Spring Report #8: Redbird Running Game on Display at Midway Point
April 6, 2008
NORMAL, Ill. - With seven practices down and seven more to go this spring, the Illinois State football team's strategy for the 2008 season is starting to take shape. On Sunday, the Redbirds took another step toward preparing for their 2008 season, as they practiced in full pads for 10, five-minute periods on the Hancock Stadium turf, and followed that up with an extended one-hour-and-15-minute scrimmage period that prominently displayed Illinois State's running game.
The practice marked the third-straight for the Redbirds, who are coming off of a 4-7 season last year that included just a 2-4 mark in the Gateway Football Conference.
"The team responded outstanding (Sunday) to its third-straight day of practice," said Illinois State head coach Denver Johnson. "After they didn't start focused (Saturday), they came out (Sunday) focused and ready to play. We competed really well during practice, and we gave lots of opportunities for guys to compete for certain positions."
After nine periods of drills that were broken up into two-minute sessions rather than the standard five-minute drill sessions that the team normally utilizes in practice, Illinois State moved into the 7-on-7 drill for period number 10. Sophomore quarterback Preston Earl took the majority of the snaps, where he was a near-perfect 7-for-8 in passing, including a pass to wide receiver Drew Kempe through the Redbird defense that would have gone for a touchdown in a normal game situation.
Redshirt freshman Drew Kiel was 6-for-7 during the drill, with his lone incompletion coming off of a pass breakup from cornerback Antonio Adams. Senior Kevin Brockway was just 3-for-7 in passing during the 7-on-7 drill, as two of his passes were intended for wide receivers Eyad Salem and Marcus King far down the sideline.
Following the 7-on-7 drill, Illinois State went into a 58-play scrimmage that highlighted the Redbird running game, as 35 of the 58 plays (60 percent) were run on the ground. During the team's eight-play, mid-scrimmage goal line drill from the 2-yard line, five Redbirds scored on either a pass or a run. Included in those touchdowns was a spectacular run by tailback Cortes Rice, who broke a tackle near the sideline and ran the ball into the endzone.
Tailbacks Clifton Gordon and Geno Blow and also had big runs during the scrimmage, as Gordon took a handoff from Kiel and ran it up the middle for 20 yards, while Rice made a 25-yard run down the sideline.
After being unsuccessful at airing out the ball during much of the 7-on-7 drill, Brockway regained his composure to let loose two 30-plus-yard passes that were successful during the scrimmage, as he went 9-for-14 in passing. Earl was a perfect 7-for-7, including a scramble for a touchdown, while Kiel spent most of his time behind center complimenting the Redbird running game with handoffs.
Illinois State ended practice with its field goal unit on the field, as each Redbird kicker got two attempts to put the ball through the uprights. Kicking on the first try from 27 yards out, the trio of Steven Fetzer, Kevin Mazur and Tyler Funk went 2-for-3, with Mazur recording the lone miss in the series. The Redbird kickers responded again when the ball was moved five yards back for a 32-yard attempt, as they went 3-for-3 to close out the practice.