March 21, 2013
Cullowhee, N.C. - Under perfectly clear skies and the temperature progressively dropping throughout the evening, Western Carolina held its fifth spring practice Thursday on the turf at E.J. Whitmire Stadium / Bob Waters Field - the final session before WCU's Spring Break. The two-hour practice session concluded under the lights amidst winter-like temperatures.
"We've enjoyed a spirited first five days of spring practice, but need to take full advantage of our next 10 days of practice after Spring Break and finish strong," said Speir. "Our coaches and I have been proud of the effort our players have been giving each time out on the field and in our meeting rooms. There is a lot of competition across our field at many positions which is making us better."
He added, "We are continuing to challenge both our offensive and defensive units to do the little things that champions do."
The Catamounts worked through 17 periods including four, offense-vs.-defense scrimmage scenarios, concluding practice with three competitive fourth down and one drill. Earning a stop on the first and third opportunities, the defense won the final competitive drill before Spring Break.
"I told the guys, we will run between the tackles when the defense knows what's coming and is bringing heat," said Speir of the practice-ending drill. "We will focus this spring and again in the fall on third-and-short situations."
Thursday's period No. 7 was the first full offense versus defense drill, working from a first-and-10 scenario with the chains moving with first downs. In the first series, quarterback Eddie Sullivan helped guide the offense to one first down, coming on a 13-yard rush by Darius Ramsey before the drive stalled with a defensive stop.
The second drive was led by Troy Mitchell and opened with a 14-yard pass completion to Ramsey out of the backfield. The chains were again moved on a 13-yard rush by Shaun Warren with a third new set of downs gained on a scramble by Mitchell after he could not find a receiver open thanks to solid downfield coverage by the secondary. The offense's drive stalled, though, after consecutive tackles for loss by defensive end John McBeth and Jaleel Lorquet on a corner blitz.
Drive No. 3 with Sullivan taking snaps saw the QB connect on a pair of completions to Karnorris Benson to move the sticks, then finding Warren out of the backfield for another first down. Damian Whitaker delivered a big hit on Warren's reception before the rising junior cranked out a 15-yard run to conclude the timed scrimmage session.
The 10th period on Thursday was also a competitive, O-vs.-D, situation in third down and short situations which were split nearly completely down the middle, 5-to-5. The defense did close the drill with a forced and recovered fumble.
Period No. 15 again saw the team come back together for a unit scrimmage working through third and mid-range (seven-yards plus) with the defense stepping up. Sullivan was sacked by linebacker Courtland Carson with pressure up the middle applied by returning defensive tackle, Andre Shishkin. Defensive back Sertonuse Harris nearly came up with an interception with Lorquet breaking up a long pass in the end zone and lineman Andre Whitmire stopped Mitchell short of the line-to-gain.
WCU's offense did find some luck as Mitchell found Benson for a couple of chain-moving gains and Sullivan scrambled for a first down.
Western Carolina will now adjourn for the University's Spring Break, returning to campus for a team meeting on Sunday, March 31. The team is scheduled to have a conditioning session on April 1 before conducting its sixth practice session in full pads on Wednesday, April 3. All told, the Catamounts have 10 practice dates remaining this spring, culminating with the Spring Game event on Saturday, April 20 with a 1:00 pm start.
Spring Practice (March 21) Player Notes:
- Several players have returned to the field following injuries that sidelined them a season ago including offensive linemen Vince Williams (shoulder) and Jake Thornton (wrist), who was not eligible to play last season due to transfer rules; defensive lineman Andre Shishkin (elbow); and quarterback Jawan Simmons (leg);
- There are a few Catamounts that are back from injury but are not yet fully cleared for full practice including wide receiver Tyler Klipa (knee), defensive back Terrence Green (knee) and lineman Dylan Davis (shoulder);
- Including the three that are yet to gain doctor clearance, seven players missed most if not all of Thursday's practice including linebacker Marcus Stokes (knee), wide receivers Garrett Brown (hamstring) and Jamil James (hamstring); and running back C.J. Goodman (head);
- Four quarterbacks continued to split reps with Eddie Sullivan and Troy Mitchell wearing the gold jerseys while Jawan Simmons and Jonah Duggan wearing the offense's purple signaling that they are live ... Sullivan and Mitchell combined for the scrimmage reps;
- With the onset of spring drills, several Catamounts are taking reps in a new position ... David Giron has moved from wide receiver to running back; Michael Helms has moved to tight end; Quevalas Murray is taking reps at left tackle with Jake Thornton and Tyler Philpott working at center on the offensive line; Helva Matungulu continues to work with the defensive line.