With the first week of spring practices under the University of Memphis football team’s belt, it’s safe to say the team is still trying to figure out their strengths and weaknesses. Their players have been adjusting to the new members of the coaching staff while the new coaches are trying to instill their own philosophies.
With so much work to do before the season opener against Ole Miss, this week was a nice start to what will be a busy off-season for the team.
Secondary seeing good things from inexperienced players
With the secondary getting more experienced under defensive backs coach T.J. Rushing, there have been a couple of players who’ve made significant strides.
The first of which has been redshirt junior Chris Claybrooks, who made the transition from wide receiver to defensive back last off-season. In his first season at the position, he played in nine games and had 12 tackles and a pick-six in the Birmingham Bowl.
Rushing has seen the hard work Claybrooks has been putting in during the past season and said he’s changed significantly since joining the team.
“He’s night and day,” Rushing said. “He’s come a long way, and he’s been taking advice, applying it and getting better daily.”
Coaches are prioritizing players taking point with regards to leadership
During Mike Norvell’s time as the head coach of the Tigers, he’s been a large advocate for players taking on leadership responsibilities.
When asked about this by the media, linebacker Austin Hall spoke about the importance of player leadership and how it makes the team better as a whole.
“A coach-led team can only go so far,” Hall said. “A player-led team can advance even further.”
Players like senior defensive end Bryce Huff and junior cornerback T.J. Carter echoed Hall’s sentiments and are looking forward to taking on larger leadership roles.
“I feel like I have to set the example,” Huff said. “I really hold myself accountable, as well as my teammates.”
The quest to determine the No. 2 running back
After the departures of stud running backs Darrell Henderson and Tony Pollard, the Tigers find themselves searching at the position. Senior Patrick Taylor Jr. has established himself as the team’s lead back after rushing for 1,012 yards while sharing carries with Henderson last year.
Since it’s still early in the spring, there hasn’t been any definitive players that the coaches have declared in the lead, but there are a number, albeit young, options who have caught the attention of the media.
The most noteworthy player thus far has been redshirt freshman Kenneth Gainwell who played in four games last season. He accumulated 143 yards from scrimmage and had a rushing touchdown.
Norvell spoke to the media about his feelings Gainwell’s improvement since last season and what more he needs to see from him.
“I think Kenneth is a very talented young man,” Norvell said. “He can do so many different things and now it’s just trying to focus on the details. He played pretty well in the first four games last year, but a lot of that was relying on natural athleticism and now it’s time to get more comfortable at the position.”