The second of three two-a-day sessions for this week had the Tigers on the turf field for practices 13 and 14 because of light rain showers that rolled in. It rained for the first few periods of the morning practice, but the rain also brought some cooler temps. That was, until things heated up for the afternoon practice.
Coach Larry Porter was more pleased with the afternoon workout.
"I thought this afternoon's practice was better in terms of focus, attention to detail, discipline and intensity," said Porter. "We got a lot more done today. In certain situations I thought guys were really clued in and focused, and as a result it was very competitive."
"I like where we are defensively," explained Porter. "We have to continue to build depth in certain areas and get a couple of bodies back out there, but I like where we are. In today's second practice, I thought we did some good things offensively. We have to continue to gain progress with our quarterbacks. I am not ready to say that I am happy with where we are because we have work to get done. We have to have consistency for our offense to be productive overall."
In addition to the cooler temps, another positive on the day was that receiver Marcus Rucker was back in the mix after being sidelined with an injury. Rucker is the Tigers' leading returning offensive threat this season. He enters the 2011 season on a 12-game receiving streak after leading the Tigers in 2010 with 41 catches for 704 yards and eight touchdowns. The next-leading returning offensive scorer, running back Jerrell Rhodes, scored 12 points as a true freshman last season.
Coach Porter had an interesting take on Rucker's absence and why it may have actually helped the growth of the quarterbacks.
"Marcus is a tremendous player, but it has probably helped us out some with him being gone because it has forced our quarterbacks to go through our progression and not lean on him so much to make plays for us," said Porter. "As a result, they have grown. You can see our offense starting to get in sync and in rhythm, which is what we need. Yes, we missed him, but it has helped with us getting him back and still staying in sync with distributing the ball, and we can continue to build and go forward."
Kicker Paulo Henriques continues to showcase his leg strength during camp. He kicked a 52 and 50 yarder in practice today, and Porter had said earlier in the week that he plans to try him from 55 yards out. Henriques led the Tigers in scoring with 59 points in his first season booting field goals and PATs. His kickoffs have consistently been deep during camp also. With Henriques stronger; and punter Tom Hornsey continuing where he left off, the Tiger special teams unit should be an advantage. The key component left to fill are the return specialists, and Porter has said repeatedly in training camp that he feels he has a stable of talented and speedy players to fill those roles.
Coach Porter also spoke highly of freshman running back Artaves Gibson, saying that he had two good practices today and was starting to settle in and get some things done. He also felt like Gibson was gaining confidence through these practices.
The Tigers had a better day than yesterday as far as Coach Porter was concerned. After not being pleased with the intensity of the workout during the first two-a-day session on Monday, Porter had this to say about today's practice:
"Today was better than yesterday even though we had some mistakes out there," said Porter. "We scrimmaged some situational things and it was back-and-forth in terms of balance on offense and defense."
Porter also said that the quarterbacks still need to step it up a bit, but the running game got a boost today from Billy Foster. Foster is a truly versatile player for the Tigers who will make plays on the ground, via the air and on special teams. He got extensive work in the run game in the spring as the Tigers were left with only Jerrell Rhodes in the mix in the run game. Foster had nine carries for 41 yards in 2010, as well as 14 catches for 175 yards. He also rolled off 323 yards on 17 kick returns as a junior.
"Billy was back there at running back today and he did some good things," said Porter. "He is definitely going to be a spark for us back there. He continues to show us that we will be able to use him in a number of ways."
"Billy and Jerrell (Rhodes) can be a dangerous tandem for us," added Porter. "Those young guys (at running back) continue to grow and battle and get better, so that is starting to become a healthy position for us. We would like to have all of them out there together. We have saved Billy up until this point to evaluate some of these young guys, but he is starting to come into the fold and do more at that position."
During some of the live action work today, a few plays stood out on both sides of the ball. Offensively, receiver Kevin Wright pulled in a few nice catches and true freshman running back Joe Price rolled off a 25-yard run during redzone work. Defensively, true freshman Bobby McCain logged a pick, as did Mitch Huelsing. Taurean Nixon also came up with a turnover for the defense.
The Tigers will have a double session on Wednesday as they continue to prepare for the season opener against Mississippi State. That game is slated for Thursday, Sept. 1, at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. According to the marketing department, there will be a post-game fireworks show, and the first 10,000 fans through the gates will receive pom pons, posters and schedule cards. For tickets, please go to the PURCHASE TICKETS link on GoTigersGo.com, or call (901) 678-2331.
Check out the interviews below with punter Tom Hornsey and Billy Foster.
The Tigers returned to the field Monday morning for their first two-a-day session at the Murphy Athletic Complex. The squad was in full pads in the morning and shells for the afternoon session.
Coach Larry Porter was not pleased with the energy of the morning practice and was expecting much more of his squad for the second workout.
"I thought they were flat today," said Porter. "I didn't think we had enough intensity to surge us through practice and execute at a level that we needed to. Mentally, we have to be prepared to take the field every day that we practice. There are no excuses for that, and they have to understand that."
On a side note, throughout both practices, work continued on fields two and three, which are being upgraded this fall. Work is expected to be completed in early October as long as the weather cooperates. Right now, the squad has use of the turf field and field one, which is grass.
The second practice didn't go as well as Coach Porter would have liked either.
"I am not happy with this first two-a-day," reiterated Porter. "We need more of what we had last week. I think it kind of tailed off and we need to get them going again. We just weren't playing at a level that I thought we had surpassed and were ready to take off."
Coach Porter was happy to see a few guys back on the field, including Lonnie Ballentine, Frank Trotter and A.J. Antonescu.
The Tigers will have single sessions on Tuesday and Thursday, and two-a-days on Wednesday and Friday of this week.
The Tigers open the season on Thursday, Sept. 1, against Mississippi State. The game, which is slated for broadcast by Fox Sports Network (FSN), is set to kick off at 7 p.m. To purchase tickets, go to GoTigersGo.com or call (901) 678-2331.
While the offense struggled to really find continuity throughout the 100-plus play scrimmage at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, several offensive players did stand out, including sophomore running back Jerrell Rhodes and receiver Keiwone Malone.
Rhodes rushed for over 150 yards, and broke off several long runs while toting the ball about a dozen times. Rhodes had three runs for over 40 yards, including a 58-yarder about 30 plays into the scrimmage. Rhodes also posted a 43-yard touchdown run on a 3rd and 2 situation from the 43.
"Jerrell Rhodes has done what he has done every single day since we started practicing," said head coach Larry Porter. "What I saw today, I have seen for nine straight practices. We just have to continue to stay the course with him, and allow him to stay in that rhythm that he is in now."
Malone, who is eligible to practice with the team after transferring from Alabama right at the start of camp, had four receptions for over 100 yards receiving on the day. He showed tremendous speed as he sprinted into the end zone on a 79-yard touchdown from transfer QB Skylar Jones. He also had a 36-yard pickup on a pass thrown by Andy Summerlin. Malone's game eligibility status has not been determined at this point.
Hello from Kingsport again! The season is winding down up
here and we are in a very heated playoff race. With 18 games to go, we are two
games back of the Elizabethton Twins for the western division wild card spot.
You can always tell when it's getting late in the season and your team is
succeeding because the manager starts getting very uptight, just ask Coach Rock,
The Tigers rolled through practice eight at the Murphy Athletic Complex, and while it was still 95 degrees, it felt pleasant compared to other days of camp so far.
Coach Larry Porter wasn't as pleased with today's practice, but is looking forward to tomorrow's scrimmage at the Liberty Bowl to start seeing position battles play out in more of a live game scenario.
"It wasn't as crisp as the last two days, but there were some good things," said Porter. "We had some guys made some plays in the redzone, and on third down, I thought the defense held firm."
When questioned about what he wants to get out of tomorrow's scrimmage, Porter indicated that he would like to see how much the team has grown over the nine days, and also is expecting to heavily evaluate the quarterbacks during this workout.
"It is time to truly start molding this team," said Porter. 'We have spent nine days together. We have seen some good things and we have seen some not so good things but overall, I have been pleased with the progress. "
Porter has also said that over the last four days, the quarterbacks have really grown. There are four guys in the hunt right now, and none have taken a snap in a game for the Tigers. Andy Summerlin and Will Gilchrist both have more experience with the Tigers, while Taylor Reed has come in as a true freshman and is making a strong case for playing time. Also in the mix is Skylar Jones, who transferred in from Wake Forest.
"Now, set the coaches on the sidelines, and let's see where they really are," said Porter. "We need to see how well they make decisions, how well they manage the offense and overall, how productive are they."
"One of the other positions that we have to settle with the quarterback is our wide receivers," added Porter. "We have a number of guys competing and a number of guys with talent but I don't think there is any one guy who has separated himself. I have seen flashes from a lot of different guys, but the day to day flash of stability and a high level of productivity, I haven't seen as much as I would like."
When asked about how hard camp has been and how he keeps the players from "hitting a wall" during this time, Coach Porter indicated that the team is handling things very well through the first nine days.
"They had a great summer, but even in today's practice tensions are starting to grow and guys are starting to push and shove a little bit more but in terms of hitting a wall, the things I look for are body language," explained Porter. "I hadn't seen that. I know the guys are working extremely hard and are pushing themselves as well. The thing that I find the most fortunate is our injuries are very limited, and that is critical. If we can sustain that for the rest of camp, we will really come out on the plus side of things."
Preseason has started once again. Here we all are, some of us finishing our fifth preseason and rounding off our time at Memphis, and some just beginning our first week of a long, successful career as a Tiger. Although preseason is a word that all of us cringe when we hear, truthfully, I remove it from my vocabulary for 11 months a year, it is really a great time to shape and discover yourself as a player, and us as a team. What we endure during the month of August is something that 99% of people will never be able to relate to. We push our bodies beyond their capability, and push our mental toughness to its full capacity. We have no life in preseason outside of soccer. We literally eat, sleep, and play soccer. Yes, we sacrifice half our summer to coming back to school early, we sacrifice sleeping in to practice at 6am, we sacrifice our bodies to 300-yard shuttles, we sacrifice our social lives by staying in a hotel disconnected from the outside world, but in the end, all these sacrifices are well worth it, as they add up to a chance at winning our fifth-straight championship.
It has taken a full week of camp, but Coach Larry Porter finally seemed to feel like the quarterbacks are turning the corner and had a much more productive day. That was evident with all the nice grabs that the receiving corps was hauling in throughout the workout.
"I thought our quarterbacks did a pretty good job today of executing situations today," said Porter. "They eliminated some of the mistakes that they had made through some of those first few practices."
Regardless of whom the starter is when Memphis hosts Mississippi State on Sept. 1, the signal caller should have no issues finding targets to get the ball to.
The receiving corps is again filled with talent and speed, and should have tremendous depth this season. While junior Marcus Rucker remains sidelined, returnees Curtis Johnson, Billy Foster, Cam Baker and Tannar Rehrer all have game experience heading into 2011, and are continuing to lead this group. In addition, Kevin Wright and Reggie Travis, who both redshirted in 2010, are making big plays and should see significant game action after having a year to learn behind the veterans. Several newcomers are vying for playing time and making their cases during camp, including Tyriq Patrick, LaMarvin Ashley, Ryan Byrd, Tevin Jones and Darius Poole. Alabama transfer Keiwone Malone is also looking like a prime target at receiver, though his eligibility status still is not determined.
Coach Porter also spoke highly of the offensive line, saying that he likes what they are doing out there.
"The offense is starting to grow, and I think that all starts up front," explained Porter.
He also singled out sophomore transfer Nick Chartain for his productivity in camp. Chartain missed the first two days of camp but appears to be grasping the system even quicker than expected. The 6-5, 320-pound guard is originally from New Orleans and played one year of junior college ball at Independence CC. Porter also spoke of the battle at center between A.J. Antonescu and Chris Schuetz. Antonescu redshirted in 2010 after transferring from Holmes CC. Schuetz looked like he was going to redshirt as a true freshman last year, but was called into action midway through the season because of injuries in the line. He played two games before suffering an injury that required surgery. Schuetz was limited in the spring, but has been challenging Antonescu during this first week of camp.
The o-line also has a good bit of depth and Porter spoke of steady contributions from senior Ron Leary, transfer Jordan Devey and converted lineman D'Angelo McCray. McCray played nine games with the defensive line last season, but made the move to the offensive side of the ball in the spring. Leary has started 24 of his 32 career games for the Tigers, and Devey was a highly-touted JuCo transfer out of Snow College.
"This team is truly growing," said Porter. "The thing I am the most impressed with is how they are responding to adversity, especially when they are fatigued this late in practice. Their spirits are still high and they are still fighting through, and that is something we are going to have to have to become a better football team."
It's day six and the Tigers continue to work hard during fall camp to prepare for their season opener against Mississippi State on Thursday, Sept. 1. The squad opened practice with special teams work, and then worked through 24 periods with some live game action mixed in throughout practice.
Kicker Paulo Henriques and punter Tom Hornsey both looked ready to pick up right where they left off last season. Coach Larry Porter continued to commend the two for their efforts at practice. He is still trying out guys in the return game, which is a place the Tigers really struggled in 2010, particularly in punt returns. The Tigers averaged less than a yard on punt returns last season and just 18 yards per kickoff return.
"Our kicking game is continuing to step forward and be strong for us," said Porter. "As far as our return game, we are still trying to put ourselves in position to identify who those return guys are. We have a number of options and that is starting to clear itself up as well. Overall, I couldn't be more excited about where we are. We just have to continue to build."
Offensively, a couple of newcomers showed some flashes today, including receivers Tyriq Patrick and Tevin Jones who both had a few nice grabs. Running back Carl Harris also showed speed and strength in some of his runs. Junior receiver Curtis Johnson had a great catch and bolted down field for a touchdown in an impressive show of speed. Johnson is one of the top three returning wideouts for the 2011 season. He tallied 230 yards on 22 receptions, and was just behind Tannar Rehrer, who totaled 284 yards on 23 receptions. Marcus Rucker, who is still sidelined with an injury, led the Tigers last season with 704 yards and eight touchdowns on 41 receptions.
Coach Porter was again pleased with how the Tigers worked today.
"Again, today was another spirited practice," said Porter. "I thought they were really competitive and challenged each other. I thought both sides of the ball did some good things, as well as made some mistakes, but overall it was a good day for our football team in terms of growth."