COOKEVILLE, Tenn. -- Following a day off on Monday, the Tennessee Tech football team was back on the field Tuesday morning in full pads to begin the second full week of fall camp, and Golden Eagle head coach Watson Brown was pleased with the way his squad came out and attacked its assignments.
He also noticed that the physical facet of camp is beginning to show a little wear on his players, and he addressed the issue at the end of the session. His message to his team was to hang tough and fight through soreness and fatigue.
"It's always tough when you're in the middle of your second week," said the veteran coach, now in his 27th season as a collegiate head coach and 39th year overall on the sidelines. "This is the time when their bodies are just about gone. We've always been a very physical team during two-a-days, and then we back-off in the season more.
"They've got to go right now. They've got another five or six of these (physical practices) to go. It's a mental thing. They're going to be sore, they're going to be tired. If they're not, they haven't done anything, but I don't see that. I see a sore, tired team. They've just got to keep fighting now."
The team practiced for a little more than two hours, finishing up with kickoff coverage -- a phase of the game that the fast-paced offense is hoping will be on the field often in 2011. After the off day, Brown was pleased with the team's efforts, especially on defense.
"They came back out mentally prepared and went to work," he said. "The defense was better, it was improved. We've changed some things since last year's defense, and we're still trying to get that down. I really think we're getting better on defense."
Changes in lattitude, changes in...
Two players who have changed positions are looking sharp in their new roles. Junior Will Johnson is playing rover after lining up last year at inside linebacker. Sophmore Ryan Tilghman, formerly a wide receiver, moved to quarterback in the spring.
Johnson was a versatile, all-state player during his prep career at Nashville's Pearl-Cohn High School, graduating in 2008. He attended the University of Kentucky for two years, one as a redshirt and one as a linebacker and special teams standout for the Wildcats. Following the 2009 season, transferred to Tech and had a huge impact on the Golden Eagle defense.
"Will Johnson has a chance to be an all-OVC guy, a chance to be another level guy, an NFL guy," Brown said. "But, he's got a lot of work to do. I think he's playing the perfect position for him to play and do the things that we want to do with him. He is a weak side safety that can drop down and be a linebacker. We're excited about him."
Tilghman was a quarterback during his career at Columbia Central High School, but moved to receiver on the Tech roster. He got onto the field last year as a member of the special teams, but did not have any statistics. He's in the mix for the backup role behind starter Tre Lamb, joining redshirt freshman Darian Stone and freshman Matt Hamby.
"Ryan moved to quarterback in the spring and he looks good," Brown said. "He's really coming on. He's the biggest and fastest of the three. He can run 4.5 at 205 pounds. He needs to use his legs. He's improving his throws, he's throwing better on time."
Brown painted a picture of how much fans will see each.
"Will Johnson you're going to see all the time, but I hope you don't see Ryan Tilghman because right now he would be three," he said. Then, he changed his mind:
"Well, I hope you do see him, late in ball games where we could put a third one in!"
Senior coffee deal beckons, but Stevens
relishes leadership role as fifth-year veteran
Charlie Stevens is typically the first player out of the dressing room and onto the field each morning for Tennessee Tech football practice. He says he's an early riser so he can get out onto the stationary bicycle on the sidelines and loosen up his aging muscles. Stevens is in his fifth season on the Golden Eagle roster.
A teammate kidded Stevens, explaining that he's an early riser strictly so he can get out and take advantage of the "senior coffee" discounts.
Either way, Stevens' morning rituals have helped to make him a leader for the Golden Eagles as he lines up a the "W" position, a hybrid spot that's a mix of the fullback and tight end, according to coach Watson Brown.
"Charlie is the epitome of what I think a good college football player is. He came in as a very average guy and his work ethic has turned him into a very good football player," Brown said.
Stevens takes the kidding about his veteran status in stride, and enjoys being able to be a leader on the field.
"This is my fifth year, so it takes me a little longer to get my legs rolling in the morning," he explained. "Getting out of bed isn't as easy as it used to be four and five years ago. I love this game, too. That's another reason I like to get out here early so I can get focused. If you're mentally prepared, then the physical part will come."
Brown notices the efforts put forth by the former football and wrestling standout at David Lipscomb High School in Nashville.
"There's not a harder worker on this field, there's not a harder worker in the off-season," Brown said. "If you saw Charlie when he got here, and the way he looks now, it's all been because of his work habits."
At Lipscomb, he helped his team forge a 52-7 record that netted four regional championships and three state runnerup finishes. Following a redshirt season in 2007, he has seen his role for the Golden Eagles grow each of the past three years.
"It's been fun," Stevens said of his Golden Eagle career. "We get better every year, our fans get better every year. It's just real exciting."