Memphis Set to Begin Spring Practices Sunday
March 1, 2014
On Sunday the University of Memphis football team will go through the first of 15 practice dates the NCAA limits programs to conduct. The series of practices will be an opportunity for Memphis head coach Justin Fuente and his staff to evaluate talent as well as install base packages for all three phases of the game.
“I expect it to look like a real football practice. I am really excited,” Fuente said about getting started with his third spring camp since being named the Tigers’ head coach.
For Memphis, the 15 practices spread over the next six weeks will be significant in preparing for the 2014 season.
One group of players who may arguably benefit most from spring drills is the freshmen who redshirted the 2013 season. The 2014 Memphis team will include 20 student-athletes who will be redshirt freshmen by eligibility standards.
“There are some guys that are coming out of redshirt years who will have to get a great evaluation,” Fuente said. “They have been running plays off cards (scout team) for the last six or eight months. Now they get to run our stuff with our terminology. I know those kids are ready to bridge the gap. Redshirting is not a very fun endeavor.”
Fuente said the improvement from the group of redshirt freshmen may not be immediately evident during spring practices but the drills will play an important role in their development.
“They have to think and react as opposed to running the scout team,” he said. “It is not just a physical step. It is a mental step. You usually see a large improvement between the spring and the fall in those kids. So those reps are precious for us right now.”
The offensive line is one position in particular the Tigers will look to have development this spring.
Al Bond, Taylor Fallin and Nykiren Wellington all return with significant playing time as starters. Micah Simmons also split time as a starter during his sophomore season in 2013. Tony Mays, Daivon Milan, Christopher Roberson and Sam Thomas all saw playing time last year as freshmen.
“We’ll have great competition on the offensive line,” Fuente said. “Now, it will be young competition. There will be some guys competing who haven’t played Division I football who are pretty hungry. I think they have made the older guys better and they have stepped up their game a little bit. It will be interesting to see how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together.”
Among the Tigers’ returning nine starters on offense is sophomore quarterback Paxton Lynch.
As a rookie last season, Lynch completed 203-of-349 passes for 2,056 yards and nine touchdowns. In addition to posting on the school’s 10th, 2000-yard passing season, he ranked in the Top 10 in season totals for pass attempts, pass completions and the highest completion percentage (58.2 percent).
Fuente expects the signal caller to continue to develop through the reps he will see this spring.
“I certainly expect him to continue to progress,” Fuente said. “I expect him to continue to master the concepts of decision making, progression and the leadership skills it takes to play. I also expect us to play better around him. I think we have to take onus on ourselves at every position to continue to improve to help him out. I know he is anxious to get out there.”
Defensively, the Tigers return 28 lettermen including eight starters. The significant loss on defense is safety where the team loses both its starters from 2013. However, the team returns experience at the two positions with Reggis Ball, Fritz Etienne, Chris Morley and Dion Witty all back after seeing playing time last year.
Possibly more important than any one position, spring will provide an opportunity for the team to continue to come together as a unit.
“We have to do a great job as a team,” Fuente said. “One of the main things we need to get across is we need to continue to meld as a unit – a selfless group of guys who want to take the next step in this mission we undertook a couple years ago.
“Our team leadership; our team accountability; what our team needs to do to get better will determine our long-term fate,” Fuente said.
Starting with Sunday’s practice, Memphis will practice four times during the upcoming week before spring break at the University of Memphis. The team will resume practices on March 18 with spring drills culminating with the Blue-Gray Spring Game on Friday, April 11th at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.