What to watch for: WKU spring football

16 03 2010

It’s that time of year again.

No, not the NCAA Tournament – but spring football.

Of course!

First-year Western Kentucky coach Willie Taggart will hold his first official on the field workout with the Hilltoppers in one week’s time, as WKU begins its 2010 spring practice session next Tuesday.

But before they take the field, here are a few things to look for next month:

1. Quarterback – who adapts, who gets lost in the shuffle
– With Taggart’s introduction of the West Coast Offense to WKU, incumbent starter Kawaun Jakes should have some adjusting to do.
It won’t be as much as you might think, but terminology and plenty of other things will be brand new to the redshirt sophomore.
The other interesting part at this point in the season will be the inclusion of junior college transfer Matt Pelesasa. Pelesasa appears at a glance to be more of a pro-style type signal caller, which is what the West Coast Offense is.
But experience does matter here – experience and overall chemistry between a quarterback and his teammates.
Jakes should have that edge heading in, and the edge of having seen FBS-level competition for one full season.
But in any event, it should be interesting to watch those two feel their way through Taggart’s system.

2. Defense – what will new defensive coordinator Clint Bowen bring to the table
– My best guess is that, other than a new 4-3 system, Bowen will be doing his best to breathe some life into an otherwise deflated group of defenders.
Watching the entire defensive side of the ball this spring – and heading into this fall – will be interesting, because I would have to guess that there aren’t that many players who can honestly say their job is safe.
WKU really wasn’t good defensively at any level last season – it couldn’t rush the passer, it couldn’t stop the run and it couldn’t defend in the secondary.
I’d have to think senior inside linebacker Thomas Majors is safe, but outside of that, I wouldn’t be shocked if 10 starting spots were up for grabs.
And several players will have a chance to start earning them next week.
It’ll also obviously be interesting to see the Hilltoppers running a four-man front, something folks haven’t seen in a long, long, long time around here.
Who fills those two interior tackle slots? You’re guess is as good as mine. I’m not sure exactly how ready sophomore DT Jamarcus Allen is after suffering an Achilles injury last season – but he could be one to watch.
And then there’s the defensive backfield – that could really get interesting, and it could turn into a revolving door.
Junior safety Mark Santoro has started the bulk of his first two seasons at WKU  back there, and should figure into the mix. Also, junior Ryan Beard could be back and ready to go after suffering through an injury-plagued 2009 season.
It’ll be interesting in the defensive backfield this spring – but it should get more interesting when fall camp rolls around, simply because I’d expect just about all of WKU’s incoming defensive back freshmen to have a shot at playing right away.

3. Who catches the ball – what will the wide receiving corps look like?
– If you’re a loyal blog reader, and I know you are, you should remember that I spent a lot of space last season writing about two young prospects WKU had in its wide receiving corps in freshmen Will Adams and Jamarielle Brown.
Both of those guys redshirted last year, and both of them seemed to have enormous potential.
They’ll both be getting chances to earn time with something other than scout team jerseys on now – so it should be interesting to see how they both adapt.
On top of all that, someone has to step in for the departed Jake Gaebler – virtually WKU’s only consistent pass catching threat over the last two seasons.
We know that sophomore tight end Jack Doyle will be returning, and he’ll be a huge asset in this offense in both the run and pass game.
But as far as the wideout spot goes – Quinterrance Cooper’s a senior with experience, Derrius Brooks has some game experience, but I really feel like that No. 1 job is sophomore Marcus Vasquez’s to lose. If he brings his ‘A’ game that is.
Most might remember Vasquez as a former quarterback prospect for WKU, but to those who might not remember, Vasquez switched over to wide receiver last season and actually became pretty productive.
It took him several weeks to get the whole concept of catching a pass rather than throwing it, but once he started to find his groove, he really began to look comfortable doing so.
He’s a tall enough target (6-1), he’s strong enough (190 lbs – probably a bit higher now) and he’s definitely got the speed and agility to be a difference maker here.
He had some problems with his hands and route-running early on, but seemed to have a solid feel for the spot – if he can work the kinks out, look for him to make a play as WKU’s No. 1 option early on.

4. What about Courtney? – where will local product Courtney Dalcourt play?
– Taggart said earlier this winter that Dalcourt – a redshirt freshman from Franklin-Simpson High School – will get his chance at the quarterback spot this spring and fall.
Dalcourt missed all but three practices last season with a knee injury, and one would have to think he’s really behind the eight-ball in the quarterback race – especially since a West Coast System really doesn’t seem to fit his skill set.
But, again, people have a knack for surprising you.
It’ll be interesting to see if Dalcourt stays at the quarterback spot and splits reps throughout the spring or moves to another spot on the field.
He did suffer a knee injury last year, but Dalcourt has a load of athletic ability – and could no doubt help this team somewhere on the field.

And while we’re on the subject of position swaps – don’t be surprised in the least little bit if we see a boat load of them this spring.
I was told earlier this winter that senior linebacker (slash designated hitter on the baseball team) Chris Bullard could be trying his hand out at fullback this year.
Something that could be very interesting, given the fact that WKU really needs a fullback now and that Bullard is crazy athletic.
Also look for Rod Johnson to possibly be tossed back into the fullback mix, as he began his career at WKU in that spot.

5. Willie’s way – what will a Willie Taggart practice be like?
– This is probably what I’m most interested to see.
Will he ease into things or will he floor these guys from the word go?
I’d have to probably guess the latter.
This will be Taggart’s first time – ever – as THE man in charge of a practice. And to the common fan, that might not seem like that big of a deal.
But with that many moving parts floating all over the place and new things happening in virtually every corner of the field, it’ll be interesting to see how everything shakes out.
Every coach is different, with everything that they do. From the way drills are ran to how the team stretches.
One thing you can probably be certain of, however, is that things should be competitive.

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