Football notebook: Spring practice comes to a close

Elliott Pratt

Spring practice wrapped up Thursday night at Smith Stadium as the team put together final preparations for the Red and White game on Saturday.

The teams are set, with the Red Team representing the projected starters on offense and defense and the White Team compiled of the second and third stringers.

Coach Bobby Petrino wouldn’t compare his first spring season at WKU with any of his former teams, and said this Hilltopper unit is still searching for its identity.

“I think you have a different team every year and we’re still trying to find what is our identity,” Petrino said. “I think we found out some of those things as far as our strengths and weaknesses go, but we still have to find out our identity and what we’re really good at and who’s going be our leaders and who’s going to do things right when it’s tough and when it’s hard.”

No surprises spurred when the team took the field Thursday night in their respective sides for Saturday spring game.  The red team features many of the big contributors from 2012 season.

Starting lineups for Saturday revealed

Junior Brandon Doughty will lead the first-team offense at quarterback for the spring game with senior running back Antonio Andrews lining the backfield. The receiving core will be made of the sophomore tight end tandem of Tyler Higbee and Mitchell Henry, and junior receivers Willie McNeal and Boe Brand, along with senior Jamarielle Brown.

The defense feature veteran notables such as senior linebackers Andrew Jackson and Xavius Boyd with secondary members in junior Jonathan Dowling and senior Cam Thomas.

Petrino will stay on the field to work with the quarterbacks, but the rest of the coaches will remain on the sidelines. The coach said that while he’ll be watching all positions, he is specifically aiming for the passing game to be on point Saturday.

“I would like to see the offense and the Red offense execute the passing game and be more precise — be right on time,” Petrino said. “Sometimes we get completions, but it’s not really want you want, because the ball’s late or the receiver’s too deep. What we’re looking for is the precision of the passing game.”

Petrino looks for secondary to step up

The Hilltopper secondary has had “one-up” on the receivers according to Petrino.

Dowling and the rest of the defense have a goal for the spring game that they plan to carry over into the fall.

“Neither team should have over 100 yards passing, period,” Dowling said. “That’s how I feel. We have a lot more experience together than those guys (wide receivers). A lot of us, we’ve played together for the last two years…we kind of gelled together and we know what we want from each other.”

Thomas goes further with Dowling’s statement, saying the defense’s improvement could put them at the top of the conference.

“I feel like we are the best defense in the Sun Belt, it’s just that we have to come out and show it,” Thomas said. “Last year we had some ups and downs, but I feel like this spring is the time that we gel together and now we’re talking to each other more and we know what each other are doing.”

However, Thomas doesn’t hesitate to give credit to his teammates on the other side of scrimmage, saying that receivers coach Lamar Thomas will have the wide-outs ready to give the secondary all they can handle.

 “Coach (Petrino) said we’ve had the upper hand on the guys throughout the spring, but I feel like they come in and meet the challenge,” Thomas said. “We always strive to work hard as a secondary, but I feel like they do the same.

“Coach Lamar Thomas is getting those guys right and you see that in one-on-ones and skilling and things like that. They’re working on different techniques, learning how we’re playing them and just coming out and trying to perfect their craft.”

Toppers look back on spring

Spring football is only a glimpse of what will show on the field in the fall. At this point, Petrino said he is rather pleased with his team’s eagerness to his approach for what he expects of them in the coming months leading up to the season.

“What I really like is we have a group of players that have good attitudes that are willing to work hard,” Petrino said. “At some points we need to be more coachable, but for the most part they’ve really listened and tried to do it and I’m excited.

“I’m excited to go through the summer, get bigger, get faster and then come back here in the fall and refine everything that we’ve put in.

With the 2013 spring schedule coming as a new style to everyone on the team, it took many players some getting used to once they hit the field for the first time since last year.

Dowling said the team embraced the challenge, believing that doing so could result in great things for the fall.

“I think as a whole, I really like how everybody took the coaching,” Dowling said. ”Like Coach “P” said, I like the role that everybody’s taken and not talking back and really trying to come together and have a great season together.”