Spring practice: Final thoughts

18 04 2010

With Western Kentucky’s spring practice session now officially over, here are some final thoughts on Willie Taggart’s first step as head football coach at WKU.

– Are you hurt? Or are you injured?

What was the biggest difference at Houchens-Smith Stadium this year’s spring practice and last year’s? 

The M.A.S.H. unit. 

Last year, the amount of ‘injuries’ grew so high that WKU actually couldn’t field two teams to play during their annual spring game. 

Now, I’m not saying that there weren’t some legitimate injuries – because there certainly were, but there were also several players who were held out last season as basic ‘precautionary’ measures. 

This time around, that didn’t happened. 

As the old saying goes: If you’re injured, you can’t play anymore – if you’re hurt, you’re still good to go.

This is football, it’s a rough game. People get hurt and play hurt all the time. And one of the biggest problems with WKU’s treacherous 2009 campaign was overall toughness – both mentally and physically.

Taggart laid down the line pretty early this spring by saying that if you’re not on the field, you can’t get reps. If you can’t get reps, you won’t play.

He was able to really send that message to the full effect less than a week into things when incumbent starting quarterback Kawaun Jakes injured his ankle playing pickup basketball – missing the remainder of spring drills. Not only was Taggart upset at Jakes’ decision to put himself before the team, but he also used the situation to let others know that no matter who you are, if you’re not on the field working in the spring, your chances of getting reps in the fall drop immensely. 

Jakes missed more reps than anyone can count, and because of that, junior Matt Pelesasa took over the controls and will head into the fall as the clearcut front-runner to be the starting quarterback when WKU opens up at Nebraska. 

Throughout the entire four-week session, the amount of players standing on the sidelines not wearing pads had to have been cut at least in half compared to last season. 

Maybe it was a lucky health streak? Or maybe, just maybe, Taggart’s demand that players find a way to toughen themselves up has actually gotten across. 

– Pelesasa’s to lose

Without question, the starting quarterback job at WKU is Matt Pelesasa’s to lose. 

He got basically 80 percent of all reps this spring, he’s a kid with a solid head on his shoulders and he has the physical tools to excel in WKU’s West Coast Offense. 

It looks as if it will take a superhuman effort from Kawaun Jakes this fall to make up the ground he lost this spring. And unless true freshman quarterback Brandon Doughty proves simply too good to sit, I’d fully expect Pelesasa to lead WKU on the field in Lincoln this fall. 

Redshirt freshman quarterback Courtney Dalcourt made zero headway this spring either, as he tweaked his surgically repaired knee early in spring practice and basically missed the entire four weeks. 

So not only does he have a lot of catching up to do within the offense, but he also has some serious work to do on his injured leg. 

Pelesasa has shown composure, toughness and the ability to throw a good deep ball – in fact, he throws the best deep ball I’ve seen any WKU quarterback throw in the three seasons I’ve been covering the Hilltoppers. 

He understands the offense, he has good fundamentals – and the amount of reps he got this spring, combined with the starting reps he’ll likely get in the fall, will only increase his timing and chemistry with the wide receiving corps. 

– Pound the rock

Like we said the second that Taggart told the media that he would be implementing the West Coast Offense this season, the running game was going to be a huge factor. 

Taggart already has himself a horse in the backfield in junior Bobby Rainey. I’ve commented on the blog before a number of times that in the right situation, Rainey has the ability to play and be effective at just about any school in the country – he’s that gifted. 

Last season, Rainey was playing the role of speedy zone-read back in a spread-option offense. Which is absolutely not his style. 

Rainey’s a punisher, he’s a bowling ball with just enough speed and shiftiness to make things happen.

In other words: He’s a downhill runner. And in this offense, he’ll get plenty of opportunity to get north and south and make things happen. 

And on top of that, Rainey seems to have a pair of backs behind him that should have little problem adding fuel to the fire. 

Unlike last season’s duo of Tyrell Hayden and Marell Booker, junior Braxston Miller and redshirt freshman Keshawn Simpson are big, powerful backs who have the ability to get through holes and make tacklers feel something when they collide. 

WKU’s offensive line became increasingly better as last season went on within the run game, and given the fact that just about all of the players up front are back this season, Rainey, Miller and Simpson will see no shortage of carries. 

When fall runs around, expect WKU to be something like a 60-40 run team. And if the run game isn’t going, things won’t go well. If it gets revved up, however, the play-action pass and the timing routes that makeup the West Coast attack will get rolling. 

– Get McNeal on the field

With over 100 yards of total offense in the spring game and a 53-yard touchdown run, WKU freshman receiver Willie McNeal proved he can get the job done in this offense. 

McNeal is a good route runner, he doesn’t drop passes, he has solid speed and he has great vision. 

In other words: The guy’s a playmaker. 

Easily the biggest surprise of the spring, I’d expect McNeal to have his name written in ink as a starting receiver this fall. 

A pleasant surprise for Taggart and company I’m sure. 

– Be ready to play

Taggart signed six defensive backs for next season, and when fall camp rolls around, I would have to expect every single one of them to get a huge opportunity to not only play this season – but a good handful of them will definitely get a chance to start. 

WKU’s defensive backfield was a huge problem last season, and the biggest issue was overall athleticism. 

Taggart has said that every single player entering school as a freshman this season will get a chance to play right away, but don’t be shocked if at least four of these six defensive backs don’t take a redshirt this year. And don’t be shocked if as many as two or three get a starting nod as a true freshman. 

– Nick’s WKU first-stringers

Taggart and company certainly already have their own depth chart in order on both sides of the ball, but just for fun, here’s who I’d pencil in as starters heading into this summer:

OFFENSE

QB Matt Pelesasa, Jr. 

RB Bobby Rainey, Jr. 

FB Chris Brice So.

WR Willie McNeal Fr.

WR Marcus Vasques So.

TE Jack Doyle So. 

T Preston King Sr.

T Wes Jeffries Sr. 

G Mychal Patterson Sr.

G Derrick Elder Sr. 

C Sean Conway rFr

DEFENSE

DE Jared Clendenin Jr.

DE Quanterus Smith So.

DT Korentheus Bailey So

DT Brandon Whitty So

OLB Chris Bullard Sr 

OLB Orlando Misaalefua Sr

MLB Thomas Majors Sr

CB Vince Williams rFr

CB Jamal Forrest So

S Kareem Peterson So

S Mark Santoro Jr

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One response

19 04 2010
Boom

Thanks for doing this blog. Easily, this is the best WKU sports site on the internet.

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