Open starting jobs make for more competition in practice

Lucas Aulbach

Coach Bobby Petrino and his staff have made it clear to the team — every WKU starting job is open for anyone to earn.

That added pressure has made players step up in practice to defend their spot on the depth chart, according to junior tight end Mitchell Henry.

The stronger performances in practice have led to a harder-hitting team on game day, he said.

“Practice has definitely been a lot more up-tempo — a lot faster, a lot more effort, a lot more guys flying around and that’s translating to the game,” Henry said Tuesday. “Going out there to the game, you see a lot more people flying around and just having fun.”

The changes started when the Toppers traveled to South Alabama for the third game of the season. Following up on a 52-20 loss to Tennessee that featured seven turnovers, the coaching staff made a few adjustments to the starting lineup heading into the third game of season — seven new players were inserted into the lineup before the Toppers kicked off.

More changes came last week against Morgan State. Two players, senior linebacker Chuck Franks and senior safety Arius Wright, started for the first time this year on defense while two new offensive linemen, freshman Forrest Lamp and junior Cam Clemmons, joined the lineup as well.

“We don’t have an extreme amount of depth right now,” offensive coordinator Jeff Brohm said about the offensive line. “We’re trying to develop depth. There were a few different guys playing in there in different spots and I think that’s gonna help us in the long run, but we’ve got to continue to get those guys better eery day.”

No one is safe — the coaching staff pulled senior linebacker Andrew Jackson, widely considered one of the top linebackers in the country, off the bench against South Alabama and benched incumbent starting quarterback junior Brandon Doughty for the first half when WKU played Morgan State.

Brohm said the changes to the lineup could continue until WKU can properly assess its depth and assemble the best group of starters on the team.

“This is a competitive conference,” he said Tuesday. “There’s certain positions that we’re not dominant at right now, and we’ve got to make sure we’re developing all the guys at all their spots and developing the depth at the position and using those guys to help each other get better. They’re working extremely hard right now.”

Opening up the starting lineup should inspire guys to step up in practice and improve as the start of WKU’s Sun Belt Conference schedule approaches.

“We’re trying to do everything we can to get better, to push our guys to work hard, to battle, to have great effort, to find ways to win and realize how close the game is normally going to be, in the end, between winning and losing,” he said. “We’ve got to just continue to fight, continue to battle. Our guys, I think, have a good attitude and I think they’re willing to do whatever it takes.”