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August 4, 2013

CAMP NOTEBOOK: Defense improved, offensive line "solid" and Vanlier now a veteran


By Rob Schabert, TTU Sports Information Director
Scroll to the bottom to view a video on Sunday's Camp Notebook

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. -- After just two days in shorts, Tennessee Tech football coach Watson Brown can see that his defense is improved and his offensive line is solid. Meanwhile, in his second season, Ladarius Vanlier is already comfortable as a "seasoned" veteran.

"I can see it already," Brown told his team as it gathered at midfield Sunday following a two-hour practice session, its second of fall camp. "After just two days in shorts, we're getting better already."

DEFENSIVE UPGRADE

While the Golden Eagle offense has set school record each of the past two seasons, Brown is looking for improvement in the team's defense in 2013.

"I think we have gotten better on defense," he said Sunday. "That’s the place I’m really watching close. If we keep what we’ve done offensively the last two years and stay at that standard, and our defense improves, we’ve got a chance to be really good. We’re watching the defense close, and we’re off to a really good start."

ADDING PADDING

The next two practices will see the team adding shoulder pads for Monday and Tuesday afternoon sessions.

"Now we go to shells, we put the shoulder pads on, and we practice two days in shoulder pads and shorts, and the fifth day we get to go to full pads," Brown said. "We’ve got 25 of these (practices). We’ve got two down and we’ve got 23 to go. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. We just have to hang in there and see how good we can get in 25 practices."

The coaching staff continues to do a lot of teaching as fall camp gets underway.

"The first 10 days are kind of installation and conditioning, running and chasing the ball and trying to get into as good of football shape as we can," Brown explained. "The second 10 days we work on fundamentals and get as good as we can get with what we’ve put in."

SOLID UP FRONT

No matter how many talented receivers dot the Golden Eagle roster (a lot), or how well the quarterbacks throw the ball (they throw it VERY well), or which runningback gets the call (there are several expected to have the ball in their hands), none of it can work unless the offensive line does its job.

On Sunday, assistant coach Dewayne Alexander continued to mold three different units for the O-line.

"Our offensive line is solid in that there’s a lot of returnees who have played and there are two or three redshirt freshmen that we’re excited about throwing in there with them," Brown said. "We want to get to eight, and hopefully 10, guys that can play.

"With this style of offense, you can’t play five guys. You’ve got to rest everybody some at the pace we go. It’s important to have the five, and it’s just as important to have at least eight guys. I think we do have eight right now, if we stay healthy, and we’ve got a good chance to get to 10."

Sophomore center J.T. Rankin has been sidelined with an illness, missing Photo Day and the first two practices, meaning senior guard James Normand has stepped in on some of the reps to play center.

That's been no problem for the Oak Ridger, who has played four different positions in his time on the roster.

To open camp, the first five includes junior Randall Reeves at center, Normand at left guard and redshirt freshman Matt Martin at left tackle. On the right side, senior Wesley Sherrill is at guard and sophomore Brett Dillard lines up at tackle.

On the second unit, Reeves and Normand have filled in for Rankin at center, flanked by sophomores Justin Ivory and Jibrin Linge at the guards, and redshirt freshman William Chatmon and junior Matthew Smith at the tackles.

The third unit features four true freshmen along with redshirt freshman Cory Malone. The group includes Ethan Crum at center, Tyler Coen and Ian Isbell at the guards, and Malone and Charles Rutledge at the tackles.

"Overall, it’s the most talented group that we’ve had so far," Brown said. "It may not be the most experienced, but it is the most talented.

"Coach (Dewayne) Alexander has jumped right in here and is coaching those guys, and the players seem to love him," Brown added. "They’ve adjusted to him real well. I’m excited about where they are right now, and the way they look. The fundamentals and what I’m seeing, and I’m excited about the talent."

OLDER AND WISER

Brown feels players might mature the most between their first and second years on the roster. One of those second-year guys who is much more settled this year than last is Ladarius Valier, a sophomore from Nashville's Maplewood High School who is getting preseason recognition as a punt and kick returner. The 5-foot-7, 170-pounder will also fill a runningback spot.  

"When you come in year one, it’s all new. You’ve been ‘the man’ for the last couple of years at your high school, and now you’re starting from the bottom again and working your way up," Brown said. "Maybe you’re away from home for the first time, you have a roommate that you don’t even know. There’s so many things to deal with."

Vanlier is doing just fine dealing with all those intangibles.

"Coming in my first year, I really didn’t know what to expect," he says. "I really didn’t know the playbook, and it was hard. I’m a quick learner, but it was still kind of hard coming in. This second year, I’m coming in with way more confidence because I actually know what’s going on and what coach Brown wants me to do."

And Valier is one of the players lending a hand to the newest players, helping them to settle in and learn the system -- both on-the-field and across the campus.

"They first-year guys don’t know that much and you just kind of try to take them under your wing and teach them," Vanlier said. "Tremaine Hudson did that for me last year. He was a senior and I was just coming in and I didn’t know much. He showed me the way.

"Me being a second-year guy, I can show the new guys – guys like Trey Burks – if they have questions, I just try to answer their questions the best way I can," Vanlier said.

His actions fit exactly what Brown expects of his players.

"I ask the older kids just to take them over, teach them, coach them, cheer for them," Brown said. "Make them feel comfortable. It makes it a whole lot easier when your teammates help you through.

"Ladarius is a great example of that. He’s just come out here this year with so much more confidence because he knows what he’s doing," Brown said. "I remember him last year on the first couple of punts, he was dropping every one of them. Now he’s confident, he’s ready to go.

"Maturity is one part of it, and experience within the program itself."

SEASON TICKETS ON SALE

Season tickets for the 2013 Golden Eagles are on sale at the Athletics Ticket Office in Eblen Center or by calling (931) 372-3940. Tickets may also be purchased online at TTUsports.com.