Aulbach: Spring practice offers glimpse of new team

Lucas Aulbach

It might not feel like spring out there quite yet, but that didn’t stop the Topper football team from hitting the field at Smith Stadium Tuesday for the first spring practice of the season.

The Toppers will host 13 more practices, all of which will be open to the public, before the annual Spring Game on April 19.

A lot has changed since WKU closed out the 2013 season with a home win over Arkansas State. The Toppers were shut out of a bowl bid, lost coach Bobby Petrino to Louisville, and gave the reins to offensive coordinator Jeff Brohm.

Brohm was the guy most people had pegged as the next coach from the first days of the short Petrino era. On Tuesday, there was no doubt on the field as to who is running this team now — Brohm was front and center in most of WKU’s offensive drills.

He was all business after the practice as well, pointing out where he needs his team to improve over the course of the next several weeks.

“I think offensively we’ve got to continue to develop the quarterback position,” he said. “I think we’ve got to find playmakers on offense, at the receiver position, and get better at that position so we can throw the ball up the field a little bit.

“Defensively we’re going to miss some key guys as well — some big-name guys,” Brohm said. “We’ve got to find guys that are willing and eager learners, that can play fast, that can learn fast, and find some playmakers on that side of the ball.”

It doesn’t take an expert to tell you Brohm is right — the Toppers have some serious holes to fill from last season.

Record-setting running back Antonio Andrews, the best all-purpose weapon in the NCAA the past two seasons, is preparing for the upcoming NFL Draft.

So is big-talking, big-hitting linebacker Andrew Jackson and safety Jonathan Dowling, the captain of WKU’s “Air Force” secondary. Sun Belt Conference Defensive Player of the Year Xavius Boyd and first-teamers linebacker Bar’ee Boyd and guard Luis Polanco are out as well.

Those are big names missing from a team looking to make a successful jump to Conference USA this summer. Luckily, some other key pieces will be back next year, the first season of the Brohm era.

Senior quarterback Brandon Doughty caught flack for turning the ball over last season, but he set season records in passing yards and completion percentage. There’s no reason to think he won’t be an important part of WKU’s success next season.

Leon Allen has big shoes to fill at running back, but he’s shown a lot of talent over the past two seasons. I’m excited to see what he’ll bring as the starter.

Cornerback Cam Thomas, a Sun Belt first-teamer in 2013, will be back to anchor the secondary, and last year’s defensive line — composed of four new starters — should be a better unit a year later.

In the end, though, much of WKU’s success next year will rest on the shoulders of its new coach. On Tuesday, Brohm looked and sounded like he’s ready for the challenge.