FOOTBALL: Final scrimmage on Friday

Michael Casagrande

Smith Stadium was a busy place Saturday.

With the first track meet in more than two decades beginning at noon, the football team took to the turf at 8:30 a.m. for its first full scrimmage of spring practice.

Doubts loomed over the defense during the drills leading up to the two-hour scrimmage, but they were quieted a little, coach David Elson said.

The defense recovered three fumbles to go with six quarterback sacks to set the pace for the day.

“The energy, on both sides of the ball was good,” Elson said. “Our defense improved, looked fundamentally sound. We still have issues with open field tackling and there are some young guys that need to step up.”

Sophomore linebacker Brandon Smith is someone Elson is looking at to take a leadership role with seniors Erik Dandy, Jeremy Chandler and Antonio Veals no longer eligible.

Smith said he enjoys being a leader on the young, but prideful defense.

“This year’s defense could be as good, if not better than last year’s defense,” he said. “Just because we have so many young guys that are willing to step up and put in the time that it takes to become good.”

In his first spring scrimmage, freshman quarterback Justin Haddix completed 10-of-17 pass attempts for 74 yards, but it was the running attack that led the offense.

Freshman running back C.J. Wooldridge led the way with 128 yards on 19 rushes. Last season’s leading rusher, sophomore Lerron Moore, was just behind with 126 yards on 16 carries.

Offensive coordinator T.J. Weist said he is pleased with the improvements, but not the turnovers.

“Blocking-wise, we have improved, I think our tempo is good,” Weist said. “Obviously, any time you have four fumbles, it kind of ruins any kind of day you are having.”

Freshman placekicker Chris James showed promise for the future by connecting on all six field goal attempts.

There had been signs of improvement in the unit that had been one of the best in the nation in recent years.

In a mini-scrimmage on April 1, the defense was in control most of the way. Freshman linebacker Ricky Watkins had five tackles to lead the team.

Haddix and sophomore wide receiver Earl Clayton provided the offensive highlight of the day on the final play when the two hooked up for a 51-yard touchdown reception.

Less than two weeks remain before spring practice concludes, with the Red-White game on April 17. The final scrimmage before that spring finale will be at 3:30 p.m. Friday. Like all practices, the scrimmages are free and open to the public.

Reach Michael Casagrande at [email protected]