down on big plays and forcing turnovers. Continuing that process will be a point of emphasis during the spring, along with doing a better job of getting off the field on third down and getting to the quarterback.

"We cannot waste a single day or snap during the spring," added Stockstill. "We want to improve in every area and spring is when you can do that by teaching fundamentals and developing players. We play hard so I will not have to coach effort but it will still be a point of emphasis."

Due to offseason surgeries and injuries, the following players will be out or limited during spring practice: Craig Allen (linebacker), Jacob Corbaley (tight end), Kenneth Gilstrap (defensive back), J.D. Jones (defensive tackle), James Roberson (linebacker), and Jimmy Staten (defensive tackle).

Spring Practice Schedule
March 23 (11:00 AM) 
March 24 (4:15 PM) 
March 26 (3:20 PM) 
March 28 (3:20 PM) 
March 30 (11:00 AM) 
April 2 (3:20 PM) 
April 4 (3:20 PM) 
April 6 (10:30 AM) 
April 9 (3:20 PM) 
April 11 (3:20 PM) 
April 13 (10:30 PM) 
April 16 (3:20 PM) 
April 17 (3:20 PM) 
April 18 (3:20 PM) 
April 19: Lettermen's Golf Tournament
April 20 (1:00 PM) 

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