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March 31, 2012

Defining the depth chart: Football team reaches mid-point of spring drills

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – The only certainty on Tennessee Tech's 2012 depth chart is that coach Watson Brown is convinced there is plenty of talent throughout his roster.

What's uncertain now is just where all that talent will settle into the depth chart when the defending Ohio Valley Conference champions open the season on Thursday, Aug. 30, hosting Hampton University.

Saturday's 73-play scrimmage in Tucker Stadium gave the veteran coach and his staff another chance to evaluate the Golden Eagles.  And, it gave the returning players – at least those who are not sidelined by injuries – a chance to impress the coaches and earn their spot in the lineup.

"This is their time to shine. They will have no chance to complain in the fall if they're not happy with where the are on the depth chart," Brown said.  "They have a chance to shine in the spring. We're going to be adding 25 new guys in the fall, and they'll get their shot, too. These guys have their shot right now, then the freshmen will get their shot."

Saturday's scrimmage saw the first and second units splitting playing time, and the offense managed 387 yards and two touchdowns, both long scoring passes from veteran quarterback Tre Lamb. Rising sophomore placekicker Zach Sharpe was also busy, making five field goals in seven tries and kicking a pair of PATs to account for 17 points.

Lamb finished the day with 149 yards and two touchdowns while going 10-for-17 from the pocket. He hit redshirt freshman Steve Wilson with a 43 yard touchdown and later connected with Neal Gannaway, who made a sensational catch for a 42-yard touchdown.

Redshirt freshman Matt Hamby, the only other quarterback at the scrimmage, was 9-for-14 for 81 yards, connecting nine of his final 10 passes after overcoming two drops as the day got underway.

Combined, the passers were 19-for-31 for 230 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions, and had six well-thrown passes dropped. Sophomore quarterback Darian Stone, projected to be a valuable ingredient in the fall, was absent from the scrimmage. In fact, he has been sidelined the entire spring with mononucleosis.

"It's killing me that Darian is not out here this spring," Brown said. "Matt (Hamby) is getting work, but I really thought Darian had a chance to catch Tre during the spring."

Tech rushed 38 times for 157 yards, led by Bud Golden with 42 yards in eight carries. Tremaine Hudson, returning to action, following a redshirt season, had 30 yards on just three carries and led the team with 46 all-purpose yards. Eleven different players carried the ball in the game.

Gannaway, another rising sophomore, was the receiving leader with 73 yards on three receptions, one of 11 different players to catch passes. Wilson had two catches for 50 yards. Josh Pleasant, a redshirt freshman who moved from cornerback to receiver, made two catches for 26 yards and also rushed a couple times for two yards.

"It's going to be fun watching and seeing who moves up on the depth chart," Brown said. "That's going to be settled the rest of this spring and in two-a-days in the fall, and everybody will have to earn their spot."

Defensively, several players came up with big plays including back-to-back sacks by Avery Rollins and Midoho Okpokuworuk, both redshirt freshmen. Returnees Marcus Edwards, Tommy McBride, Cory Webber and Tra'Darius Goff also stepped up with crucial defensive plays.  

"A scrimmage is different than judging them in practice," Brown said. "They don't have a coach standing next to them telling them what to do."

The kicking game was also a bright spot Saturday. After missing a 37-yard field goal, Sharpe connected on kicks from 35, 37, 32 (twice) and 28 yards. He also missed form 42.

Before the live action got underway, punter Chad Zincini was brilliant. He launched eight kicks and averaged nearly 50 yards per kick with incredible hang time. He is a redshirt from Beech High School in Nashville who spent two years at Vol State and sat out last season at Tech as Nick Campbell's understudy.

"Chad has a chance to be very good," Brown said.

Reaching the mid-point in spring drills, the team will practice just twice next week with 3 p.m. workouts on Tuesday and Thursday. The team will take the weekend off for Easter.