JONESBORO, Ar - The Arkansas State football team suited out in helmets and shoulder pads Monday at ASU Stadium for its ninth spring practice, which included two separate team sessions that featured a combined 37 plays.
"I thought today's practice was very average," said ASU Head Coach Steve Roberts. "We've got some guys out with some nagging injuries who we need to get healthy. At the same time, there were some good things that we'll take from today's practice and we continue to get better."
The Red Wolves mixed in both the run and pass during the first 18-play team segment, while the second session focused mainly on the passing game. Offensively, junior tight end Trevor Gillott was responsible for all three receptions during the initial team segment, catching two passes from redshirt freshman Ryan Aplin and another from redshirt freshman Andre Smith. Running backs Reggie Arnold (Sr.), Derek Lawson (So.), Don Jones (Fr.-RS) and Tim Dunn (Fr.-RS) all recorded at least two rushing attempts.
The offense ended the second segment with one of the practice's two longest plays, a Corey Leonard (Sr.) completion to senior wide receiver Taylor Clements that went for over 38 yards. Aplin found senior receiver Jarriel Norman on a completion that went for at least 40 yards three plays prior to that. Leonard completed two passes to senior wide receiver Jahbari McLennan as well, while Clements caught a second pass from Aplin earlier in the segment that went for at least 15 yards.
The defense was in position to make several stops for a short gain and was able to apply pressure at times during the passing plays. Among some of the defensive players that stood out were defensive linemen Greg McCall, Otto Collins (Fr.-RS), Jeremy Gibson, Levi Thompson, Dorvus Woods and Stanley Wakwe.
Wakwe made the biggest defensive play, getting in the backfield for a sack and forced fumble on the 17th play of the second team segment. McCall and Thompson were both also in position to make a possible sack, and Alex Carrington hurried one pass attempt.
"We had blitz drill for about half of that (second team period), so a lot of that was to get our backs some more work at seeing and picking up the blitz," said Roberts. "There were some good things during that period, but we gave up some pressures as well."
ASU returns three starters along the defensive line, including tackles Bryan Hall and Khari Mays and senior defensive end Carrington, who was the 2008 Sun Belt Conference Defensive Player of the Year. Those three players combined for 17.5 of ASU's 26 total sacks and 30.5 of its 81 tackles for loss last season. ASU's 2.33 sacks per game ranked No. 2 in the Sun Belt Conference and No. 37 in the nation last year, while its 6.75 tackles for loss average was ranked third in the SBC and tied for 21st in the nation.
Those three players are expected to anchor the defensive line, a group which helped ASU rank second in the conference and 46th in the nation last season in total defense. In addition to being named the league's defensive player of the year in 2008, Carrington was a Second Team Midseason All-America selection by CollegeFootballNews.com and ranked among the top 14 players in the country for both sacks (11.5) and tackles for loss (19) to make him the most decorated player returning along the defensive line.
Hall, a junior, was a strong candidate for All-Sun Belt Conference honors in 2008 as well, completing the season ranked fifth in the SBC in sacks and 11th in tackles for loss. His 8.5 tackles for loss and six sacks were both the second most in the SBC among interior defensive linemen. Mays finished his junior season with three tackles for loss, two sacks and 15 tackles.
The Red Wolves lost the services of starting defensive end Brian Flagg, a 2008 ESPN The Magazine First Team Academic All-America selection, but senior Wakwe is currently listed as a starter on the depth chart at the position and he has two years of playing experience at ASU under his belt. Sophomore Gibson and redshirt freshman Timothy Starson will also compete for playing time and add depth at the position.
At defensive tackle, sophomores Woods and McCall and juniors Thompson and Stanley Porter all saw playing time last year and will give ASU additional experience inside. Those four players combined to record 34 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss and two sacks last season.
ASU added two defensive linemen and a third high-school signee, who could play in the trenches on either side of the ball, with its 2009 recruiting class. The Red Wolves also signed two high school players expected to play defensive end that will join the team in the fall as well, adding to ASU's depth on the defensive front.
"They've done well," Roberts said about the defensive line's performance this spring. "I've been real pleased and (defensive line) coach (Kevin) Peoples continues to a great job with those guys. Depth is still an issue, but we've got some guys coming along that will be able to give us a lot of snaps next year. We've got a great group along the defensive line. We've just got to continue to get better and stay healthy."