Cullowhee, N.C. – Western Carolina has hit the home stretch of its annual Spring Drills, presented by Wells Fargo, practicing both Friday and Saturday over the weekend ahead of Tuesday afternoon's final practice session. WCU will conclude its spring with a fully-padded practice beginning at 4:15 pm at E.J. Whitmire Stadium / Bob Waters Field.
Saturday's practice included the normal team flex and unit drills ahead of three separate scrimmage periods, one primarily focused on game scenarios such as end of half, red zone, and a third that backed the offense up needing a first down. The team also had live periods of special teams drills including field goal / field goal block and a live punt section.
“I thought both sides played with a lot of effort and a lot of energy. I felt that the offense ran the ball really well and probably threw the football better than we had all spring,” said WCU head coach Mark Speir, reflecting upon last Saturday's scrimmage held on-campus in the morning. “Watching the scrimmage, I felt the quarterbacks are really getting in a comfort zone with some of the subtle changes that we've made in the passing game. There are a lot of different guys getting reps at the receiver position this spring which can throw a quarterback's timing off a little as it relates to routes, against coverages and all, but overall, I think that's coming together.”
“Defensively, I think our guys played really hard, ran to the football and played with a lot of energy. We gave up some stuff in the run game, but when it came time to keep our offense out of the end zone, they bowed up and didn't allow the offense to score a lot,” Speir continued in his overarching assessment of the weekend.
As often is the case with spring football, the true test lies in being able to see overall progress with understanding the restrictions on the roster, be it either position depth, injuries or simply players that have yet to report, i.e., incoming class. Speir commented that both sides have dealt with it in varying degrees, but the defense has endured such limitations, especially up front along the defensive line.
Despite that, though, Speir says as he watches practice unfold – and reviews each session on video to look at individual efforts and performances of players and how it relates to the unit as a whole.
“Sometimes it's hard to tell as an overview of the whole spring when you're not playing with a full roster and at some positions, don't even have a true two-deep. So, I'm looking more at players than units, especially coming off last Saturday's scrimmage,” said Speir. “We're starting to see players develop and come along – sometimes – player development.
Speir mentioned that quarterback Will Jones got multiple reps with the first string last Saturday and had among his best day of spring drills saying he, “looked comfortable in the pocket and threw the ball well.”
Additionally, some of those individuals that have stood out during spring for Speir include freshmen offensive linemen Isaiah Helms and Jacob Combs – both who graduated early and have just been on campus since January. Speir feels they have made a successful transition to college football and are both doing some good things this spring. He also commented on the continued development of sophomore Grady Thomas – the lone returning starter on the offensive line – and the maturation of Matthew Bair.
Staying on offense, Speir said he feels that tailback Connell Young has had a tremendous spring practice season in leading the running backs, while Nate Mullen has been a leader for the young group of wide receivers especially in the absence of players like Daquan Patten, Kenny Benton, Keshaun Abel, and D.J. Thorpe who have each been limited or sidelined this spring. Speir added Clayton Bardall, a freshman tight end who redshirted a season ago, as a player who has made a solid jump during spring drills.
Among some of the defenders in which Speir called by name were defensive lineman Adam Henderson and linebacker Ty Harris who have played well this spring. He also felt that returning DB JerMichael White has gotten better, as has Michael Murphy who Speir said, “had a good year last year – but has continually gotten better.” Speir reiterated that he feels that “our defense has really strained and played hard all spring.”
“When you start looking at players that we're going to be counting on in the fall, I'm seeing a lot of good stuff. As long as we're playing with a lot of energy and those players we're going to count on are making plays and we're seeing them getting better, that's what's exciting to me,” Speir said.
Western Carolina is set to return to the practice field one more time during its 2019 Spring Drills, presented by Wells Fargo. The squad will practice Tuesday afternoon in full pads with Speir indicating that the 15th session would include a short scrimmage before turning the attention to individual positions with an emphasis on what the coaching staff wants the players to do during player-led practices and off-season work to prepare for fall camp.
“We'll have a brief scrimmage early in our final practice on Tuesday; it'll be one more opportunity to see some of these guys that need a couple more series, give a few more live reps for experience for our younger players,” said Speir. “We'll then spend a lot of time on individual position work with a lot of teaching of what we want our players doing between end of spring and start of fall camp. It's one more opportunity for all our new coaches to be out there on that practice field with our team. And then, we'll call it a very productive and successful spring for our players and our coaching staff. Finish-up strong both in the weight room and the classroom and get ready for fall camp in early August.”
Unless otherwise noted, each WCU spring practice is open to the public. It is respectfully requested, though, that spectators observe from the stadium seating area and avoid being either on the field or the sidelines. Fans can keep track of everything related to Catamount football and WCU Athletics through its social media outlets on Facebook (fb.com/catamountsports) and Twitter (@catamounts, @WCU_FB).
2019 Catamount Football Spring Practice
Presented by Wells Fargo
Practice #15 – Tuesday, April 16 – 4:15 pm (full pads)