WKU football spring practice: Five things to watch

18 03 2011

Western Kentucky coach Willie Taggart met with the media Thursday to discuss the start of spring practice on Monday, for a full story on that, check Sunday’s Daily News.

But before that, let’s take a look at five things to watch entering Taggart’s second spring session as WKU’s coach.

Also, before I forget, Monday’s first spring practice session is completely open to the public – practice runs from 3:50 to 6:15 p.m. at Houchens-Smith Stadium.

 

5. Who tags out Rainey?

– Taggart said Thursday that Rainey will once again wear that yellow jersey this spring, meaning he won’t get hit – at all.

That’s not surprising, and was basically the case toward the end of last year’s spring session and the entire fall camp session.

But what it means more than anything is that someone – anyone – is going to get an opportunity to step up and slide into a true backup role this season. That spot basically went unfilled last year until Antonio Andrews settled into the role late.

Andrews seems to be the odds on favorite entering spring once again, but I have a feeling that Taggart and company would love for someone else to find a way in there – because Andrews is versatile enough to line up anywhere, and needing him strictly for a No. 2 running back slot somewhat pigeon holes him.

WKU has two high-rated recruits entering the program in the fall in Marquis Sumler and Quartterrio Morgan – but they won’t get reps this spring.

Keshawn Simpson and Braxston Miller got a lot of reps last spring and fall, and will likely get some again this spring. But neither was really able to do enough to get themselves on the field when it mattered. Simpson is entering his third year in the program as a redshirt sophomore, and this is a big, big spring for him.

He needs to prove he can handle himself in the backfield, or he could get lost in the shuffle with the new stable of backs coming in this fall.

4. Who replaces Majors?

– Easily the biggest hole left by last year’s graduating class was the middle linebacker spot vacated by Thomas Majors.

Majors played two seasons at WKU, and basically never left the field – leading the team in tackles in back-to-back seasons and not really allowing anyone else to get serious reps in the middle.

This might be the most wide-open position battle on the field – and might not get decided until midway through the actual season.

Taggart mentioned sophomore Bar’ee Boyd, junior Tye Golden, sophomore Mike Federspiel and senior Ben Duvall as players would could slide into that spot with a strong spring.

WKU is also a bit thin at the outside backer spot as well, but does return starter Xavius Boyd and should get Chuck Franks back from a 2010 preseason knee injury.

The Hilltoppers also signed two highly-touted linebackers in Daerius Washington and Terran Williams for the fall.

But expect the linebacker spots to be a revolving door for awhile – especially during spring ball.

3. Receiver separation

– Marcus Vasquez appeared to be on the cusp of becoming the team’s unquestioned No. 1 receiver before seeing his year cut short due to a shoulder injury late last season.

He’ll be back on the field, but I’m sure it’ll take him a bit to get back into the overall mode of things. If he’s healthy and ready to roll, he’s the best option right now for the No. 1 receiver slot.

Willie McNeal burst onto the scene last spring, and had a fine freshman season – but did lack overall consistency at times.

Outside of those two – it’s totally up for grabs.

Taggart talked Thursday about how sophomores Jamarielle Brown and Rico Brown had big offseasons, and expects them to start to make a push. He also mentioned redshirt freshman Joel German as a player who could burst onto the scene this spring and steal some snaps.

These players need to put on a big show this spring, because again, WKU will bring in two big-time receiver signees this fall in Boe Brand and Cameron Brown – two players that physically seem to be ready to compete right away.

2. New coaches all around

– How will the defense adjust to new coordinator Lance Guidry? How will the talented – but young – secondary adjust to new position coach Alonzo Hampton? And on the other side of the ball, how big of an impact does offensive coordinator/wide receiver coach Zach Azzanni have on everything?

Taggart says that all the new hires have had no problem fitting in during the offseason, and insists that everything will role over without any trouble.

But there’s no denying that WKU lost some pretty big-time assistants when Clint Bowen, Mike Sanford and Clayton White left for new jobs.

WKU is still going to run the same offense, and for all intents and purposes, it’ll run basically the same defense under Guidry.

But for a team that’s had so many new coaches over the past three seasons – the overall trust factor is something that can’t be taken for granted.

This will be WKU’s fourth different defensive coordinator in four seasons, and the introduction of Azzanni as the team’s offensive coordinator will mark the third different OC in four seasons (Taggart served as the team’s OC last season, and will continue to call the plays and run the offense – despite Azzanni tag).

Change can be good – but not always.

WKU appears to have hired some pretty good coaches to fill the voids left this offseason – but the state of WKU football leaves the Hilltoppers with literally no time to waste this spring. There can’t be a feeling out period – as a team that’s gone 2-22 in two seasons needs every second of organized practice that it can get.

1. As the quarterback turns

– I couldn’t wrap this thing up without talking a little quarterback position battle, could I?

Taggart said that junior Kawaun Jakes will enter the spring as the starter, but redshirt freshman Brandon Doughty will basically get a half-share of the snaps – and will have every opportunity to push Jakes for the job.

WKU only has two quarterbacks this spring – as Matt Pelesasa is no longer with the program.

So it’ll be Jakes and Doughty – over and over and over again.

Jakes improved in plenty of aspects last season, and Taggart said he was pleased with how he was able to manage the offense.

But entering year two, Taggart says his quarterback has to be more than a game manager – it has to be a weapon.

Doughty can really pitch it – and if you don’t believe me, the first day of spring practice is open to the public, so come out and see for yourself.

But Jakes has plenty of experience – he’s been starting games since the early part of his freshman season.

Doughty will get every opportunity to take the job – but Jakes will be tough to unseat at this point.

So for the fifth straight season – we’ll be bothering a WKU football coach from now until September about who gets the nod as QB1.

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4 responses

19 03 2011
Topper10

Great Job Nick!! Looking foward towards football. I agree the key on this team will be QB. I also feel the QB needs to be more of a leader. I am hopping Coach T gives Doughty a chance to mature into the spot. I feel once he lands the spot he will be your starter for good for 4 years. I have seen this kid play and he is a weapon with his arm. It is all about the speed of the game and for him to keep learning the offense. The kid can throw it and he has incrediable vision. I am hopping coach Taggart is not stuck on Jakes. If we can get a QB that can open it up, it will only make Rainey better. Go Topps..

19 03 2011
bob

nick-what time is the open practice monday?

19 03 2011
Nick Baumgardner

Bob,

The entire Monday session is open to all.

Practice runs from 3:50-6:15 p.m.

See you out there,

Nick

21 03 2011
WKUFLORIDIAN

Hoping to see Coach Taggart and the New and Improved WKU Football Team at the opening of the new football stadium at FAU this fall. GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO HILLTOPPERS!!!!!

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