Full WKU team comes together for first time in practice

Lucas Aulbach

Three days of individual workouts have left many members of the WKU football team anxious to see some of the newcomers take the field.

They got their first chance to do so on Thursday, the first practice with pads of the season and the first in which the entire team practiced together.

Coach Willie Taggart said a solid first few days of workouts from his freshmen prompted the decision to practice as a team.

“I felt like we got some really good work in early in the week having those individual practices,” Taggart said before practice on Thursday at Smith Stadium. “We got a lot of reps and a lot of our young guys got a lot of reps that they probably wouldn’t get if we had the whole team at the beginning, so I decided today that we’re going to bring our team out together and get them to practice together.

“I’m really excited about it. I have high expectations for this practice.”

Senior tight end Jack Doyle shared the coach’s excitement. He said many of the upperclassmen on the team have been looking forward to lining up with some of the younger players.

“Some of the older guys haven’t seen what some of the freshmen can do, so I’m excited to get going today and keep attacking it one day at a time,” Doyle said.

Thursday’s practice is the fourth in the fall football camp, which extends through August up to WKU’s first game on Sept. 1. The Toppers will begin two-a-day’s next week.

Potential of tight ends intriguing

WKU currently has six tight ends on the roster, and Doyle thinks every one of them could help the Toppers this season.

“All the tight ends, we all bring something to the table and that’s what makes us a great group,” he said. “I feel like as a group, we’re all pretty versatile and can all do a lot of things.”

Tight ends, who usually line up next to the offensive line and are often large enough to serve as effective blockers, has become a much more utilized position in the past several years at WKU.

The benefits of depth and skill at the position has not been lost on Taggart, who said a good tight end can play a huge role in a game.

“Just from a personnel standpoint, it allows you to do so much,” he said. “Usually when you run the football you have tight ends in the game, and defenses prepare for tight ends running the ball, not as much for going out and catching the ball. The more we can use our guys for doing that, the better it is for our offense.”

While the role of a tight end can change from play to play, Doyle said one thing the unit is working on now is to cut down on dropped passes.

“It’s about completion percentage,” Doyle said. “That’s one of our biggest focuses coming into this camp, is not having any drops or anything like that, and I think if we keep focusing on that one day at a time we’ll be all right.”

Jackson ready to anchor defense again

Junior linebacker Andrew Jackson was a force for WKU last season, leading the team in tackles and tackles for loss en route to a first team all-conference selection.

He doesn’t see any reason why he and the Toppers can’t be just as good this year.

“We’re going to pick up from where we left off last year,” he said.

Jackson figures to play a big role in the defense again this season, but he won’t come from nowhere this time. As a catalyst for the defense last year, he and Taggart both say they are ready for opposing offenses to avoid running plays by the linebacker.

Taggart said it’s important for Jackson to inspire his teammates to step up for him on defense when he can’t make the play.

“Drew and I have talked a lot about that and how he’s got to hold his other teammates accountable to step their game up and help him out, because he’s not going to sneak up on anyone,” Taggart said.

Part of becoming a leader for the team is stepping up in the weight room, where Taggart said Jackson has impressed him the most this offseason. On Thursday, the coach talked about seeing Jackson running on the treadmill in the weight room before anyone had shown up to practice early Wednesday morning.

“Character is what you do when no one’s looking,” he said. “No one was in there, no one made him do it, he was in there getting extra work early in the morning before practicing. That’s big time.”

Jackson hasn’t been able to totally avoid the spotlight this summer, though. He was named to the preseason first-team all-conference team in several college football publications and was listed as a candidate for the Bronco Nagurski Trophy, which recognizes the top defensive player in college football every year.

Despite that, Jackson said his biggest goal is the one he shares with his teammates.

“We’ve got everybody back, we know what we’re doing now, so it should be a good year,” he said. “That’s the goal we’ve set, is to be a Top 10 defense in every category.

“I’m just ready to go out there and play, and (big numbers) will follow.”