Now that spring practice is over, culminating in Saturday’s Red and Black game, let’s take a look at a few of the guys who stand out on this Red Raider football team heading into the summer.
As a freshman, quarterback Davis Webb was several steps ahead of the curve in Kliff Kingsbury’s offense. As a sophomore, he’s now miles ahead. With complete command of the offense, and few extra pounds on his 6-foot-4 frame, Webb is in total control of the plays, the throws and every single drive he leads.He’s dominated every scrimmage this spring, throwing 13 touchdowns in all and zero interceptions.
He’s efficient, too; completing 70 percent of his throws and taking the top off the defense on more than one occasion with long touchdown tosses. Webb is every bit the quarterback he needs to be in this offense, and then some.
Junior receiver Jakeem Grant has always had speed and shiftiness, but now he has something even more important after two years as a starter: experience. Last year, after catching a pass in the flat, Grant would all-too often lose precious yardage looking to juke and spin his way to a big gain. Now, he has the awareness to use his burst and speed to immediately turn up field after the catch and make things happen. Grant led all receivers in yardage during the spring game with 105 on five catches, including a 75-yard touchdown.
On one particular play last Saturday, Grant made a catch along the sideline and picked up a few yards before getting wrapped up by a defender pushed out of bounds. But at the end of the play, as he was going down, Grant gave a mighty shove with one arm to a safety coming over the top to help, putting the defender on his backside. Not bad for a guy weighing a petite 160 lbs dripping wet.
No player on the team has more experience than veteran senior receiver Bradley Marquez. Even fewer have his raw athletic ability and speed. On Saturday, Marquez showed why he’s played receiver at Tech since the day he arrived on campus, making tough catches in traffic and over-the-shoulder touchdown snags with defenders struggling to keep up.
When he’s not the target, Marquez is a tenacious blocker taking on linebackers and safeties from his new slot receiver position. This of course demonstrates his flexibility as an offensive player and willingness to do whatever it takes to help the team win. He’s also inherited Ryan Erxleben’s duties as holder on the field-goal unit, perhaps a prelude to special-teams trickery in the fall.
Not a lot stands out or impresses on the defense this spring as Matt Wallerstedt is anticipating lots of help to arrive in time for fall camp. But sophomore safety Keenon Ward is a rising star in an inexperienced secondary. Co-defensive coordinator Mike Smith describes Ward’s play as “physical and violent” during practice, and Ward backed up that praise during the spring game. He led the team in tackles on Saturday with five solo stops, and disrupted several throws with good zone coverage over the top and man-to-man in the slot.
Ward’s most improve area from last season is being in the right place at the right time to make plays, a small element of his game that’s yielding big results.
Missed and broken tackles plagued the defense during Saturday’s scrimmage, but junior linebacker Micah Awe demonstrated superior awareness (nearly intercepted one of Webb’s passes) and a willingness hit. Awe was only credited with two tackles, but he made more than a couple of plays and several resulted in a loss of yardage.
Guys like Awe and Ward, who consistently stick their noses in the play and create havoc, set the tone for the entire defense. They could end up being the catalysts this unit needs to get the job done in 2014.