Spring Practice #9, March 21, 2012

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Coach Justin Fuente moved practice up about an hour or so today to try and beat the storms that were anticipated to arrive in Memphis. While there were spurts of rain throughout the workout, the squad got the full practice in for their ninth of 15 practices this spring.

Before practice today, we sat down for some interviews with kicker Paulo Henriques and punter Tom Hornsey. Check out the videos below as both talk about spring practice and working with Coach James Shibest. Henriques also talks about becoming a U.S. citizen this past December and what that meant to him and his family.

Special teams is a phase that the Tigers return quite a few key standouts. Henriques will be looking for a stellar senior season after going 8-of-15 on field goals in 2011. He missed his first two attempts of the season (both 50 yarders) before hitting seven of his next eight attempts, including a career-best 50-yard shot against Rice. Henriques also handles kickoffs for the Tigers and booted 45 kicks for an average of 64 yards. He had eight touchbacks on the year.

Hornsey continues to blaze through the Tiger record book, setting records for punts (95) and yards (3,993) in a single season. In just 24 career games, Hornsey ranks fifth in punts (175) and fourth in yards (7,409). In 2011, he averaged 42 yards per punt and had 19 for 50-plus yards. He dropped 23 kicks inside the opponents' 20-yard line. He is expected to be a Ray Guy Award candidate again in 2012. Hornsey and Henriques also have the benefit of having long snapper Jeremy Singler and holder Austin Weaver back again in '12.

The Tigers have six more practices remaining, including the Blue-Gray Game on March 31. Festivities on Tiger Lane will begin at 10 a.m., and the Tigers will begin their workout in the stadium at about 12 p.m. There will also be a free kids clinic for all children eighth grade and under following the scrimmage. All events, and the parking around the stadium, are free and open to the public. For more information about the spring game, please check out this link:

Please check out the video below as Coach Fuente spoke with the media following today's practice. He talks about the squad continuing to get better and also spoke a good bit about the receivers.

Spring Practice #8, March 19, 2012

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The Tigers had their eighth of 15 practices of the spring session at the Murphy Complex today. The squad worked drills for about eight periods before moving into a scrimmage that lasted for about an hour and a half.

"There were some good things on both sides of the ball," said Coach Justin Fuente following the scrimmage. "The defense forced some turnovers, but the flip side of that is the offense turned it over. The offense had a couple of big plays, but again, the flip side of that is the defense gave up some big plays. We got some good work in, but we have a long way to go."

Fuente has continued to stress that this team needs to be more physical, and he seems to be seeing more physicality from the defensive side of the ball. He did say that he felt the defensive line at this point is the most physical unit on the field.

When asked what steps need to be taken to make his team more physical, Fuente had a few key points to stress.

"I think part of developing physicality is getting more reps, but also physical toughness and mental toughness and part of it is strength in the weight room," explained Fuente. "All of those things develop confidence and help establish a physical presence."

While the Tigers are about halfway through their spring, Fuente hopes to continue to fine tune things and to continue to work more situational aspects in the next two weeks.

Just as Fuente spoke about after practice, there were a couple of long offensive plays today during the scrimmage, including two receptions of about 60 yards by Marcus Rucker from Jacob Karam. Tyriq Patrick also scored on a reception of about 60 yards from Taylor Reed. Kevin Wright continued his steady play, making several grabs, including one for nearly 50 yards for a score.

The offense also got a few good runs by Artaves Gibson, and tight end Jesse Milleson also had a couple of nice catches today.

Defensively, a couple of the plays that stood out were an interception and long return by corner Bobby McCain and a fumble recovery and forced fumble on separate plays by linebacker Kenyata Johnson. Redshirt freshman linebacker Reggis Ball, the brother of former Tiger safety Marcus Ball, was swarming around today and had a couple of nice hits for lost yardage. There were several sacks during the workout today and Akeem Davis forced a turnover when he stripped a ball away following a reception early in the scrimmage.

The Tigers will return to the field on Wednesday.

Photo Gallery from today's practice

Spring Practice #8, March 19, 2012

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The Tigers have three practices scheduled for this week as they continue through the spring practice session, which will run through April 4. Today we highlight the linebackers as one of the positions that return quite a few contributors from the 2011 season. This group also has consistency with its coaching staff as Galen Scott was retained when Coach Justin Fuente took over the program. Scott is in his third season guiding Tiger linebackers and coached previously with Fuente at Illinois State.

The Tigers utilized two linebackers for much of 2011, as Kenyata Johnson and Terrence Thomas started all 12 games. Thomas graduated and several Tigers are battling this spring to fill the role. Johnson was third on the team in tackles with 72 stops, 42 of which were solos. He also had an interception, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Charles Harris played in all 12 games as a true freshman and logged 33 tackles and a blocked kick. Khiry Battle posted five tackles in 10 games and Chris Bertucci tallied 23 tackles in 12 games. Ricky Holloway returned to the defense after working as a tight end in 2011. He primarily saw action on special teams last season, but is working again at linebacker this spring.

Other Tigers battling for a spot in the lineup include Kevin Green, Reggis Ball and Tank Jakes. Green and Ball redshirted as true freshmen in 2011, while Jakes is a mid-year signee out of Holmes CC.

Check out the video interviews below of returnees Charles Harris and Khiry Battle, and Coach Galen Scott.

Spring Practice #7, March 16, 2012

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There have been more additions to the decorations in the lobby at the Murphy Athletic Complex. The NFL wall, which is just off of the loading dock entrance, is complete with all of the NFL helmets and the names and years of each Tiger etched on a plaque next to each team helmet.

Also added in the last couple of days are tributes to each of the Tigers' bowl games, including the 1956 Burley Bowl, the 1971 Pasadena Bowl, the 2003 New Orleans Bowl, the 2004 GMAC Bowl, the 2005 Motor City Bowl, the 2007 New Orleans Bowl and the 2008 St. Petersburg Bowl.

Bowl flag decorations at the Murphy Athletic Complex

Helmet wall at the Murphy Athletic Complex

NFL wall at Murphy Athletic Complex

Spring Practice #7, March 16, 2012

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The rain finally stopped falling just in time for the Tigers to go out on the field for their seventh practice of the spring session. Today we caught up with running backs Joe Price and Artaves Gibson before they had to go into pre-practice meetings. Please check out the interviews below as both talk about working with offensive coordinator Darrell Dickey and what the group is focusing on this spring.

The backs are a group that has some depth this spring, but the group is not as experienced as would be hoped heading into the 2012 season. There are three backs returning this spring as Jerrell Rhodes has lettered the last two seasons, and Joe Price and Artaves Gibson were thrown into the fire as true freshmen in 2011 because of lack of depth at that position. Also in the mix is Carl Harris, who redshirted last season. Rhodes was injured much of last season and only saw action in three contests, toting the ball just 30 times for 152 yards and two touchdowns. He and QB Taylor Reed are the only two returning Tigers to rush for multiple TDs in 2011. Gibson played in 11 games and made two starts in '11. He logged 316 yards on 104 carries, while Price, who played in seven games, carried the ball 15 times for 16 yards. All three of those backs are also capable of catching the ball and making plays, as Gibson led the group with nine receptions for 46 yards in 2011.

Production and ball security will be key for this group in the fall. Over the last two seasons, the Tigers have used a running back-by-committee approach and have averaged under three yards a carry in both of those seasons. In 2010 Memphis logged just five rushing TDs, and doubled that total in 2011.

Spring Practice #6, March 14, 2012

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The Tigers went through their sixth of 15 practices that they will have this spring, following a little time away from the field as the U of M students were on spring break last week. The squad had not practiced since Feb. 29 and head coach Justin Fuente spoke to the media following practice and talked about how he felt today's workout went after the break and spoke about the continued battle at quarterback. Below is the full interview with Coach Fuente.

Also during practice, construction continued on the renovations inside the Murphy Athletic Complex lobby. Added this afternoon were NFL helmets and the wall will feature plaques detailing each of the Memphis players who have gone on to play in the NFL and what teams they have played for.

Helmet wall at the Murphy Athletic Complex

Spring Practice #6, March 14, 2012

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Work has begun on enhancing the atmosphere inside the Murphy Athletic Complex as some of the wall wraps have been added in the main lobby area. The upgrades are part of the $10 million Vision For Victory capital campaign that also included leveling and drainage for the outside practice fields, updates to the Tiger Football locker room and ultimately a 90,000-square foot indoor practice facility. Recently added and shown in the photos below are tributes to the five Tigers who have had their jerseys retired, and shots of several Tigers who have played in the NFL.

To help "Complete the Vision" with a donation that will benefit the Vision For Victory campaign, please contact a member of the Tiger Scholarship Fund Office at 901-678-2334 or go to this link to donate online:



Spring Practice #6, March 14, 2012

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Check out the most recent video interviews with quarterbacks Taylor Reed and Jacob Karam as the two are back out on the field competing during this second "session" of spring practice following spring break. The Tigers have 10 practices remaining, including the 2012 Blue-Gray Game, which will be held at noon on March 31st at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. The event is free and open to the public.

Spring Practice #5, Feb. 29, 2012

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The Tigers went through drills and position work for about an hour before working a scrimmage for the next hour of practice on Wednesday.

Coach Fuente commended the defense for how they responded throughout the scrimmage, starting with a hit by senior safety Cannon Smith on just the second play that resulted in a fumble recovery by Bobby McCain. McCain also had an interception a few plays later. There were only two picks today and linebacker Reggis Ball, who redshirted in 2011 as a true freshman, hauled in the other interception of the day.

"I thought we started off offensively with good tempo and tried to go out there and do the things we are coached to do, and then the defense responded and the offense never got it back," said Fuente. "I am awfully proud of the defense and how they fought back. They had a good play at the start of the scrimmage that caused a fumble and they gave up a few things here and there, but as it went on, they got stronger."

There was good play on the line for the defense with the whistle being blown for a couple of sacks. There were also some nice hits by linebacker Tank Jakes, who transferred to Memphis this spring from Holmes Community College. Ricky Holloway, who is back on defense after working as a tight end in 2011, also made a couple of tackles as did Charles Harris. Harris also tipped a ball at the line of scrimmage.

The offense struggled to get a rhythm, but there were some strong runs of 20-plus yards by Jerrell Rhodes and Artaves Gibson. Carl Harris, who redshirted as a true freshman in 2011, also had a couple of nice scampers and a good catch for some yardage.

Receivers Marcus Rucker and Kevin Wright both made a couple of good grabs for long yardage during the workout. Also showing some promise for the receiving corps were Ryan Byrd and Tevin Jones, who both redshirted in 2011.

"The mark of this team will be how we handle adversity," said Fuente after the scrimmage. "Through the season, in a game, after a game, during the week of preparation, it will be important to see how we will handle ourselves. We are going to face adversity; it is just going to happen. Do we respond and do the right thing, or do we react? Those are the things that we are trying to get across right now."

Spring Practice #5, Feb. 29, 2012

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The Tigers will go out in full pads this afternoon and will have their final spring practice until they return to the field on March 14. Coach Justin Fuente will be looking for attention to detail and physicality in today's practice, which is closed. He has split up the spring into three, five-practice sessions that began on Feb. 22 and will wrap up on April 4.

Prior to meetings, safety Lonnie Ballentine and tight end Justin Henderson sat down and talked about the first four practices and how things are out there on the field with the new coaching staff.

Please see below for the video interviews.

The tight end position is one that is lacking in depth for the spring, but will have a completely different look in fall camp. Coach Fuente signed four tight ends to join the 2012 squad, including Jesse Milleson, who was a mid-year signee and is practicing this spring. Milleson transferred from Glendale Community College. Junior Justin Henderson is the only returning Tiger offensive player who tallied multiple receiving touchdowns in 2011. Henderson played in 12 games, making six starts, and registered eight receptions for 100 yards and two touchdowns last year.

Ballentine is one of several returnees in the secondary, though he did have some struggles with a nagging hamstring injury during the 2011 season. He registered 35 tackles and a fumble recovery in 11 games as a sophomore. He started eight of those 11 games and is the fifth-leading tackler returning from the 2011 squad.

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