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April 12, 2013

Previewing Tech's T-Day Spring Game

The Louisiana Tech Bulldog will participate in their annual T-Day Spring Game on Saturday to conclude spring practice. Although nothing will be solidified until the fall, there are numerous players, position battles and storylines that Bulldog fans should keep their eyes on.

Reflecting on 2012

Tech lost 32 seniors from the 2012 squad, many of which were contributors on one side of the ball or the other. New head coach Skip Holtz has begun the process of replacing those players this spring and the T-Day Spring Game will give fans an opportunity to gauge how far these newcomers have progressed.

The Bulldogs featured the nation's number one scoring offense last year at over 51 points per game but were plagued by a defense that struggled much of the season. In 2013, they look to shore up their defensive secondary and linebacker positions. The Bulldogs return most of the starters from a defensive line that is sure to be the strength of their defense in 2013 behind senior defensive tackle Justin Ellis and IK Enemkpali.

[Related: Five players to watch Saturday]

It starts up front

Saturday's game will help give the coaches and fans an idea of who they can count on to emerge in 2013 especially on the offensive side of the ball where Tech will have an almost completely new offensive line. The Bulldogs graduated 4 of their 5 starting offensive linemen from last season including NFL combine participants Jordan Mills and Oscar Johnson. In Holtz' most recent depth chart, Mills has been replaced at right tackle by Jeremy Graffree and Oscar Johnson has been replaced at left tackle by Mitchell Bell or Jens Danielson. The coaching staff has had a difficult time finding someone to replace 2012 ALL-WAC First Team center Stephen Warner this spring but, going into the spring game, Alec Davis will try to claim that role. Fans should keep in mind that 2012 right guard and versatile offensive lineman Matthew Shepperd will be returning from injury this fall and could play center for the Bulldogs.

If the 2013 version of the Bulldogs offensive line can find some continuity, then they should have a powerful rushing attack, led by Kenneth Dixon, and will afford a first year starter, whether it is Scotty Young or Ryan Higgins time in the pocket to find his receivers.

[Related: Five story lines to watch Saturday]

Quinton Patton was one of the best receivers in the country last year and the Bulldogs will be hard-pressed to replace the production of the future NFL draft pick but the Bulldogs do have options at the wide receiver position. Senior D.J. Banks will be lining up on the outside opposite of, fellow West Monroe native and LSU transfer, Paul Turner on Saturday. Both Banks and Turner have looked impressive this spring; Turner showed that he could provide a deep threat to the Bulldog offense in the first spring scrimmage when he hauled in a 51-yard touchdown heave from quarterback Higgins. The athletes at the wide receiver position will certainly be players to keep your eyes on this Saturday.

Scotty Young or Ryan Higgins?

Tech's T-Day Spring Game will highlight two of the young men with the biggest shoes to fill in 2013. The coaching staff has declared 6-2 210-pound Young, the redshirt junior transfer from Texas Tech, as Saturday's no. 1 quarterback but don't believe for a minute that he is guaranteed the starting position come week 1 against N.C. State.

"Everything's still up for grabs," said offensive coordinator Tony Petersen when asked about his two quarterbacks. "There won't be a starting quarterback until we get into the game week of N.C. State."

Coach Holtz is looking to see more consistent play from the quarterback position this weekend; referencing the great Bobby Bowden, Holtz said, "when you have two [quarterbacks] that just means you don't have one great one." This Saturday is a chance for either Young or Higgins to prove that they are "great."

"I want to get a great evaluation for where we are individually," Holtz explained about what he's looking to get out of the Spring Game. "There are still a lot of positions that are being battled for right now."

Defensive battles

Two position battles fans should take notice of are on the defensive line. Kevin Kisseberth and Kendrick James are fighting for the starting left defensive end position while senior Shakeil Lucas and sophomore Vernon Butler fight for the right to start at defensive tackle alongside Justin Ellis. Lucas started on last year's squad and, overall, played pretty well but Butler has had an excellent spring and has shown that he can get off his block and on to the other side of the line of scrimmage with power and quickness.

[Related: Analyzing the Depth Chart]

The middle linebacker position is another toss-up. This will be the first opportunity fans have had to see junior college transfers Mitchell Villemez and Nick Thomason this spring. Villemez seems to be the favorite at the weakside linebacker position while Thomason is listed as the third middle linebacker on the depth chart; however, the starters at the linebacker positions are not set in stone so the starting jobs appear to be up for grabs. It will be interesting to see if redshirt sophomore Beau Fitte, who is a little small at just 210 pounds, can secure a starting position at the middle linebacker position over Mike Schrang and Nick Thomason.

In 2012, the Bulldogs secondary was young and inexperienced but, what it lacked in experience, it made up for in athleticism. This season they have both.

First year cornerbacks coach Ronnie Bradford and defensive coordinator and safties coach Kim Dameron has ignited his group with their fiery dispositions and aggressive coaching styles. All spring the defensive backs have been aggressive; making plays in both the passing game as well as stepping up in run support.

Local fans should have a vested interest in the battle at the strong safety position between, Ruston native, Kentrell Brice and Kendall Hayes; both are listed as "or's" on the depth chart and really need to try to separate themselves from each other this Saturday.

Louisiana Tech will open up its Football Museum and the Ruston Brick Kids Zone for fans heading to Joe Aillet Stadium for the annual T-Day Spring Game on Saturday.

Game festivities

The Tech Football Museum, located inside the Charles Wyly Athletic Center on the south side of the stadium, will open at 10 a.m. for fans wanting to enter. Only the outside entrance will be open and the general public will not have access inside the Field House.

The Ruston Brick Kids Zone will be set up inside the stadium on the southwest hill and will feature a bounce house, ball toss, face painting and balloon animals by Rainbow the Clown. The Kids Zone will open when the stadium gates open at noon.

The T-Day Spring Game will begin at 1 p.m. and will be the last opportunity to see a Louisiana Tech Football practice until fall camp begins on Aug. 4.

A portion of this story came from our News Services.



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