Although it was a controlled scrimmage, first-year head coach Justin Fuente's Tigers showed some offensive fireworks in the University of Memphis' Blue-Gray Game Saturday, before an estimated crowd of 4,000 at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. Memphis ran 82 plays in the spring game, but afterwards, Fuente saw room for improvement.
"There was some good and some bad, and something to be learned from all of it," said Fuente following the scrimmage. "I still don't think we understand offensively quite the tempo that we want to get in and out and move around with. I think the kids are trying, but it is hard for them to do it consistently."
The Tigers offense had 16 offensive series with quarterbacks Jacob Karam and Taylor Reed leading the squad eight times apiece. Karam, a junior transfer from Texas Tech, was 7-of-16 passing for 159 yards with two touchdowns and an interception, while Reed, a returning sophomore, went 8-of-16 for 58 yards through the air.
After each quarterback had two series, Karam led the Memphis offense on the fifth drive to a touchdown. Karam was 4-of-5 passing for 68 yards on the 11-play drive, which was capped off with a three-yard scoring toss to Alan Cross. Earlier on the possession, a Karam-to-Cross 17-yard connection on fourth down kept the drive going.
Four possessions later, Karam led the Tigers offense to its second score, but in a quicker fashion. On the first play of the drive, Karam lofted a pass down the right sideline that Kevin Wright hauled in over the defender around the 40 yard line and then raced to the end zone for the touchdown. The play covered 70 total yards.
The Tigers' final score came on the last series of the game. Starting from 35 yards out, Karam hit Tyriq Patrick on an out pattern for a 24-yard gain to the 11 yard line. From there, redshirt freshman Clarence Marshall picked up the last 11 yards on a scoring scamper into the end zone.
"I think Jacob (Karam) moved around and made some plays today," said Fuente. "I think he forced one ball. He has to learn not to hold it so long, and that it is not a bad thing to throw it away sometimes. He did make some plays today, and so did Taylor (Reed).
"I am pleased with their work ethic and progress and dedication to the craft. Obviously, I still have to look at the film to see how they played, but I am happy with both of them."
Marshall led the Tigers rushing attack with 43 yards on five carries and a score, while redshirt junior Jaquise Cook had 40 yards on seven carries. Junior Jerrell Rhodes added 28 yards on 11 rushes.
Wright had 81 yards on three catches to pace the receiving corps. Marcus Rucker had two catches for 39 yards, and Reggie Travis grabbed one pass for 29 yards.
Senior defensive lineman Zach Gholson led the Memphis defense with four tackles and two sacks, while Reggis Ball added two sacks and Anthony Brown had two TFL.
"Defensively, I thought we gave up too many big plays," added Fuente. "We have to do whatever we can to get the guy on the ground in order to let us play another snap. I am certainly glad we have another practice on Monday. We have a lot of work to get accomplished."
The Tigers close spring drills with two practices Monday and Wednesday at the Murphy Athletic Complex.
"I think by and large, as a team, we have come a long way throughout the spring," said Fuente. "We have a long way to go, obviously, but I think from a level of expectations, from a level of work ethic and an accountability standpoint, I think we have made strides."
Post-scrimmage video interviews with Coach Justin Fuente, quarterbacks Jacob Karam and Taylor Reed, receiver Kevin Wright and linebacker Charles Harris posted below.
Coach Justin Fuente talked extensively with the media after practice today. See the video below as Fuente continues to talk about the progression of his team. He also answered questions about the quarterback situation and the competition between Jacob Karam and Taylor Reed.
Fuente also spoke about Saturday's scrimmage and feels this weekend is a great time for fans to come out and support this program.
"I would encourage fans to come out on Saturday and take a look at what our kids have been doing. I think fans should be excited. This is a new time for Tiger Football. This is a new time for Tiger Athletics and a new time for the city of Memphis. There are a lot of great things on the horizon in all sports with the new league and this is the first chance for them to come out and see our guys."
"This is a work in progress, but I think you will see guys go out there and play hard; and hopefully be fundamentally sound, physically fit and mentally tough, which is the Tiger code."
After today's workout, there will only be three practices remaining this spring for the Tigers, including this Saturday at the Liberty Bowl. We caught up with several players this afternoon before their meetings with the coaching staff to again get an assessment of how things have gone from a player-perspective this spring. Check out the video interviews below of quarterbacks Taylor Reed and Jacob Karam as well as linebacker Chris Bertucci.
The Tigers worked through their 11th of 15 total spring practices today at the Murphy Athletic Complex. Check out the comments from Coach Justin Fuente following today's practice as he discusses how the offense responded following last Saturday's scrimmage.
Fuente also spoke a bit about what fans can expect to see at the Liberty Bowl on Saturday.
In addition, Fuente was asked about the status of receiver Keiwone Malone. In response, Fuente explained that he has suspended Malone for a violation of team rules. Malone played in eight games in 2011 after transferring from the University of Alabama. He caught 12 passes for 155 yards and one touchdown.
The Tigers are on their final segment of spring practice as Coach Justin Fuente set up the schedule to break up the 15 practices into three segments of five workouts. The team has three practices this week, including the Blue-Gray Game on Saturday at noon, and two workouts next week following the scrimmage.
Saturday's Blue-Gray Game will be set up much like this past weekend's schedule with the team starting their practice at about noon and then going into a scripted situation scrimmage the remainder of the workout. The players will host a clinic for children eighth grade and under following the scrimmage and then players and coaches will be available for autographs. Many of the festivities on Tiger Lane will begin at 10 a.m. For additional details regarding the activities on Saturday, please CLICK HERE.
After last Saturday's scrimmage, Fuente again praised the defense and spoke highly of the defensive line. Today, we sat down with several defenders including lineman Zach Gholson, nickel back Akeem Davis and safety Mitch Huelsing to get their assessment of spring practice and what adjustments the defensive unit as a whole has made.
The Tigers spent the better part of today's practice on a scripted situation scrimmage that again saw the defense dominate the offense.
"The defense did a great job today," said Coach Justin Fuente following today's practice. "The defense beat up on the offense in every drill. The real discouraging part about the offense is that we cannot rebound. We don't have the confidence or toughness to rebound when things don't go very well."
Watch more of Fuente's comments about today's practice in the video below.
The Tigers have five more practices remaining in the spring session, including the Blue-Gray Game at the Liberty Bowl on March 31 at noon.
Fuente spoke more in depth about the offense and what he is seeing right now this spring.
"We had several instances where we should have had some good, easy plays, but we were unable to execute them," explained Fuente. "That is one of my biggest disappointments. That, coupled with our inability to bounce back. When we've got it, we have to make it. Offensively, we need to find a little bit of swagger."
Offensive linemen Jordan Devey and A.J. Antonescu, and corner Taurean Nixon talked earlier about the progress the team is making throughout the spring with the new coaching staff.
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: http://www.gotigersgo.com/sports/m-footbl/spec-rel/032012aab.html
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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: www.memphis.edu/development/tsf/
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.