Experience key for Braves

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 24, 2001

Despite coming off a forgettable 0-11 campaign, Alcorn State head coach Johnny Thomas knows his team has at least one key ingredient for a much better year in 2001.

&uot;We will have an experienced ball club,&uot; he said. &uot;We got a lot of people coming back on offense and everybody coming back on defense.&uot;

With 18 starters returning (10 on defense) the Braves will be one of most experienced teams in the SWAC.

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Thomas is hopeful that experience will allow his troops to win the close games that slipped away a year ago.

Of the Braves’ 11 losses in 2000, five (Alabama State, Fort Valley State, Prairie View, Texas Southern and Alabama A&M) were decided by a touchdown or less. Of those five, only Texas Southern is not on the 2001 schedule.

The schedule also features six homes games.

&uot;It is a tough schedule,&uot; Thomas said. &uot;Ultimately you are going to have to compete against teams of this caliber in order to win a championship.&uot;

The defense should certainly be up to the challenge with only strong safety Ken Washington not returning for another year in Lorman.

The defensive front should be one of the team’s strengths with the return of all four starters in ends Marcus Evans and Edwin Norwood, and tackles Nylas Foster and Bryan Williams.

Thomas also expects to have plenty of depth up front.

The linebacking corps also returns intact and includes All-SWAC pick Howard Clark, while three starters return in the secondary.

&uot;We have got to continue to refine what we are doing technically,&uot; Thomas said. &uot;I think that we are getting after people, hitting people and running to the football, but we are still not refined in the technique phase of our defensive scheme. Once we refine that part of it, we can be a good defensive unit.&uot;

The offense has a few more questions surrounding it than does the defense, but it appears at least one key part of the puzzle was found in the spring.

Redshirt freshman Donald Carrie had a big day in the Purple and Gold game on Saturday, and it appears he will be the starter behind center when the Braves open the season on Sept. 1 against Grambling State in Lorman.

&uot;Carrie has risen to the top of the pack at quarterback,&uot; Thomas said. &uot;He’s intelligent, a hard worker and a leader.&uot;

One major plus for the freshman quarterback is the opportunity to work behind an experienced offensive line.

&uot;Our offensive line is the cornerstone of our offense,&uot; Thomas said. &uot;If the young quarterback can get the protection, he can feel good about sitting back there and throwing the ball comfortably. I think that we will be able to do that more with our experienced offensive line.&uot;

The return of most of the receiving corp should also help the development of Carrie, as will a stable of talented runners.