|To say that the MTSU football team wants to put 2011 behind them is an understatement.
Last season’s 2-11 mark was the worse record during the Rick Stockstill era.
But 2012 is a new year.
The Blue Raiders began spring football practice this week in hopes of returning to the glory that has sent them to three bowl games.
The Blue Raiders have not won a game since a 38-14 victory at Florida Atlantic on Oct. 22, 2011. Heading into this season MTSU is currently on a six-game losing streak.
According to the team’s spring preview, Stockstill said he wants his team to become tougher both in the mind and on the field.
“I do not know if you can put your finger on one particular area, but we have to become a more mentally and physically tougher team,” Stockstill said. “It all starts in the weight room, and our players have done a nice job of embracing that so far. I think we have to improve fundamentally, which is why this spring is so critical. We also have to play smarter from an assignment standpoint because we missed a lot of assignments last year. Some were due to inexperience, but a lot of our missed assignments were due to not playing smart. But the biggest area where we need to improve is toughness, and I like the direction we are headed.”
After last season, Stockstill, who will entering his seventh season at the helm of the Blue Raiders, knew he needed changes to the coaching staff in order to see improvement on the field.
A couple of those key additions include new offensive and defensive coordinators. Buster Faulkner begins his first full season as the offensive coordinator.
On defense, Steve Ellis will share coordinator duties with Tyrone Nix. Nix has spent the past few seasons coaching in the SEC.
Additional changes include Matt Moore and former Blue Raider player Glen Elarbee, who will be taking over the offensive line.
As for the players, both the offense and defense will have six of last season’s starters coming back, while five on each side of ball have moved on.
On offense, Faulkner will have both returning quarterbacks coming back, senior Jeff Murphy and junior Logan Kilgore.
However, the offense has to replace several key members from last season’s team, including wide receivers Malcolm Beyah, Sancho McDonald and four offensive lineman, Brandon McLeroy, Colin Boss, Preston Bailey and Mike Williams, who made a combined 162 career starts.
Even with the new faces on the offense, Stockstill said he wants to run the same plays as usual, just with a few changes.
“There will be some changes but not (many are) necessary because Buster is the coordinator,” he said. “I think you always have to evaluate, and you have to look at your strengths and weaknesses and try to improve. We will experiment with a lot this spring and see what our players can handle.
He said as a whole, the offense will not change drastically because he still wants “to be no-huddle, up-tempo, and predominantly a shotgun team.”
“However, I want to do some things differently that will allow us to take advantage of the personnel will have,” he continued.
While on defense, Ellis and Nix have only one returning starting linebacker, Roderic Blunt. But the heart of the defensive line, Kendall Dangerfield, Jiajuan Fennell, Omar McLendon and Jimmy Staten, also comes back to campus.
The Blue Raiders will also have to replace three studs in the secondary, Arness Ikner, Derrick Crumpton and Eric Russell, while Kenneth Gilstrap and Sammy Seamster will return.
The Blue-White Spring game is Saturday, April 14, and the 2012 season opener is Saturday, Sept. 1, against McNeese State at Floyd Stadium.