April 22, 2012

Spring Practice Wrapup

With spring football practice over, let's look at how it went. Coach Mickey Matthews said his top spring priority was developing quarterback Justin Thorpe with the hope of having a more productive passing game in 2012. (I don't think that means throw more, just more effectively.)

In the spring game, Thorpe was OK. Matthews wasn't pleased with the offense; I didn't think it looked that bad. Of course, being new to the beat, I don't have much to compare it to, yet. In practice, Thorpe consistently looked sharp, especially on quick, short-and-intermediate passes. It never looks like he has to make many reads, though. The deep balls he did throw looked good, too. He showed touch and feel, and the young wide receivers -- another of Matthews' spring priorities -- showed flashes. I thought Marquis Woodyard stood out Saturday. Thorpe threw to him a lot in the situational portion before the scrimmage started.

Thorpe spread the ball around Saturday and blamed the offense's struggles on having so many players out.

"Any time your starters are out, you got backups coming in, trying to play," Thorpe said. "I don't have a lot of chemistry with those guys, and I got sacked a couple times."

But is Thorpe better? He looked good in the controlled spring setting. No one was rushing him and no one could hit him. In that vacuum, it's hard to say.

Sticking with quarterbacks, Andre Coble saw action there in the spring game and didn't do much. He under-threw a deep ball that got tipped away. The offensive line didn't help him much, either; he was sacked twice. (Tackle Wray Fucci, however, looked good. He manhandled many a defensive lineman Saturday.)

But Coble's not JMU's first choice to be the backup quarterback. Saturday, Matthews reiterated that they want Coble at wide receiver. He is getting work at QB for emergency purposes. I think Coble prefers quarterback; it's the position he's played his whole life. But he also understands his role on the team.

"It's a sacrifice I'm willing to make to make the team better," he said.

As for the wide receivers... If the Dukes want to throw it, they should have options. Daniel Brown and Renard Robinson are big-play targets. But, with the depth JMU has at running back (and considering Matthews' preference for the run), the receivers might spend a lot of time blocking. Dae'Quan Scott and Jordan Anderson are established at tailback, and Hykeem Brodie and Dejor Simmons both had solid springs. Of those those two, though, Brodie is most intriguing.

Matthews wasn't all that impressed with the tailbacks Saturday. His tone was very "meh."

"I thought they were fine," Matthews said. "I didn't think they played great. It wasn't a great offensive scrimmage. We just didn't play very good on offense."

Brodie, a former Penn State walk-on, looks like he could be useful. He led JMU with 61 yards on 10 carries, according to the very rough stats done Saturday. Many of those yards came after contact and, occasionally, with hopeful tacklers on his back. Brodie, listed at 5-10, 195 (he looks much thicker than that), is very imposing. The biggest problem with him getting on the field is the tailbacks ahead of him. But tailbacks do get hurt...

The last of Matthews's spring priorities was linebacker. Stephon Roberston was hurt (shoulder) and sat out spring practice, so there were opportunities to look at other players. Ascene Jacques, a redshirt freshman in 2012, stood out throughout the spring and again in the spring game. But, with a strong defensive line and secondary, the Dukes should able to handle growing pains at linebacker, especially with Robertson coming back.

But there's a caveat to all of this: It's the spring and JMU had a lot of players out while they recovered from injuries. Some were even held out just to save wear-and-tear on their bodies.

I also don't think Matthews would pull Justin Thorpe in the middle of practice to talk to me in the fall. (He actually did this during one spring practice. I had to leave early to cover a high school softball game.)

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