Work begins Monday for Alcorn State football in spring drills

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 30, 2006

LORMAN &8212; Alcorn State begins its quest for the 2006 SWAC title when spring practice begins on Monday.

Head coach Johnny Thomas and his staff will use the three-week spring practice to address specific needs on the football team.

Thomas identified several key areas hurt by graduation &8212; the offensive line and defensive backfield.

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Alcorn led the SWAC in rushing in 2005, thanks to a consistent offensive line that opened holes for running back Jeremy McCoy to rush for 1,130 yards.

Alcorn also allowed less than 20 sacks during the season.

Alcorn lost All-SWAC offensive lineman Jonathan Lowe at right tackle &8212; a three-year starter &8212; and right guard Chris Seymour.

&8220;We have to find two offensive lineman to replace those guys,&8221; Thomas said. &8220;That&8217;s a priority.&8221;

Thomas identified two other priorities for the offense: develop better blocking from the tight ends and find a consistent No. 2 receiver to complement Charlie Spiller.

Tight end Tabari Lott earned All-SWAC honors last season because of his receiving ability, but the 6-foot-5, 230-pounder must improve his blocking to offset the loss of Lowe and Seymour on the offensive line. Back-up Channia Pugh and Lott are considered adequate, but not overpowering, blockers.

Wide receiver Nate Hughes will be limited in what he can do this spring as he rehabs from shoulder surgery.

Hughes suffered the shoulder injury in the 2005 season opener against Southeastern Louisiana. He will not run track this spring while he rehabs and prepares for football.

The offensive coaching staff will take a close look at receivers Emmanuel Arceneaux, Mareese Rose and converted quarterback Oliver Bozeman as the starting receiver to play opposite Spiller. Hughes will be in that mix in the fall.

Quarterback Tony Hobson will also return to practice after suffering a bruised neck in the 2005 season finale against Grambling State. Hobson was taken off the field in an ambulance, but he was treated and released from a Jackson hospital later that night.

&8220;Tony, he&8217;s ready to go,&8221; Thomas said.

Alcorn will also try to develop a capable back-up to push Hobson, as Milton Green and Charles Harrington battle for that job. Chris Walker &8212; the third-stringer in 2005 &8212; won&8217;t participate in spring drills while he plays baseball. Walker is the Braves&8217; starting third baseman.

&8220;We want to be able to find somebody who, if Tony goes down, can come in and we won&8217;t have a big drop-off,&8221; Thomas said.

Alcorn also signed two quarterbacks in February, and both will likely battle for the back-up job when fall practice begins in August.

Defensively, Alcorn must replace three defensive backs, and Thomas noted that the team must improve its safety play this season.

&8220;We have to find some strong safeties and free safeties,&8221; Thomas said.

Alcorn lost All-SWAC cornerback Quentin Sullivan to graduation, as well as safety Brandon Brown and cornerback Ken Bradford.

Brown served as a team captain and finished 2005 as one of the team&8217;s leading tacklers, and Bradford led the team with six interceptions.

Cornerback Taurian Parks, who was lost in the season opener with an ankle injury, is expected to return and anchor the secondary. Parks&8217; availability this spring remains murky, so the battle for playing time is probably wide open. Charleston Brown, a safety, returns as a starter, and Alcorn signed several defensive backs in February.

Thomas said he also wants to find a &8220;bona fide mike linebacker,&8221; although middle linebacker Antonio Cooper returns after leading the team with 89 tackles in 2005.

Starting linebackers Lester Mosley, a Second Team All-SWAC pick in 2005, and Lee Robinson also return, and both could see work at middle linebacker this spring.

Another compelling storyline for spring practice involves the return of defensive end Mark Butler.

Butler returns to action after suffering neck and head injuries during the 2005 preseason. Butler was injured when Hurricane Katrina hit campus, and his injury occurred when a fallen tree hit him on campus. He missed all of the 2005 season after undergoing surgery and spending several days in the hospital.

Butler is expected to practice this spring, but he will not participate in any contact drills. The return of Butler will bolster the depth along the defensive line, which will be anchored by defensive end Martin Jackson.

Alcorn will be able to work on special teams on a limited basis, thanks to an exodus of kickers. Punter Shane Phillips graduated, while place-kickers Jeremy Shea and Jonathan Beard left school.

Thomas, who coordinates Alcorn&8217;s special teams, said the Braves will continue to work on fundamentals and techniques in special teams.

Alcorn will conduct spring practice for three weeks, beginning Monday, March 20 and culminating with the spring scrimmage on Saturday, April 8, at Jacks Spinks Stadium.