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TU Football Ready For First Practice

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The Tulsa football team will open spring drills on Tuesday at H.A. Chapman Stadium. It will be the first of 15 spring workouts covering five weeks, and the first of three this week before taking next week off for Spring Break.

Tulsa practices on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of this week with practice sessions beginning at 3:30 pm. Practices are open to the public, but TU fans are required to enter and sign-in for each practice session at the check-in station on the west side of the stadium.

Tulsa, still an extremely young team, returns 15 starters, including 10 on defense and five on offense, while a total of 12 more players also saw starting time in the 2013 season.

“The emphasis this spring from a coaching staff standpoint is identification and development of our young players,” said Tulsa Head Coach Bill Blankenship. “We have some veterans back and have some guys injured, none of that can really matter. What we need to do is develop the players we have. Were going to emphasize this as a teaching spring and a physical spring.”

Whereas in the past few years, we’ve compressed spring drills down to about a four week window, we’re stretching spring drills out a little past five weeks this year,” added Blankenship. “We’re going to go a little slower so we have more teaching time and a little more time for recovery. We’ve have got to become a more physical football team.”

Six Tulsa players will be relegated to no contact during spring drills, two players to non-participation and another two players may be able to return be the end of spring drills. Those players limited to non-contact work this spring include WR Josh Atkinson, OT Blake Belcher, WR Keyarris Garrett, RB Zack Langer, DB Bradley White and CB Darrell Williams, while LB Trent Martin and TE Garrett McGrady wiss miss spring drills entirely. CB Dwight Dobbins and WR Connor Floyd will be limited early, but may be able to return by the end of spring drills.

The Tulsa offense is where most eyes will be focused during the spring as the Hurricane tries to decide on a quarterback.

“On offense, in some positions we have no established returner,” said Blankenship. “In the case of quarterbacks, we have Dane who has played more than anyone else. Joe has played a little bit. The reality is that we all know we did not have a successful season offensively, so Dane is really in the same shoes as all the other quarterbacks. He just has a head start because he’s taken a few more snaps.”

“One of the real keys for us is to get the quarterbacks adapted to the changes we’re going to make offensively, that they really get consistent and we improve them in their fundamentals which will translate into on the field improvement at the quarterback position,” added Blankenship.

“Dane and Joe will get a lot of snaps early, but make no mistake we’re going to give a lot of looks to our young guys – Jabe Burgess, Ryan Rubley. We’re not locked in. We’re going to find the guy that gives us the opportunity to move the football and to win football games,” said Blankenship. “I am pleased, Dane and Joe, have both had exceptional winter conditioning programs to get to this point and have shown a lot of leadership on the field.”

Tulsa coaches will also be looking for a replacement at running back to fill the void by the graduated Trey Watts and Ja’Terian Douglas.

“The running back position is interesting,” said Blankenship. “The returning players we know about – Zack Langer will not have contact coming off of shoulder injury, and James Flanders is the leading returner. We’re excited to have TD (Tavarreon Dickerson). He’s looked really good in our winter conditioning program. He has tested out very well, ran good times and is very strong. We’re anxious to see him carry the ball.”

“A couple of other guys that we’ve taken notice of are walk-ons Rowdy Simon has had a really good fall and now winter. I really like Mandel Dixon, who’s more of a fullback/H-back type of guy. He’s been impressive physically,” said Blankenship.

With Keyarris Garrett and Josh Atkinson at receiver and Tyler Wilson and Garrett McGrady at tight end sidelined for spring drills, both positions will be thin during spring drills.

“The receiving corps is the thinnest of all of our units on offense. Keyarris (Garrett) and Josh (Atkinson) will get to go through non-contact drills, but are not cleared for any contact. Those two would give us a lot more depth this spring, but what it does is allows us to develop some other players,” said Blankenship.

“I’m really excited about what we’ve seen from Keevan Lucas. What we saw last fall on the field was good, but what we’ve seen now through the winter has gone to another level,” said Blankenship

“We need good springs from Derek Patterson, Conner Floyd and Zach Epps. Those are the guys that it’s time to shine. It’s time for them to really develop and prove that they belong,” said Blankenship. “When you take those three, in my view, if we can get them to be as productive as I believe they will be and you add to the guys we already know – Keevan, Keyarris and Josh – then all of a sudden we’re in a much better place.”

Nigel Carter, a true freshman, will be cleared to play in spring drills, as coaches are anxious to see how quick he can get up to game speed.

At tight end, will be able to get freshman red-shirt Kolton Shindelar and a bunch of our other young guys a lot of work at tight end.

The offensive line, although losing three starters, appears to be in a solid position with good depth. “The difference in the offensive line is, yes, we’re replacing some key players, but it is an area that we’ve grown the most depth. We’re going into spring with 14 offensive linemen, and of those 12 are scholarship players,” said Blankenship.

A Tulsa defense that returns 10 starters and six part-time starters will be young but experienced. Among Tulsa’s returning defensive starters, there are four seniors, three juniors and three sophomores.

“On defense, we’re young but we’re returning guys that have played a lot,” said Blankenship. “Virtually, the entire defensive line is back. We lose Shawn at linebacker, so there’s a lot of work at linebacker for us.”

“We like the depth we see in the secondary and upfront. This should be a really big spring for us defensively, taking a decent young team to learning how to become a more complete defense,” said Blankenship.

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