Fresh off back-to-back eight-win seasons and a bowl appearance, Middle Tennessee will return to the practice field on Saturday for the start of spring drills. Saturday's practice will begin at 10:45 AM on the Blue Raider practice field.
The Blue Raiders will practice on March 22, 23, 25, 27, and 29, and will hit the field in April on the 1st, 3rd, 5th, 8th, 10th, 12th, 15th, 16th, 17th, and 19th. The Blue-White Spring Game is set for April 19 at 1 PM inside the Dean Hayes Track/Soccer stadium due to new turf being installed at Floyd Stadium.
"Being here during spring break with no one around and sitting in our new offices looking out over the stadium has been phenomenal and very energizing," said Head Coach Rick Stockstill. "Looking down and seeing that field everyday gets you excited to get back out there.
"Last year is last year and we are not going to talk about it. This year's team has not accomplished anything yet and that will be our mindset. We had a productive winter program and they all seem ready to get back on the field."
Middle Tennessee returns 49 lettermen, including five starters on offense and eight starters on defense while the coaching staff remained mostly in-tact. Stockstill only lost defensive line coach Joe Cauthen but replaced him with a very experienced and well-respected Tommy West.
"We kept our coaching staff together for the most part and welcome Tommy West to the family," added Stockstill. "Tommy is a great coach who will add a lot to our program and I am excited to have him on the field. We had several coaches offered other jobs and they chose to stay with us which shows their commitment to Middle Tennessee."
Offensively, the Blue Raiders welcome back 20 lettermen and five starters including running back Jordan Parker, receivers Marcus Henry and Christian Collis, and linemen Darius Johnson and Isaiah Anderson.
Parker and Anderson are among the eight offensive players who will not be going through spring practice while recovering from off-season injuries. Also not participating will be running backs Reggie Whatley, Jeremiah Bryson, and Shane Tucker to go with deep snapper Blaine Sidders and newcomers Tyler Barron (TE) and Maurquice Shakir (OL).
The biggest question mark on offense will be at quarterback where three young players will be vying for the starting job. Redshirt sophomore Austin Grammer, redshirt freshman AJ Erdely, and freshman Brent Stockstill are all in the running to replace three-year starter Logan Kilgore. Grammer has attempted just 46 passes in 10 college games and Erdely and Stockstill have never taken a snap.
Parker leads an explosive group of running backs that also includes game-breaker Reggie Whatley, Jeremiah Bryson and Shane Tucker. All four recorded at least one 100-yard rushing game a year ago and proved either one could start at any time. Redshirt freshman Kamani Thomas will get most of the work in the spring and could figure in the mix.
Up front, the offense returns two starters in Johnson and Anderson and two others with valuable experience. Johnson and Anderson will anchor the tackle spots and expect Josh Chester and Daniel Stephens to man the center and right guard spots. The biggest question in the spring will be finding a starter at left guard and developing depth.
Despite losing 100 career catch receivers Tavarres Jefferson and Kyle Griswould, Stockstill likes the nucleus of pass catchers returning in 2014. Marcus Henry, Christian Collis, and Devin Clarke are the top three receivers who return to the lineup, while Chris Perkins, Terry Pettis, and Demetrius Frazier expect to figure prominently as well. The Blue Raiders are also very high on redshirts Ed Batties, Shannon Smith, and Jevontey Smith.
Defensively, Middle Tennessee returns 25 lettermen and eight starters while four others also saw starting time. Three starters return up front in defensive ends Alexandro Antoine and Jiajuan Fennel, and tackle Pat McNeil but there's a lot of experience with guys like Jimal McBride, Shaquille Huff, Derious Bennett, Max Ugboaja, O'Shae Bridges, and Steven Rhodes.
Two of three starters return at linebacker with T.T. Barber and Christian Henry while Leighton Gasque, Veion Robinson, and Iman Smith add experience. Junior James Roberson will be a favorite to grab the open spot at the SAM position after turning in a career year in 2013. Redshirt sophomore Anfornee Stewart is moving from safety to linebacker and newcomers Cavellis Luckett and Quay Watt also will figure prominently.
In the secondary, the Blue Raiders return three starters including safeties Kevin Byard and Xavier Walker and corner Jared Singletary. Veterans Chris Sharpe and Khari Burke will compete for time at corner, while sophomore Chris Brown and newcomers Trey Wafford and Patrick Martin add depth at safety.
The Blue Raiders continued to show improvement last year on defense as the unit ranked fifth nationally in forced turnovers and 17th in red zone defense, while improving 29 spots in the rankings for total defense from 2012.
Due to offseason surgeries and injuries, the following defensive players will be out for spring drills: DL Chris Hale, DT Pat McNeil, and DL Max Ugboaja.
Spring Practice Schedule
March 22 (10:45 AM)
March 23 (4:00 PM)
March 25 (3:50 PM)
March 27 (3:40 PM)
March 29 (10:20 AM)
April 1 (3:40 PM)
April 3 (3:40 PM)
April 5 (TBA)
April 8 (3:40 PM)
April 10 (3:40 PM)
April 12 (TBA)
April 15 (3:40 PM)
April 16 (3:50 PM)
April 17 (3:50 PM)
April 19: 1:00 PM