New U of M head football coach Tommy West will oversee his first Spring Game at 1 p.m Saturday afternoon. The contest, which will pit the Tiger offense against the Memphis defense, if free and open to the public.
Usually the defense dominates the offense, at these affairs, but this year the Tigers will unveil a spread, no-huddle style when they have the ball. The new offense has provided a challenge for the defense all spring. The offense is similar to the one Arkansas State and Tulane used last year. Both teams gave the Memphis defense problems. The Memphis offense is under new coordinator Randy Fichtner, who held a similar position last year at Arkansas State.
Most fans will probably focus on the battle at quarterback, a position featuring three different players who started at one time or other last season along with a promising freshman who was redshirted last year. Travis Anglin, Neil Suber, and Scott Scherer all got opportunities as the starting quarterback in 2000. Danny Wimprine has Tiger fans buzzing, based primarily on his high school career at John Curtis High School in New Orleans. Wimprine missed part of spring drills because of academic problems.
But West faces a number of questions besides who will be his starting quarterback. He has to replace the entire middle of his nationally-ranked defense. Nose guard Marcus Bell and middle linebacker Kamal Shakir were seniors last season and are expected to be drafted later this month by the NFL. Junior free safety Idrees Bashir opted to go early to the pros. Also cornerback Michael Stone is also gone. Stone and Bashir were the fastest players on the defense and will be difficult to replace.
When West was hired he said that rebuilding the offensive line would be his first priority. The Memphis program went through six offensive line coaches in six years under ousted coach Rip Scherer. Rick Mallory is back as coach for a second season and will build a line anchored by senior left tackle Artis Hicks (6-5, 315), senior left guard Josh Eargle (6-2, 292) and junior center Jimond Pugh (6-3, 300). Eargle is coming off a serious knee injury that sidelined him early in the 2000 season. Several players will be looking to nail down the two spots on the right side, including juniors Trey Eyre (6-3 300) and Joey Gerda (6-6, 307, redshirt freshman Travis Triplett (6-5, 328), and converted tight end Wade Smith a 6-4, 250-pound junior.
The spread offense will utilize three or four wide receivers. The team has many wide outs, but except for junior Ryan Johnson, they have not been able to sustain solid play over a number of games. Speedy sophomore Darren Garcia and redshirt freshman Tavarious Davis are the most promising. Senior Bunkie Perkins and junior Trip Higgins are also expected to see a lot of playing time.
Other Tiger players to watch include: senior defensive end Tony Brown (6-3, 274) who needs to be a dominant force in the defensive line; promising sophomore Eric Taylor (6-3, 283), who played last year as a true freshman and redshirt junior Boris Penchion (6-4, 269) will man the tackles; junior defensive end Stanley Jackson (6-6, 235) will back up senior Andre Arnold (6-4, 238); sophomore tackle Albert Means (6-4, 335) a transfer from Alabama is awaiting word from the NCAA about his eligibility for the 2001 season; linebackers Derrick Ballard (6-2, 205) and Robert Douglas (6-3, 215) are promising linebackers, Ballard is a sophomore who occasionally started in 2000 while Douglas is a redshirt freshman who excelled on the scout team last year as a fullback.
One of the major advantages Memphis will have when it opens it season on Labor Day evening at Mississippi State is the surprise factor. The Bulldog coaches will not have any film to watch on the new Tiger offense. So, donÕt expect the Memphis staff to display too many wrinkles with its new offense today. A few razzle-dazzle plays to give the hard-core fans something to remember over the long hot summer, but not too much for Jackie Sherrill to disect.