Sparks concludes opening week of spring practice looking for depth at o-line, quarterback

Sparks concludes opening week of spring practice looking for depth at o-line, quarterback

JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – After the first seven sessions of spring practice, 34th-year Carson-Newman head football coach Ken Sparks indicated that he saw a need for some more bodies along the offensive line and at quarterback. 

"We've got to create depth at offensive line," Sparks said. "We need people to step it up to get it done.  We've got some guys that have played, but we need to develop that quality depth.

The Eagles return four starters on the offensive line – Alex Taylor, Robby Ignagni, Lucas Mathis and Sherrod Mitchell – but lose consensus All-American and Jacobs Blocking Trophy award winner Kevin Day at center. 

Sparks said the issue isn't necessarily filling Day's shoes, but having enough able bodies behind a solid corps of blockers in the event one of them were to get hurt.  Carson-Newman started the same five on the offensive line for every game last season except the opener against Glenville State.

Still, for Sparks, there are those who are trying to make waves on the depth chart. 

"Tyler Scott had a really good scrimmage (Saturday) and has stepped it up big time," Sparks said. "I'm excited to see him make a play for a starting position."

Meanwhile midyear transfer Derek Evans, an Alcoa product by way of Appalachian State, continues to push to be the man to step into Day's shoes. 

"He has to think a lot with all the calls in the no huddle at the line of scrimmage," Sparks said.  "That's been a challenge for him.  But I think he's a winner and I'm seeing improvement in him day-to-day."

At quarterback the Eagles must find someone to replace SAC co-Offensive Player of the Year Brandon HaywoodDe'Andre Thomas and David Freeman lead the pack with Toby Slagle and Goose Manning following shortly behind.  Sparks said he sees a little bit of pep in each player, but whoever is the "man," Sparks said he wants to rely on that person to throw the ball more in 2013.

"We're not getting enough completions," Sparks said. "We've got two great gets in Toby and Goose.  Toby's hurt and has missed the last three or four days while Goose is just a great competitor."

The Eagles ran the ball 86 percent of the time in 2012.

Regardless of position, Sparks said he's enjoyed watching his squad get after on the turf of Burke-Tarr Stadium

"I like the way they are giving us a good days work every practice and I like the way they're encourage each other with good competition," Sparks said. "I'm thrilled with that part because that's your foundation and what you build on.  We've got to develop some heart and leadership so it can be a real thing instead of us just talking about it."

Sparks said that should start with a spiritual maturity.

"Maturity always starts with the heart," Sparks said. "The only way you can get the right kind of heart is for it to be turned loose to the Lord. A heart in the Master's hands is pretty amazing."

Carson-Newman concludes spring practice March 12 with its spring game.

Random notes

• Midyear transfer David Way is starting to make an impression on the defensive line, primarily because of how he treats the game. "David Way has really inspired us all," Sparks said. "Just because of his effort.  He's one of those guys that understands the difference between hurt and injury.  He's been hurt since the start of spring practice, but it doesn't affect how hard he plays. He keeps telling me, 'it ain't broke, it ain't broke.' And then he keeps chasing down people from everywhere."

• Saturday at the tail end of Carson-Newman's first scrimmage, Sparks made a challenge to his offense and defense.  He placed the ball at the 25-yard line going in with the stipulation that if the offense scores a touchdown the defense does 25 pushups, if the defense keeps points off the board the offense does pushups and if the offense hits a field goal the coaching staff does 25 pushups.  The offense scored on its first play, but because the defense had performed so well throughout the two-hour scrimmage, Sparks elected to do the pushups for everyone. So the coach hit the turf and pounded out not 25 pushups as he had stipulated earlier, but 50.  The entire team and coaching staff joined him for those 50 pushups voluntarily. 


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