Western preps for spring game

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There will be plenty of things to look for during Saturday’s Bruce Craddock Memorial Spring Game at 2 p.m. at Hanson Field.

The spring game, which Western Illinois football head coach Mark Hendrickson called a “controlled scrimmage,” is not exactly a regular football game.

“It is not like an actual football game, although there will be plenty of live-action,” Hendrickson said. “But it will be controlled, such as where the ball is placed, and what’s happening on the field. There will be a full set of Missouri Valley Conference officials here.

“As for the scrimmage itself, we’ll do some pass skeleton (7-on-7) and there will be lots of scrimmage downs with offense vs. defense. We’ll work on the punting game, again controlled with them on the field at certain times, and we’ll work on field goals as well, but there will not be kickoffs or kickoff returns.”

Hendrickson also said to expect plenty of players to get out and showcase their abilities.

“Everyone will get an opportunity to play on Saturday,” Hendrickson said. “There will probably around 60-70 plays. And of course if you are strictly on offense or defense that’s about how many plays you would run in a normal game. Yet those reps will be cut in half because players will be sharing reps with one or two teammates. Each player will take about 30-35 snaps.”

Plenty of position battles will take place on Saturday, particularly the quarterback competition between Josh Hudson and Wil Lunt.

“Both quarterbacks are working hard,” said new offensive coordinator KiJuan Ware. “If I had to name one today, I couldn’t. Both have been efficient and are taking care of the football when they are leading our team down the field.”

Last season, Hudson played in 10 games (starting nine) and completed 119 of 207 passes for 1528 yards, along with 12 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.

Lunt had his season cut short due to an injury suffered on Oct. 29 against Youngstown State. The junior quarterback played in five games (starting one) and completed 19 of 38 passes for 178 yards with one interception.

Coach Ware — who is taking over for former offensive coordinator Doug Ruse — says he looks to simply take what opposing defenses give him this season.

“My philosophy is to be an efficient offense,” Ware said. “If you give us the run, we’ll take advantage of it. If you stop the run, we have to be able to throw the football. We have to be balanced in that sort. And balance doesn’t mean 50-50 run and pass. It means we should take what the defense gives us.”The Leathernecks will be thin at wide receiver heading into Saturday’s scrimmage, as Missouri Valley Conference first-team selection Terriun Crump is graduating. Crump caught 61 passes in 11 games for 944 yards and scored 6 touchdowns, averaging 85.8 yards per game.

“The receivers are young, and we’re losing Crump,” Ware said. “The guys are learning what they need to learn for the spring. Of course this is an ongoing process, we’re only 15 practices in so far, but they are getting better.

“The position is wide open,” he said. “We’re only going to be as strong as our weakest link. I’ll put it this way, the more guys we have ready to play, the deeper we will be.”

Junior receivers Charles Chestnut (23 catches for 296 yards in 2011) and Justin Morgan (14 catches for 202 yards, and 1 touchdown) figure to be in line to open the season as starting wide outs.

One of the surprises of the spring is that former quarterback Cody Reardon has changed positions to wide receiver.

According to Hendrickson, Reardon has made the transition nicely.

“We have moved Cody to the wide receiver position,” Hendrickson said. “This is Cody’s fifth year coming up, and he’s been a quarterback the whole way through. Of course Cody is a physical young man, he’s been a receiver since day one. He’s taking a lot of reps and has done very well. He certainly wants to contribute there in the fall and based on this spring it’s certainly very possible.”

Hendrickson said that Reardon’s experience at quarterback gives him an edge when changing positions.

“It helps a great deal,” Hendrickson said.“Cody certainly knew every receivers assignment on every play. But he didn’t know the actual technique. He didn’t know how to get into that 2-point stance and how to come off the ball, but he picked that up very quickly.”

This spring, Western made a change on defense, replacing defensive coordinator Thomas Casey with Brian Ward.

The Leathernecks will now transition from a 3-3-5 defense to a 4-3 defense. According to Ward, the transition has been surprisingly smooth.

“The 4-3 is coming along well,” Ward said. “We try to make every day a focus on different calls and situations. It’s been a slow and thorough process and the guys are getting the swing of things.“

Ward said that one defensive position in particular will see more competition than others.

“Linebacker. There’s a lot of competition at every position and a lot of competition at corner (back) and at safety,” Ward said. “I feel really good about our depth at those positions.

“On our defensive line we’re pretty thin. It’s going to be bolstered by some really good freshman we recruited. We have some position battles all over the board with the exception of the defensive line. Once we get the depth that we need there then that will be a competitive group as well.”

Junior linebacker Theon Dixon (79 total tackles, 13 for a loss, 2 sacks, 1 interception) and junior cornerback Kieron James (37 total tackles, 2 interceptions) figure to be the defensive leaders for the Leathernecks this season.

While the Leathernecks have landed a pair of flashy new recruits, such as quarterback Hayden Northern and nose tackle Gavin Ricketts, they will not be able to practice until the fall.

“The thing with new recruits is that you’re certainly excited to have them come in, but that’s also a long ways away,” Hendrickson said. “Also, based on their credentials, you’re very excited to see them come in fall practice, but at the same time you want to see them play with your own eyes.”            

Things to watch on Saturday

•If the offense can continue to play turnover free football, as in two previous scrimmages, no turnovers have been committed

•How running backs Nikko Watson and Trenton Heard will fare now that they are the only two running backs currently on the roster (minus incoming recruits).

•How the defense adjusts to the 4-3 scheme, and the schemes that they showcase.

•Reardon’s development at wide receiver, and how he compares to the likes of Chestnut and Morgan.

•How the wide receivers fare against the secondary. Ward thinks that the secondary has been the strongest suit thus far for the defense. “Ability wise without question, we have a lot of talent in our secondary,” Ward said.

•How the offensive line handles the defensive line. Ware wants to be able to run the ball this season, and if he’s going to be able to do that, the offensive line will have to produce.

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