NOTEBOOK: Defense rattles offensive unit during Tuesday’s practice

Zach Greenwell

This story was originally published Aug. 24, 2010.

Head Coach Willie Taggart said Western’s offense looked stellar for the first half of Tuesday’s practice, but you wouldn’t have known that by witnessing the final hour.

The Toppers’ offense turned the ball over six times during the portion of practice attended by the media, most coming on drives with a second-string offense led by true freshman quarterback Brandon Doughty.

“Our No. 1 offense and our No. 1 defense played like I expected them to play,” Taggart said. “Offensively, we moved the ball the way we should have, and defensively, we created a lot of turnovers with the first group.

“Now for the second-group offense, that wasn’t good at all. Too many turnovers, but defensively we keep preaching it and they keep doing that. They had a big day.”

Some of the defense’s turnovers included fumble recoveries by junior college transfer linebacker Tenerio Davis and sophomore defensive back Jamal Forrest, as well as interceptions by Forrest and senior linebacker Orlando Misaalefua.

Misaalefua’s interception, which came at Doughty’s expense, was returned for a touchdown and ended practice. Misaalefua then celebrated with his defensive teammates in the end zone while the offense began its post-practice stretching.

“Brandon made a lot of bad throws — a lot of throws he shouldn’t have made,” Taggart said. “He kind of choreographed (Misaalefua’s interception). He kind of went up and told everybody what he was doing, and the defense saw it and they pointed it out.

“But that’s good for our defense to have some awareness.”

Tuesday was the first open practice for sophomore quarterback Kawaun Jakes as Western’s official starter, and Taggart said he got off to a good start with two early touchdowns.

Junior quarterback Matt Pelesasa, who recently returned to practice after suffering a sore throwing arm, was shut down again today and didn’t take a single rep despite being in pads. Taggart said the same minor arm injury was the culprit, as Pelesasa is not fully ready to making throws again.

“We need to get him healthy and ready to play, because Brandon showed that he’s really not ready,” Taggart said.

Senior wide receiver Quinterrance Cooper said the choosing of Jakes as the starter doesn’t change the receiving corps’ mindset at all, because they were “just trying to make plays” with whichever quarterback was on the field.

“Coach Taggart made his decision, so now we can get a little bit more continuity with Kawaun, so it’s a good thing that he made it earlier than later,” Cooper said. “I’m sure Matt would have stepped in and been fine. But Kawaun — he’s been to war with us, so he’ll be fine.”

Franks goes down

Taggart said Western had its first “big” injury Tuesday when sophomore linebacker Chuck Franks was carried off the field after injuring his knee.

Taggart said he didn’t know how serious Franks’ injury was yet, but he seemed to indicate that Franks might miss quite a bit of time.

Reporters were also informed that sophomore Dexter Haynes has been nursing a dislocated rib that he suffered last week.

Others not practicing Tuesday were running backs Bobby Rainey and Dalton Cissell, defensive backs Tyree Robinson and Derrius Brooks, kicker Casey Tinius and fullback Nick Baisch.

For guys like Rainey and Tinius, who are expected to start at Nebraska on Sept. 4, Taggart said he’d prefer to let them fully heal over risking further injury. But they have to be back on the field  by next week or they wont play in Lincoln, Taggart said.

If you’re not practicing when it comes game week, you’re not playing,” he said. “Hands down, I don’t care who it is. That’s how we’re going to run this program around here. If you don’t practice, you’re not going to play.”

Miller impresses

One of the few players who shined in the final hour of practice was junior running back Braxston Miller.

Miller, who converted to running back from linebacker last season, had his biggest highlight when he slid left of a block on the front line and broke away untouched for a score of about 20 yards.

“One thing about Braxston — you get him out here in a scrimmage situation, and he can usually step up and make some plays,” Taggart said. “If there’s one guy that’s improving a lot, it’s Braxston.”

Miller recorded just eight rushing yards on three attempts last season but was listed as the No. 2 running back on Western’s first fall depth chart.

Junior Avery Hibbitt and redshirt freshman Keyshawn Simpson are also expected to contribute in the backfield.

“It’s just like we said with the quarterback situation,” Taggart said. “We need those guys to be consistent.”