The MTSU football team opened up the 2014 season with the first practice of the spring on March 22.
MTSU will conclude spring drills on April 19 with the annual Spring Game at 1 p.m. The Blue Raiders have 13 starters back from a 2013 team which finished 8-4 and appeared in the Armed Forces Bowl.
“It feels so good to get back on the field with my brothers and teammates,” MTSU junior safety Kevin Byard said. “We just feel good being out here and playing ball.”
Sophomore quarterback Austin Grammer added: “I think everyone is pumped up. It is a new chapter because we had some guys move on. We got some new things on offense, and this was the first day we got to run them.”
Speaking of the quarterbacks, it is the biggest question heading into spring practice as to who will be replacing Logan Kilgore under center. Currently, MTSU coach Rick Stockstill is looking at a trio of candidates in Grammer, freshmen A.J. Erdely and former Siegel star and his son, Brent, at the position.
However, he is far from naming a starter, and all three of will get an equal opportunity to impress the coaching staff during the next few months before the opener on Aug. 30 against Savannah State.
“I am not in a hurry to name one,” Stockstill said. “None of them have really played. It is not fair to name a quarterback after 15 days. I will go through the summer and August, and I will name a guy the Friday night before our first game. It will all work itself out. We just want a guy who will protect the football, and can run this offense. I am not looking for hero plays and all that stuff. I want a dependable guy that will protect the ball and move the sticks.”
The rest of the offense has five starters returning to the fold for 2014, including offensive linemen Isaiah Anderson, Darius Johnson, running back Jordan Parker and wide receivers Christian Collis and Marcus Henry.
In the meantime, several other players who have starting experience on the offense, including offensive lineman Josh Chester, running backs Jeremiah Bryson, Shane Tucker and Reggie Whatley.
“We are all hungry and we want to go undefeated and go to a bowl game,” Johnson said. “Everybody has that look in their eye. I can not wait to get back on the field."
However, eight players on offense will miss the spring because of an injury. Those include Parker, Anderson, Whatley, Bryson and Tucker.
Meanwhile, the defense brings back eight starters from last season, which was known for forcing turnovers and holding teams down in the red zone. The Blue Raiders were ranked fifth in forced turnovers and 17th in the nation in red zone defense during 2013. They are hoping for the same success next season.
“Our expectations are to get better every single day,” Byard said. “Defense is an emphasis we want to put on this spring, especially third-down conversions. We want to test the offense every single day, and we want them to get better as well.
Junior linebacker T.T. Barber added: “It is a great advantage. It is nothing like having experience back.”
Barber and Byard are just two of the returnees back on defense. Others including linebacker Christian Henry, defensive linemen Alexandro Antoine, Jiajuan Fennell, Pat McNeil. In the secondary Jared Singletary and Xavier Walker also return.
Other defenders who have starting experience and could see an increased role this season include linebacker Leighton Gasque, linemen Shaquille Huff, Jimal McBride and cornerback Khari Burke.
“We looked very fast and there are a lot of new people,” Barber said. “We also have a lot of experience coming back, and we've got to piece the puzzle together.”
Besides the returning players coming back, Stockstill welcomes several fresh faces either on the JUCO level or incoming freshmen. In the meantime, he mentioned it is too early to start finding roles for those players. However, he is excited to see what they can do on the field.
“I am anxious to watch these quarterbacks and how they work and develop,” Stockstill said. “The guys we red shirted last season will get significant work. We've got so many guys out with injuries, so those guys will be getting a lot of work.”
The 2014 Blue-White Spring Game will be held on April 19 at 1 p.m. at the Dean A. Hayes Track and Soccer Stadium since new turf will be installed at Floyd Stadium during that time.