The football team opened up their first week of spring practice this week, and will have seven practices before they break for Spring Break next week with more to follow after the week-long hiatus.
Head Coach Philip Montgomery talked about his thoughts on the practice last week, “I told the team when we get back for the spring semester, that we’re starting back at ground zero again. If you had a starting role, you have to go out and earn it again. Young guys are going to have to step up and have a chance to compete and be a starter at the end of it. We’ll have a lot of good competition.”
Montgomery continued, “Our number one goal is always to come out healthy. But, we have to build on what we started last year and take steps forward during the spring. This is a new team and a new year.”
The Golden Hurricane lost 20 letterwinners from last year’s team, including nine who were starters, five on offense and four on defense.
“We’ll move guys around and make sure they’re in the right spot, and making sure what we do schematically fits our personnel. Spring is the time when you really get a chance to start evaluating. Our guys have made some dramatic increases over winter training. They’ve done a great job in the weight room and getting in great shape, but now we have to see how that translates to the football field. For us getting to the bowl game last year was a huge jumpstart for us coming into the spring.”
TU is still waiting for three of its biggest contributors this spring though, as Keevan Lucas, Josh Atkinson and Blake Belcher are all still recovering from injuries. Lucas played in four games last season, while Belcher was injured during the first game of the season against Florida Atlantic University.
Montgomery talked about what he wants to accomplish in the spring practices on the offensive side of the ball saying, “Offensively our goal is to do a good job of evaluating our personnel, and make sure our young guys get a lot of reps to help them grow and develop.”
“We have to find the combination of five guys up front on the offensive line. For us it’s always about finding the best five guys, not the best tackle or the best guard, but the best five guys and then making sure we put them in a position to be successful, which helps us be successful as a team.”
The team has 10 players competing this spring for the offensive line, six of whom lettered including starters from last season Chandler Miller (center), Evan Plagg (tackle) and Willie Wright (tackle).
The other two starters on offensive line Garrett Stafford and Chris Wallace are graduating this upcoming May.
Elsewhere on offense, two-year starter Dane Evans will be returning after throwing for 4,322 yards and 25 touchdowns last season, ranking first in the American Athletic Conference for passing yards per game (332.5) and total offense (33.2).
Montgomery talked about Evans’ development saying, “Dane has to continue to grow and develop. Year two of this offense will be a big jump for him just from the standpoint of reading defenses better and understanding better what we’re doing offensively. We’ll put more on his plate and allow him a little more freedom.
On the other side of the ball, Tulsa will be using the spring practices to try and find someone to step up for the loss of Derrick Alexander and Derrick Luetjen up front, and second-all time leading tackler, Michael Mudoh in the back.
Most of the linebacking corps will remain intact for the spring practices at least, as all three starters—Trent Martin, Matt Linscott and Craig Suits—are all returning for the 2016 season.
Montgomery talked about how to change up the defense, “Like last year when we moved Linscott from safety to STAR linebacker, there could be some position moves in trying to maximize what that athlete does best, but also maximizing the amount of speed we have on the field. We can’t give up the big plays like we’ve been giving up. Getting more athletic and faster in the back seven is one of the things we’re really focusing on this spring.”
“I’ve challenged (co-coordinators) Bill [Young] and Brian [Norwood] as we look at it schematically what we’re doing defensively. We were meshing two things together last year, and now in year two being able to really solidify what will fit our defensive personnel the best will be important.”
In addition to their normal practices which will culminate with the Spring Game on April 2, Tulsa will hold its Pro Day on the morning of March 10 for NFL scouts.