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August 17, 2013

Over the past 15 days, the Illinois State football team participated in 19 practices in preparation for the 2013 season on the turf at Hancock Stadium. Fall camp officially came to an end Saturday, when the Redbirds hosted a 60-plus play scrimmage in front of a large crowd of ISU fans as part of Redbird Fan Fair.

ISU head coach Brock Spack protected his first-team units and only put each group on the field for 10 plays, much like NFL teams do in their preseason exhibition games. Junior quarterback Jared Barnett led the offense on its first of two scoring drives, after a three-and-out to start the session. With the ball re-spotted on its own 32-yard line, the offense proceeded to drive 68 yards in nine plays for a touchdown.

A 31-yard completion from Barnett to junior wideout Lechein Neblett highlighted the drive and a pass interference penalty gave the offense the ball inside the five-yard line. On the ensuing play, senior running back Cameron Hunt barreled his way into the end zone from four yards out for his first touchdown of the scrimmage.

The second-team unit was even more efficient, as redshirt freshman quarterback Blake Winkler led the offense on a seven-play scoring drive for the second and final touchdown of the day for the Red team. A 26-yard run by sophomore tailback Marshaun Coprich moved the ball past midfield to the opponent 33-yard line. An eight-yard completion from Winkler to senior receiver Milton Colbert and a seven-yard run by freshman back Jamal Towns then set up a 12-yard connection from Winkler to junior receiver Scott Kuehn, which put the ball inside the 10-yard line.

Hunt then carried the ball in from six yards out for his second touchdown of the day and the second score for the Red team. Hunt finished the day with four carries for 18 yards and the two touchdowns and Coprich carried the ball four times for 45 yards. Winkler finished a perfect 4-for-4 passing for 29 yards and Colbert led the way receiving with three catches for 18 yards.

As the scrimmage continued, sophomore quarterback Adam Pittser took the reins and completed 6-of-9 passes for 50 yards, including a long pass of 17 yards to freshman Anthony Warrum, who caught a pair of passes for 24 yards in total. Freshman running back James Graham was impressive with the third-team unit, as he rushed for 60 yards on five carries, with a long of 25 yards.

Defensively, junior Tyler Lovgren stole the show with a pair of interceptions, three tackles and a pass breakup. Lovgren's first pick came on the third series of the scrimmage, when he stepped in front a Trevor Rea pass and returned it 11 yards before being tackled. The second was the final play of the day, when he read Rea perfectly and picked off his pass and returned it 54 yards for a touchdown to make the final score 14-6 in favor of the Red team.

Freshman linebacker DJ Romero and sophomore safety Alejandro Rivera led all tacklers with five stops each, and junior linebacker Kevin McGarry added four tackles, including a half tackle-for-loss. Sophomore defensive lineman Jack Lipinsky added three tackles and a tackle-for-loss and senior linebacker Brandon Westphal added two tackles and a pass breakup.

Punters CJ Laros and Spencer Smith also got opportunities to shine with a pair of punts each. Laros boomed a 45-yard punt that had to be fair caught early on and both punter dropped kicks inside the five-yard line during the coffin kicking session. The Redbirds will take Monday off, as the players start the fall semester, before returning to practice Tuesday to put the game plan together for the season opener at Ball State on Aug. 29.

August 16, 2013

The final two-a-day for the Illinois State football team ended Friday evening with a light practice in shells in preparation for Saturday's annual Red-White Scrimmage at Hancock Stadium. The annual clash signals the end of fall camp and will kick off at 4 p.m.

Illinois State head coach Brock Spack and his team took the field Friday as shadows began to creep in. The practice was condensed down to special teams work, individual drills and abbreviated 7-on-7 and team periods. The focus was to save the players' legs for the scrimmage and then turn the team's focus to the season opener at Ball State.

There will be a full day of activities around Hancock Stadium on Saturday, beginning at 2 p.m. with the ninth-annual Redbird Fan Fair. Fans in attendance will have the opportunity to play carnival games, listen to music, get their faces painted for free by The Zoo Lady, enjoy inflatable games provided by Fun on the Run and scale a climbing wall provided by Upper Limits. The fair will be held at "The Plaza," located in between Redbird Arena and Horton Field House from 2-4 p.m.

During that event, will broadcast Redbird Gameday Live on The inaugural webcast will include interviews with ISU coaches and student-athletes and will preview the upcoming seasons for the Redbird football, volleyball, soccer and cross country teams. The hour-long show will be streamed for free beginning at 2:30 p.m., just outside Gate 2 of the stadium.

When Redbird Fan Fair ends at 4 p.m., fans can then head into Hancock Stadium to watch the team scrimmage. It will consist of approximately 50 plays, with the first-team offense going against the first-team defense for 10 snaps to start things off. The second-team and third team units will then get 10 plays each, with a pair of live punts scheduled in between the sessions.

After a brief halftime, each group will then attempt to drive the field for a series each to wrap up the scrimmage. Fans not able to make it out to the scrimmage will be able to listen to it live on, with Ronan O'Shea and Ted Schmitz on the call.

August 16, 2013

At the end of Thursday night's practice, Illinois State head football coach Brock Spack stated to his players that one in every six plays in a football game is some sort of kick. He stressed the focus of being strong on special teams, so he took the morning practice on Friday to host a kicking scrimmage at Hancock Stadium.

"Momentum plays in the kicking game can change the entire flow of a college football game," Spack said. "We see all the time games won and lost because of mistakes or strong execution on kicking plays and coverage units. It's hard to really give the players a strong look at that until you practice it full speed, so that's why we held the scrimmage this morning and focused on our fits and assignments in the kicking game."

The kickoff coverage unit took the field first and bottled up the scout team return team on both of its return attempts, with Matt Meyers picking up an open-field tackle to eliminate a big return. The punt team then took the field, with CJ Laros and Spencer Smith sharing the punting duties. Laros opened up with a 44-yard boot that had to be fair caught, and Smith recorded a 50-yard punt after some help from a good bounce and roll on the turf.

Josh Burch, Corey Shandrick, Marshaun Coprich and Jamal Towns then got a chance to return kicks and each made good impressions. Burch and Shandrick each recorded returns of over 30 yards on the first two plays of the drill, before Burch got his second chance and made the most of it. After catching the kick by Nick Aussieker at the five-yard line, he weaved through traffic and broke into the open field. With Aussieker serving as the last line of defense, Burch made a move and took the kick 95 yards for a touchdown.

Shandrick followed with 40-plus yard return against the scout team and Coprich added a 65-yard return, before being stopped on the sideline by Aussieker. Towns finished the drill with a 35-yard gain to near mid-field. Punt returners Lechein Neblett and Anthony Warrum then got their chance to return some kicks, with each posting returns of over 20 yards.

The final drill of the session was the punt block drill, in which the first-team group went against the scout team. The scout team got off punts on the first two tries, before Bryce Kiser was able to bust through the line and block a kick out of bounds for the return team.

Practice ended with a brief team period, which was highlighted by a 25-yard touchdown pass from Jared Barnett to Milton Colbert that capped off 65-yard, seven play scoring drive. The Redbirds will return to the field at 6 p.m. Friday night, for its final practice before the team's Red-White Scrimmage at 4 p.m. Saturday at Hancock Stadium.

August 15, 2013

The Illinois State football team returned to Hancock Stadium Thursday afternoon for its final fully-padded, two-hour workout, which signaled to the players and fans in attendance that the end of fall training camp is near.

The Redbirds will have one more two-a-day Friday, with the morning session consisting of an hour-long kicking scrimmage. During that session, the team will focus solely on kickoff/ punt returns and coverage teams, as well as field goal and PAT work. The team will then come back out in the evening in shells for its final preparation before Saturday's scrimmage, which begins at 4 p.m.

Once again, the weather was perfect for the players and it resulted in an up-tempo workout. Practice started with individual drills and some kickoff return work, before the team run drill. The focus in that drill was on the play-action game, as the offense attempted to run the ball effectively in order to set up its passing game. Cameron Hunt had a 10-yard run that led to a 15-yard completion from Blake Winkler to Brian Athey. Two plays later, Jared Barnett found Phil Dudley over the middle for an 18-yard gain and Collin Keoshian followed with a strong between the tackles that ended with him picking up nearly 10 yards after contact.

Barnett picked up right where he left off and completed his first three passes in the 7-on-7 session, with connections to Athey and Cameron Meredith. He also added a 30-yard touchdown pass to Corey Shandrick later in the drill to cap off a solid effort. Adam Pitter was 5-for-6 in his tries, which included a 60-yard touchdown strike to Anthony Warrum. His lone blemish came on an interception by Dominic Clarke, when he stepped in front of the receiver on the sideline for the pick.

The horn blew to signal the start of the next drill and head coach Brock Spack called all the players to the Reggie logo at midfield to provide a little challenge. In previous training camps, Spack has set up competitions in which either the offense or defense has to run sprints if they lose. This time, the challenge was for three linemen on each unit to attempt to catch a punt, with the losers having to run the stagger start drill before the team session.

The red team consisted of offensive linemen Mike Liedtke, Mark Spelman and Charles Cowley. They faced off against the white team, which consisted of defensive linemen Bryce Kiser, Rickey Simpson and Teddy Corwin. Liedtke went first and misjudged his punt and was not able to make the catch. Kiser was next and made his attempt look easy, showing off his former ball skills as a tight end. Spelman made it look easy and tied the score at 1-1, before Simpson answered to take a 2-1 advantage. Cowley followed and couldn't handle the punt and Corwin closed it out with a clean catch to send the offense to the line for conditioning.

Three more completions from Barnett ignited the team drill, with a pair of completions to his favorite target of the day Athey. Keoshian added a pair of strong runs and Warrum hauled in three more grabs to continue his strong day. The offensive highlight of the drill came on a pass from Pittser to Kyle Harbour, who reached around the defender and snagged the pass with one hand and brought it down before he hit the ground for the completion.

Defensively, freshman safety Jalen Battle recorded the second interception of the day when he picked off Trevor Rea late in the drill. Three plays later, senior All-American Colton Underwood broke through the line and sacked Barnett to end practice.

August 14, 2013

Under the lights for the first time this year at Hancock Stadium, Illinois State football participated in a spirited two hour workout Wednesday night in Normal.

"The kids were competing and having fun tonight," head coach Brock Spack said. "Yesterday the offense got the better of the defense, so I think those guys wanted to come out today and make a statement. It's good news. If one team dominates day in and day out, then you have problems. That shows that you might not be good on one side of the football. We are a young team, particularly on defense, and you're going to take your lumps but we are going to get them ready to play."

After stretching and punting exercises, the Redbirds engaged in the first of two 11-on-11 drills. The defense set the tone early, with a pair of defenders dropping Cameron Hunt in the backfield on the first play from scrimmage. Jared Barnett's first pass attempt was knocked away by a leaping Matt Goldsmith. Blake Winkler completed the first pass of the evening, connecting with Corey Shandrick for a would-be first down. Colton Underwood broke through the offensive line for a tackle-for-loss on Jamal Towns. One play later, Brandon Westphal sacked Barnett. The offensive highlight was a long pass completion from Adam Pittser to Brady Tibbits.

The team then broke into 7-on-7 competition while the offensive and defensive line worked on footwork and agility drills. Barnett opened the session completing 2-of-3 passes, finding Phil Dudley twice for positive gains. Winkler's first pass from scrimmage was intercepted by Davontae Harris. Pittser opened 3-for-3, finding Anthony Warrum, Gage Beekman and Towns. Defensively, Dontae McCoy intercepted Barnett, making a leaping catch for the turnover.

The Redbirds then returned to 11-on-11 work. Towns broke a long run on the first snap, and picked up five yards on the ground two plays later. Additional highlights included a long touchdown pass from Trevor Rea to Kyle Harbour and Kevin McGarry's strong tackle on towns in the back field.

Before practice concluded, players worked with their individual position coaches and listened to Spack's traditional post-practice on-field meeting.

Practice resumes Thursday afternoon with a two-and-a-half hour workout beginning at 3:00 p.m. at Hancock Stadium.

August 14, 2013

With 14 practices behind them, Illinois State football returned to Hancock Stadium early Wednesday morning for the first of a two-a-day workout, battling for two hours under the hot August sun.

Stretching, special teams work and individual drills dominated the early portion of the practice.

The team spent time working on both punt and kick return repetitions, giving a handful of players opportunities on returns, blocking and kicking.

The Redbirds then entered 7-on-7 work. On the first play from scrimmage, Brandon Westphal broke up a would-be long pass from Jared Barnett. Barnett responded by completing his next two passes, finding Lechein Neblett and Phil Dudley for positive yards. Blake Winkler completed his first three pass attempts, connecting with Tim Wilson once and Anthony Warrum twice. Later, Winkler went deep to Jon-Marc Anderson for a long touchdown down the ride sideline.

In 11-on-11 play, Jamal Towns, Marshaun Coprich, Collin Keoshian, Jonathon Miller, and Cameron Hunt all received carries, with Keoshian breaking the longest run of the morning. Barnett took a designed run for over 10 yards.

The offense then went into a two-minute drill, starting from their own 25 yard line. A first play run from Keoshian gave the Redbirds offense a first down situation on the other side of the 50. Barnett then settled into a groove in the air, connecting on consecutive passes to Neblett before finding a sprinting Brian Athey for a big gain. Following a pair of runs, Barnett located Meredith shy of the end zone for a first down, stopping the clock as he was tackled out of bounds. Will Davis broke through the line of scrimmage for a sack and a timeout was called with nine seconds on the clock. Barnett dropped back on the next snap and fired a touchdown to Meredith to cap the drive with four seconds to play.

Practice resumes Wednesday evening with a two-hour workout beginning at 6:00 p.m. at Hancock Stadium.

August 13, 2013

Officially past the midway point of fall camp 2013, Illinois State football bounced back from a two-a-day practice Monday, for a two-and-a-half hour workout Tuesday afternoon under blue skies at Hancock Stadium.

"We went hard today," head coach Brock Spack said. "It's important to find out what we are made of. Each side of the ball needs to work on what didn't go well, but that is why we practice here day in and day out."

Practice opened with stretching and special teams work, before the offense and defense faced off in the first 11-on-11 session of the day. Bradon Prate sparked the defense early, wrapping Jared Barnett up for a sack. Will Davis also tallied one sack. The session concluded with a perfect Blake Winkler pass completion to Cameron Meredith for a pickup of more than 10 yards near the sideline.

Following individual workouts, the Redbirds returned for 11-on-11 work. Cameron Hunt took the first play from scrimmage 80 yards for a touchdown, hustling down the left sideline for the score. On the very next play, Barnett found Phil Dudley for a long touchdown score. Winkler's first pass was intercepted by a diving Anthony Boddy near midfield. On the last snap, Colin Keoshian worked through a hole created by the offensive line, then barreled past a defensive back for a 20-plus yard gain.

Special teams again took the spotlight at Hancock Stadium. Nick Aussieker and Sean Slattery alternated reps on kickoffs, while Hunt, Dudley, Jamal Towns, Marshaun Coprich, Anthony Warrum, Lechian Neblett and Josh Burch all had looks on kick returns.

The offense then faced off versus the defense for 7-on-7 work in the north end zone. Barnett's first pass was a 15-yard touchdown completion to Dudley. Additional highlights included a pair of touchdown passes to James O'Shaughnessy and a leaping end zone grab from Dudley.

Illinois State will resume fall camp with a two-a-day Wednesday, with the first practice beginning at 9:00 a.m. at Hancock Stadium.

August 12, 2013

Illinois State football went back to work at Hancock Stadium on a muggy Monday night in Normal, concluding the second two-hour practice of the two-a-day of fall camp.

"We definitely had a full day of football today," head coach Brock Spack said. "This is a grind week for our players. I think they fought through tired legs to get through practice and will be better tomorrow because of it. I'm really impressed with our passing game right now. We threw the ball down the field really well after a slow start tonight."

The Redbirds opened camp with a 12-play, 11-on-11 session. The defense shined early, accumulating back-to-back sacks on the first two plays from scrimmage as Will Davis and Colton Underwood each got to Jared Barnett. On the ground, Jonathon Miller broke several tackles for a long pickup.

The team then transitioned to 7-on-7 drills and the quarterbacks quickly fell into a groove. Barnett completed all six pass attemps with Miller leading the way with three receptions. Downfield, Barnett connected with James O'Shaughnessy and Cameron Meredith for long gains. Adam Pittser went 4-for-6 with completions to Anthony Warrum, Michael Clements, Cameron Hunt, and Jamal Towns. Blake Winkler's long completion to a sprinting Clements was a highlight.

Back in 11-on-11 competition, Hunt took the first play from scrimmage more than 10 yards for a gain. Barnett's first pass was an 80-yard touchdown to Lechein Neblett, which drew a loud ovation from the offensive sideline. Defensively, Alejandro Rivera made back-to-back sacks on Pittser and Roderick Moore dropped Trevor Rea. Barnett closed the session with a long over-the-middle completion to a slanting Chick Chatham.

Before camp wrapped, players met with their position coaches for individual drills and the field goal unit had an extended kicking session.

Practice resumes Tuesday with a two-and-a-half hour full-pad practice beginning at 3:00 p.m. at Hancock Stadium.

August 12, 2013

Following the first off day of 2013 fall camp, Illinois State football resumed practice Monday, opening the two-a-day schedule with a two-hour workout at a sun splashed Hancock Stadium.

"They are still tired, but that is all part of it," head coach Brock Spack said. "They came back up to tempo today and tried to fight through the soreness. We'll go full-pads in tonight's practice and really get into some game situations. We'll try to go through some scenarios and get the team ready to go."

Players broke camp with a quick 11-on-11 session, highlighted by several key defensive stops.

The tight ends and wide outs then met at midfield to work on blocking techniques. In the south end zone, offensive linemen ran through blocking drills and the quarterbacks worked with centers on clean snap exchanges. Downfield, linebackers focused on agility and footwork while the secondary ran stairs in a conditioning drill.

The coaching staff corralled the quarterbacks, tight ends, wide outs and running backs to work on a ball-protection drills starting at the 50-yard line.

The offense and defense matched up for a second 11-on-11 session, with Will Davis and Pat Meehan each registering one sack. Jared Barnett connected with James O'Shaughnessy for a 15-yard gain and Adam Pittser found positive yardage in the air to Milton Colbert.

In 7-on-7 competition, Tyler Lovgren and Josh Burch each snagged interceptions and Blake Winkler connected on deep passes to Kyle Harbour and Michael Clements.

Practice concluded with a no-huddle 11-on-11 drill. Jonathon Miller handled the first three rushes, gaining at least five yards in all three carries. Barnett was nearly intercepted by Dontae McCoy, before connecting with Colbert for a short gain. Bradon Prate made back-to-back defensive stops, first breaking through the offensive line to drop Cameron Hunt in the back field. Prate sacked Barnett on the next snap. Trevor Rea found Gage Beekman twice for positive yardage. Winkler completed the drill with a long would-be touchdown pass to Anthony Warrum.

The Redbirds return to work for a full-pad practice Monday night at Hancock Stadium.

August 10, 2013

Over the past four seasons, Illinois State head coach Brock Spack has stressed the importance of scoring touchdowns when his team gets into the red zone. Based off the Redbirds' performance in the team's first intra-squad scrimmage Saturday afternoon, Spack might expect a lot of points being put on the scoreboard in 2013.

The Redbirds took the field and ran over 130 plays during the two-hour work out on a perfect day at Hancock Stadium. Halfway through camp, Spack wanted to get an evaluation of his team and was pleased with the results during the team's 11th practice of the fall.

"I think we were able to get a lot of good work in today," Spack said. "We are halfway through camp now and have given all the players a lot of snaps during practice. Today was an opportunity to see what some of the younger players could do and how they can help us fill out the roster. I thought the defense was very strong early on, but the offense was very efficient once we moved into the red zone and goal line work. Now, the players have a day off and recuperate, before we get back at it Monday for a pair of practices to kick off our final week of training camp."

Overall, the offense scored 73 points, with 42 of those scored on seven-straight possessions in the red zone. Quarterback Jared Barnett led the way, as he completed 10-of-19 passes for 113 yards with five touchdowns. Barnett did throw a pair of interceptions, both to Josh Burch, who finished with a pair of tackles and four pass breakups in addition to his two picks. Blake Winkler threw for three touchdowns and 80 yards on an 8-for-16 effort, and Adam Pittser threw for 99 yards and a touchdown, with a long of 53 to receiver Gage Beekman.

Cameron Meredith led the receivers with four grabs for 52 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and Chick Chatham also recorded a pair of touchdown grabs. Fullback Matt Meyers proved to be good option near the goal line, as he caught a pair of touchdown passes in the red zone. Lechein Neblett added three grabs for 47 yards with a touchdown and Milton Colbert and Anthony Warrum each added a touchdown reception.

Only two of the touchdowns on the day came on the ground, with freshman Jamal Towns leading the way with 121 yards and a score. Collin Keoshian added 82 yards and touchdown on 18 carries and Cameron Hunt rounded out the three-headed rushing attack on the day with 67 yards on 16 rushes.

The scrimmage started with the offense backed up deep in its own end at the two-yard line. The defense had the upper hand early and did not allow the offense past the 20-yard line in the first 20 plays of the scrimmage. The first big gain of the day came on a 27-yard completion from Winkler to Neblett that finally got the ball downfield.

After a pair of three-and-outs, the offense finally put together its first drive of the scrimmage, a 10-play scoring drive that was capped off on a four-yard completion from Barnett to Chatham. The defense fought back and forced six possessions without a score, before the offense scored a pair of quick touchdowns on a 13-yard pass from Barnett to Colbert and a six-yard touchdown run by Towns.

A 27-yard touchdown pass from Barnett to Meredith was the final score before the focus shifted to the red zone. The offense needed just two plays to score on the first series in the red zone, which ended on a 20-yard pass from Winkler to Chatham. Two plays later, the offense scored again as Keoshian bowled his way in from a yard out for a score. Three plays later, Pittser and Warrum connected on an 18-yard score, before Barnett connected with Meredith from the 17-yard line for a one-play touchdown drive.

Myers scored the first of his two touchdowns on the next drive on a two-yard pass from Winkler, and capped off the day with a four-yard touchdown pass from Winkler.

Defensively, sophomore Pat Meehan led the way with 12 tackles, including one for loss, and fellow linebacker Brandon Westphal added nine stops. Defensive lineman Teddy Corwin had a solid day, as he recorded seven tackles and two sacks. Patrick Dougherty also tallied a pair of sacks to go along with six tackles and Sam Campbell had five tackles, a sack, 1.5 tackles-for-loss and a quarterback hurry to round out a strong performance.

In total, the defense recorded seven sacks, 18 tackles-for-loss and forced two turnovers on Burch's interceptions. After a day off Sunday, the Redbirds will return to the field Monday morning at 9 a.m. for the first of two practices on the day.

August 9, 2013

On a humid, overcast night at Hancock Stadium, the Illinois State football team returned to work for a two-hour workout that culminated the second two-a-day practice session of the fall schedule.

"We worked on some third-down scenarios today," head coach Brock Spack said. "I thought we looked pretty good. We were able to work on some up-temp stuff and our offense really executed well. They threw the ball well and made some big plays tonight."

Following on-field stretching, the Redbirds quickly got into 11-on-11 play. Transfer quarterback Jared Barnett improvised a long scramble for positive yardage. Cameron Hunt saw the first three carries, gaining nearly 10 yards on each of his first two touches. Collin Keoshian broke through the line of scrimmage for a 50-yard gain before coaches whistled the play dead. Wide out Corey Shandrick made a leaping catch on a well-thrown pass from Blake Winkler. Defensively, Bryce Kiser tallied a pair of sacks.

In 7-on-7 drills, Barnett, Winkler and Adam Pittser each went 3-for-6. Barnett completed his first two pass attempts, finding James O'Shaughnessy over the middle for a 10-yard gain, before connecting with Phil Dudley on a long scoring play. Winkler twice connected with Jamal Towns and Pittser's completion to Cameron Meredith split a pair of defenders for a long gain.

The team then returned to 11-on-11 competition. On the first play from scrimmage, Barnett fired a 25-yard pass to a slanting Lechein Neblett. Freshman Jon-Marc Anderson stole the show with three receptions, two of which were highlight plays. Barnett connected with Anderson on a deep pass downfield and Pittser, throwing into double coverage, found with a leaping Anderson for big yardage. Backs Jonathon Miller, Towns, Keoshian and Hunt all received touches, with Hunt evading tacklers for an 80-yard dash down the sideline for a score. Rickey Simpson, Teddy Corwin, Colton Underwood and Brandon Prate all registered sacks, while freshman Jalen Battle tipped and intercepted a Trevor Rea pass.

Additionally, Neblett showcased his agility in returning a kickoff for a touchdown and Tevin Allen added a block on a field goal attempt.

The Redbirds return to practice Saturday for the first official scrimmage of fall camp. The session is closed to the public, however fans will have an opportunity to see the team scrimmage, Aug. 17, at Fan Fair.

August 9, 2013

The Illinois State football team will open the season against a pair of high-tempo, no-huddle offenses in Ball State and nationally-ranked Eastern Illinois. To help his defense prepare for that, Redbird head coach Brock Spack had the offense go no-huddle during the team session of Friday morning's practice on the grass practice field.

The team moved up top to its practice field to allow for the final installation of new lighting on the west side of the stadium. While that work was going on, the Redbirds were in shells and played in muddy conditions, after heavy rain two nights ago soaked the field. Despite the conditions, the offense was able to rip off 50-plus plays in its no-huddle look.

Spack wanted to take the opportunity to change the pace up nearly halfway through camp and the defense got a taste of what it will be up against August 29 in Muncie, Ind.

"We typically don't feature the no-huddle in our system, unless we are in a two-minute situation," Spack said. "It's just not something that fits into our offensive philosophy. But, the first two teams we play will run it almost exclusively and that's why it was important for us to run it on offense today and give our defense a look at it and a change of pace. That experience is key, because it forces the players to work on communicating, getting lined up correctly and playing fast. It was great work today for the defense, and something we will probably do again later in camp and closer to the first game."

The first-team unit started at its own 15 yard line and was forced off the field in just three plays, after a breakup by Colton Underwood at the line of scrimmage and a bad snap on third down that had to be covered up by Jared Barnett. The offense re-loaded, and a pair of strong runs by Cameron Hunt moved the ball to the 30 yard line. A 10-yard completion from Barnett to Phil Dudley moved the ball up to the 40, before Barnett and Cameron Meredith hooked up for a 60-yard touchdown pass to cap off a quick drive.

From there, the defense stiffened and did not allow the offense past mid-field for the next five series. A three-and-out was followed by an eight-play drive, which was eventually stopped on a sack by Bryce Kiser. A sack by Zack Marshall on fourth down during the next series kept the momentum alive, and two more stops on fourth down followed.

The offense got back in rhythm on its eighth series, as Blake Winkler led the offense on a seven-play scoring drive. A 27-yard completion on second down to Lechein Neblett moved the ball up to the 42 yard line, and two more completions to Neblett gave the offense the ball at the defense's 35 yard line. A strong run by Marshaun Coprich advanced the ball five yards, before Winkler tucked the ball and scored nearly untouched from 30 yards.

Two more series came and went, before the offense capped off the drill with a five-play scoring drive. Starting from the 40 yard line, an 18-yard run by Jamal Towns put the ball in enemy territory, and a 27-yard completion from Adam Pittser to Meredith put the ball in the red zone at the 15 yard line. Two plays later, Towns capped off the scoring drive with a 10-yard touchdown run to end the first practice of the day. The Redbirds will return to the field tonight at 6 p.m., for the second workout of the day and the 10th of fall camp.

August 8, 2013

Over the past two days, the Illinois State offense took control of practice and had a bit more intensity and enthusiasm on the turf at Hancock Stadium. That all changed Thursday, as the Redbird defense took control of favorable situations and showed its play-making ability and physicality in full pads.

As crews at the stadium continued to put up new light poles, the defense began to shine early during the blitz drill. Sacks by Will Davis and Matt Goldsmith of two of the first three plays set the tone. Later in the drill, Josh Burch almost picked off a pass from Jared Barnett that would have been returned for a touchdown, but he couldn't hang on to the ball.

Later, during the 7-on-7 session, great coverage in the secondary forced the Redbird quarterbacks to miss their targets on six of the first eight plays in the drill. Blake Winkler got the offense going soon after, as he completed three-straight passes to three different receivers, including true freshman Anthony Warrum. Adam Pittser followed and also went 3-for-3, with completions to Chick Chatham and Joe Farmer. Barnett capped off the drill with three-more completions, with one to Warrum and the last to Corey Shandrick.

The momentum gained at the end of the drill faded quickly, as the group moved to the team session. After the stagger-start drill got the blood flowing, the defense kept the intensity high with a quick three-and-out on the first series by the offense. The drill, which put the offensive players in second and long and third and medium situations, proved tough for the offense to overcome and beneficial for the defense.

Davis and Bradon Prate combined on a sack on Barnett to force the initial three-and-out, and Brandon Westphal added a sack two plays later off a blitz from the outside. A nice diving grab in the open flat by Matt Myers gave the offense a first down, but a tackle-for-loss on the next play by David Perkins gave the advantage back to the defense. Burch then added another pass breakup and tackles by Colton Underwood and Pat Meehan in the backfield capped off a strong effort by the defense.

"The offense played with more enthusiasm the past couple days and out-played the defense at times," Spack said. "That changed today, when we put the offense in tough situations deep in their own end of the field. I think the defense dug deep and made some plays that they needed to and got back on track. In a long training camp, one side of the ball is usually going to be stronger on a given day, but it's always good to see a group fight back and get back on track like the defense did today."

Kickers Nick Aussieker, Sean Slattery and Spencer Smith capped off practice with field goal work as always, with Aussieker making a pair of kicks from over 45 yards. The team will return to the field for its second two-a-day of camp Friday, with the first practice set for 9 a.m.

August 7, 2013

Illinois State football returned to Hancock Stadium in full pads Wednesday night, settling in for a two-hour workout that capped the first of five two-a-day practices this fall.

"I think our offense has done a great job these last few practices," head coach Brock Spack said. "Defensively, we were a little better in the morning, but the offense today had the edge. We were able to make a few nice defensive stops in the red zone this evening, but we need to get better."

The Redbirds opened practice with special teams work, focusing on the punting game early. CJ Laros, Spencer Smith, and Sean Slattery received work punting, while Jon-Marc Anderson and Jamal Towns alternated returns.

As part of the ongoing renovation of Hancock Stadium, construction crews are currently replacing the lighting structures of the football stadium. The benefit will be dramatically improved facility lighting, but it currently means that Hancock Stadium is without artificial light, a unique scenario that the coaching staff is making the most of.

"Usually we do our 11-on-11 drills later in practice," Spack explained. "Because we have no lights right now, we decided to move practice up to 6:00 p.m. and change our routine a little bit. We went with the 11-on-11 early because it forces our players to come out onto the field ready to play, similar to a game. You always try and change the routine a little bit and I think it worked out today."

Quarterback Blake Winkler led the first-team offense onto the field and connected on his first two pass attempts, finding Phil Dudley on the right side for a 10-yard gain and Lechein Neblett for a few yards over the middle. Jared Barnett was forced to throw the ball away on his first pass attempt, but followed with completions to Corey Shandrick and Chick Chatham for positive yardage.

Practice then moved to 7-on-7 work, where highlights included a flashy completion from Winkler to Kyle Harbour and a long touchdown pass from Adam Pittser to Shandrick.

With the sun now setting beyond Horton Field House, the offense and defense again met for the final 11-on-11 competition of the day. Defensively, Dontae McCoy broke up a would-be touchdown pass and made a diving tackle to stop a potentially long run. Running back Collin Keoshian shined in the red zone, barreling through the defensive line for a pair of short touchdown runs. Barnett showcased both his arm and legs, connecting with Joe Farmer for a long gain before rushing for a 10-yard pickup. Kickers Nick Aussieker and Slattery alternated field goal and extra point attempts.

Practice resumes Thursday afternoon at Hancock Stadium for a full-pad practice starting at 3:00 p.m.

August 7, 2013

In talks with the Illinois State football players over the first few days of camp, many said that workouts start getting intense when the first two-a-day happens. That day happened to be Wednesday, as the Redbirds took the field in the morning for the first of two workouts on the day at Hancock Stadium.

Coming out in shells (helmets and shoulder pads), the team enjoyed cooler weather and had a bit more pep in its step. Players were flying around and hustling between drills, a welcomed site after the team's first full-padded practice Tuesday afternoon in the heat and humidity.

In the early team install session, the focus was on the run game as Jamal Towns, Marshaun Coprich and Collin Keoshian took turns carrying the football. The defensive front proved tough and did not give up any long runs and David Perkins recorded an impressive tackle-for-loss on a blitz midway through the drill. Just to keep the defense on its toes, Blake Winkler pulled the ball back on play-action and connected with Lechein Neblett on an 80-yard touchdown.

The focus then shifted to work in the red zone. Each fall, the Redbirds focus on work in the red zone and head coach Brock Spack believes this is crucial to a team's success.

"We try to focus heavily on the red zone several times during the fall," Spack said. "It's vital for an offense to be able to convert down there and it's crucial for a defense to try and hold a team to just a field goal and get off the field. Those drills are mutually beneficial to both groups and we as coaches feel it's important to spend our time on."

The first red zone work came during the 7-on-7 drill. Starting from the 12 yard line, the offense scored touchdowns on two of its six attempts. After an incompletion on the first play from scrimmage, linebacker Alex Donnelly broke up a would-be touchdown grab in the end zone to keep the offense scoreless. Winkler took over and found Joe Farmer in the back of the end zone for a touchdown and followed that with a pass to the flat to Coprich, which he ran in for the score.

Six series in the red zone followed during the team session, with the first three starting from the 25 yard line and the final three from the 14 yard line. The defense allowed a first down on the first drive, but came back and stuffed the offense on three straight plays to come away with the win. On the second drive, a personal foul penalty on the first play gave the offense the ball on the 10 and Cameron Hunt needed just two rushes to find the end zone for the score. The third drive was all defense, as the offense went three-and-out.

The final three series resulted in a pair of touchdowns. The offense needed just two runs from Coprich to score on the first drive and a 14-yard pass on second down in the second drive from Jared Barnett to Chick Chatham put six points on the scoreboard. The defense was able to end on a high note, thanks to a sack by Andre Allen and a pass breakup by Josh Burch that forced the offense off the field.

The team will return to the field later today at 6 p.m. for its second workout of the day.

August 6, 2013

The first four practices of fall camp served as an acclimation period leading up to Tuesday's workout, when the Illinois State football team took the field for its first fully-padded practice of the season at Hancock Stadium.

As expected, the intensity was high early in practice and the sounds of crashing helmets and clashing pads could be heard in all directions. However, as practice wore on and the heat of the afternoon ramped up, players had to fight through the two-hour session.

The offense was tasked at having to pick up a pair of first downs coming out of its own end zone from the four yard line during the final team session and was extremely efficient, as the defense forced just three stops on third down in the 60-plus play session. ISU head coach Brock Spack was impressed with the performance from his offensive unit, but wanted to see more intensity out of the Redbird defense.

"I was very impressed with the offense's performance during the team period," Spack said. "Teams have to able to get their backs off their own goal line to be successful, and they had a championship-level performance down there today. Defensively, I think we lacked intensity and that was evident by not being able to get off the field. I think that means we have a dangerous offense, but we will have to see how the defense responds because we will do it all over again tomorrow to see if they learned anything."

The first drive featured some strong runs by Cameron Hunt, but a big pass play from Jared Barnett to Cameron Meredith gave the offense its second first-down conversion and a win for the session. In the next series, a pass play to the flat from Adam Pittser to Brady Tibbits turned into a big gain and proved to be the winner, much to the delight of his teammates on the sidelines.

The third drive also ended on a high note, as Blake Winkler dropped back in the end zone on a play-action fake and found Chick Chatham streaking down the middle of the field for a 40-yard gain, with Chatham lying out at the end to make the grab. Tibbits got back into the action with another first down catch in the next series from Barnett to keep the momentum going and Marshaun Coprich slashed his way to a 17-yard gain on third down on the next rotation.

On the next series, the defense got its first win, thank to a pair of tackles-for-loss and a well-designed blitz on third down. Zack Marshall stuffed Jamal Towns in the backfield on first down and a solid run by Hunt on second down set up a third-and-short scenario. Spack dialed up a blitz and the offense had no chance to block it, with David Perkins and others forcing a stop on Hunt to force fourth down.

That would be the biggest highlight for the defense, as Towns ripped off runs of 22 and 15 yards on the next two series to end the dominant session for the guys in the red jerseys. Nick Aussieker and crew then ended practice with field goal work, with Aussieker nailing 7-of-8 attempts and lone miss coming from 43 yards as the ball glanced off the left upright. He hit the money ball from 43 yards, which capped off a strong day that saw him make two from 50 yards early in practice.

The Redbirds will participate in their first two-a-day on Wednesday, with the first practice schedule for 9 a.m. and the second for 6 p.m. at Hancock Stadium.

August 5, 2013

Prior to the fourth practice of the fall, the Illinois State football players and coaches took the field Monday morning to pose for their annual team photo and meet with members of the local media as part of Media Day at Hancock Stadium.

As expected, many of the questions centered around the competition for the starting quarterback job. Candidates Adam Pittser, Blake Winker and Jared Barnett each took turns doing interviews with television, newspaper and radio outlets on the field. Head coach Brock Spack re-iterated at his press conference later in the day that the competition was still wide open, and that he most likely won't make a decision on a starter until camp ends after the team's scrimmage on Aug. 17.

Whoever will be taking the snaps this fall will have some experience targets to throw to, including junior tight end James O'Shaughnessy and junior wide receiver Lechein Neblett. Senior running back Jonathon Miller has worked hard to come back from a season-ending knee injury and he talked to several outlets about his rehabilitation process and his eagerness to contribute in the fall.

Watch what Neblett had to say about him taking a leadership role among the receivers and the battle for the starting quarterback:

As one-on-one interviews were going on, players took individual photos at midfield and were called in groups to take photos with their position coaches. With players and coaches moving rotating around the field, many enjoyed the beautiful weather, grabbed footballs to play catch in between photos or interviews and snapped candid shots with their cell phones to post on their social media sites.

On the defensive side of the football, there will be several new starters and many of them were introduced to the media for the first time. However, senior standout and All-American Colton Underwood served as the spokesman for the group and calmed any fears of a potential slide from last season's defense. He stressed to the eagerness and aggressiveness of the young group, and downplayed the inexperience, focusing instead the group's willingness to learn and work hard.

Check out the video below to hear what Underwood had to say about his preparation during the offseason to get ready for 2013:

After a long morning of photos and interviews, the team took the field in the afternoon for a two-hour workout. The offense showed its big-play ability in the 7-on-7 session, with three long pass plays for touchdowns. Freshman Anthony Warrum was the first to find the end zone on a 75-yard strike down the sideline from Winkler. Three plays later, O'Shaughnessy gained 30 yards over the middle, which eventually set up Corey Shandrick for a 60-yard touchdown pass from Winkler four plays later. Freshman Jon-Marc Anderson capped off the drill on a 50-yard touchdown from Trevor Rea.

The team session was very balanced, with each side making some big plays. The offense, which struggled with turnovers through the first three practices, protected the ball well and picked up some big gains on pass plays from Barnett to Neblett and a strong cutback run by Collin Keoshian. The defense broke up four passes, two by Matt Goldsmith, and three sacks with one each for Will Davis, Bradon Prate and Bryce Kiser to even things out and end practice on a high note.

The Redbirds will put on full pads for the first time Tuesday, when they hit the field at 3:30 p.m. for practice No. 5.

August 4, 2013

On the third day of fall football camp, the Illinois State Redbirds added shoulder pads, increasing the intensity of practice on a sun splashed Sunday afternoon at Hancock Stadium.

"Things were a lot more physical today," head coach Brock Spack said. "When you start to add pads, your timing gets a little out of whack and you don't move as comfortably. It makes it an important day for us. It is still very early in camp and even your veterans struggle the first time they put on pads. It's common to move a little slower on a day like today, but it is important that the build off it and come back stronger tomorrow."

With temperatures sitting in the low 80's, the Redbirds opened their 3:30 practice with stretching. The offensive line then went to the south end zone for footwork drills, while other positions met with their individual coaches.

Special teams received an early spotlight, as punters CJ Laros, Spencer Smith and Sean Slattery each worked on punting against a full defense.

The offense then squared off versus the defense in the first of two 11-on-11 drills. In the first session, the defense had the early advantage. Zack Marshall and Ricky Simpson each tallied one sack, while a blitzing Matt Goldsmith forced an errant throw from Adam Pittser. Wide out Milton Colbert tallied a pair of receptions, including a 15-yard haul from Pittser and a 10-yard grab from Jared Barnett.

Players returned to individual drills, with a heavy emphasis on contact and agility.

In 7-on-7 play, Pittser, Barnett, Blake Winkler and Trevor Rea focused on repetitions and timing with receivers. Winkler connected with Colbert for a 10-yard gain, before Rea found freshman Anthony Warrum for a long would-be touchdown. Josh Burch's leaping interception of a Pittser pass was a defensive highlight.

Before the field goal unit brought practice to a close, the Redbirds engaged in one final 11-on-11 battle. Offensively, Pittser threw a perfect pass to a sprinting Scott Keuhn for a long touchdown, Winkler evaded tacklers for a 10-yard scramble run and Collin Keoshian weaved through traffic for a long rush.

The Redbirds return to Hancock Stadium Monday morning for media day, before donning shells again for a 3:00 p.m. practice.

August 3, 2013

The early stages of any training camp focuses heavily on technique and player conditioning, and those areas have been the focus the past two days for the Illinois State Redbird football team as it starts fall workouts at Hancock Stadium.

Playing a 13-game season last year forced the players to be extremely conditioned and prepared for the playoff grind. Heading into the offseason, the focus narrowed even more to make sure the team was ready for another long, grueling season in one of the best conferences in FCS football.

Coach Jim Lathrop and his strength and conditioning staff developed a plan in the offseason for each player, and the early results have been impressive. Several members of the team have bulked up and others have slimmed down, while getting fit, to improve their stamina and strength. However, that work does not stop just because camp starts. Many teams run sprints, and the Redbirds will do that as well, but a new drill has been added to the players' conditioning routine in practice to get ready for the season.

"We call it the stagger start drill," ISU head coach Brock Spack said. "The players lay face down on the turf and have to pop up on the whistle and sprint 20 yards. The purpose of the drill is to get their blood pumping before the team portion of practice. We have to be well-conditioned and have an edge, because the first two teams we play (Ball State and Eastern Illinois) like to go no-huddle and wear out defenses. We have to make sure the players are prepared for that and this is just one way to try and simulate what it will be like for them in a game situation."

The drill is conducted an hour-and-a-half into practice, so the players are already somewhat tired, which in turn simulates what it might be like for them in the fourth quarter of a game. Whether or not it works will not be known until Aug. 29, when the Redbirds travel to Ball State, but a little change in the pace of practice has seemed to make an impact through the first two days of camp.

Offensively, the Redbird quarterbacks had a much better day despite windy condition on the field. Blake Winkler was a perfect 6-for-6 during the 7-on-7 drill, with completions to six different receivers including true freshmen Jon-Marc Anderson and Anthony Warrum. Jared Barnett was 5-for-6 in the drill as well, with Lechein Neblett bailing him out with a diving grab off a tipped ball by Josh Burch. Adam Pittser was 4-for-6, with a pair of long completions to Cameron Meredith.

After a brief team install period, the stagger start drill led into the team portion of practice. An early interception by Dominic Clarke off Barnett set the tone early and Burch broke up a pass a couple plays later. Linebacker Patrick Dougherty also picked off his first pass of camp and returned it for a touchdown, marking the second-straight day the defense scored off of a turnover.

But, just like yesterday, the offense made some big plays of its own, with Winkler and Meredith connecting for a big gain in the middle of the field by taking advantage of a hole in the middle of the defensive coverage. Phil Dudley made a pair of big catches along the sideline and Corey Shandrick tallied three receptions during the drill.

The defense recovered quickly, with Zack Marshall, Rickey Simpson, Bryce Kiser and Bradon Prate each recording a tackle-for-loss in the 30-play session and Clarke picked off his second pass of the day. David Perkins also got into the act, as he came off the outside nearly untouched and forced Pittser into a sack to put a cap on the drill.

ISU will return back to the field Sunday at 3:30 p.m., wearing shoulder pads for the first time this spring.

August 2, 2013

When the 2012 season came to an end in the FCS playoffs at Eastern Washington last December, the Illinois State football team's focus immediately shifted to the 2013 season. On Friday, the Redbirds took the first step towards returning to the playoffs and opened 2013 fall workouts at Hancock Stadium on a beautiful day in the Twin Cities.

ISU head coach Brock Spack was pleased to be back out on the field with his team and formed a few early impressions of his roster.

"With a first practice like this, it's hard to form a strong opinion one way or the other about your team," Spack said. "However, when I look back to when we started three to four years ago, it's evident that this group and program is much further along at this point. Many of these guys are inexperienced and young, but they have shown that they are willing to work hard and fight through some adversity. There will be some growing pains with so many new starters out there, but there is a toughness about this team and that is a good sign."

Veterans welcomed transfers and freshmen to the program and the first whistle blew to start the two-hour workout. After a brief install period and calisthenics, the players followed their position coaches to their respective sections of the field for individual workouts. Each group worked on the fundamentals and stressed their techniques and ball security.

The focus then shifted to form tackling drills and special teams coverage work, before the inside run drill commenced. Without full pads on (the first day in full pads will be Tuesday), there was no contact, but the offensive linemen focused on their hand placement and footwork, while would-be tacklers worked on eluding blocks. Running backs Cameron Hunt, Marshaun Coprich, Jonathon Miller and Collin Keoshian each got turns toting the football and finding the holes in the defense.

An abbreviated 7-on-7 session followed, with quarterbacks Jared Barnett, Adam Pittser and Blake Winkler each taking the snaps. After a rough start, the trio knocked off the rust and finished the drill by completing their last seven passes combined. The team then split in half, with the first and second-team units staying down on the turf as the rest of the team headed to the grass practice field to get some much needed repetitions.

On the turf inside the stadium, the defense took over the new home sideline in front of the renovated east side of the stadium. They must have felt comfortable over there, as they proceeded to pick off three passes, scoop up two fumbles and force several losses in the backfield. Linebacker Brandon Westphal and defensive backs Matt Goldsmith and Josh Burch each recorded intercepions and returned them for would-be touchdowns during the drill.

Westphal also scooped up a fumble and returned it for a touchdown on a dropped pitch attempt by Coprich, which was followed by a sack on Winkler by All-American Colton Underwood. Underwood and Bryce Kiser were proved tough to block, with each recording a pair of tackles-for-loss.

The defense didn't record all the big plays,though, as the offense piled up a few of its own. Cameron Meredith continued to show his progression as a wide receiver and beat safety Adam Rebholz deep for a would-be 80-yard touchdown pass on a great post pattern throw from Winkler. Winkler also found Lechein Neblett over the middle for a 30-yard grab, as Neblett broke off his route and dove to make the catch. Scott Kuehn also made a great diving catch on a pass from Barnett, and James O'Shaughnessy added a pair of 15-yard receptions from the tight end spot.

With four starters returning up front, it was no surprise that the offensive line was strong on Friday. The unit opened up big holes for Keoshian and Miller, who racked up big gains, and gave the quarterbacks plenty of time to throw. A strong run off tackle by Miller put a cap on the first workout of the fall and the team broke the huddle with their first `Redbirds' chant of the year.

The Redbirds will return to the field Saturday at 3:30 p.m., for the second workout of the year.

August 1, 2013

Coming off a 9-4 season and an appearance in the quarterfinals of the FCS Playoffs, the Illinois State football team has a lot of momentum heading into the 2013 season.  Combine that with a $25 million dollar renovation to the east side of Hancock Stadium going up, there's extreme excitement surrounding the program. 

Fifth year head coach Brock Spack has led the Redbirds to four-straight winning campaigns, marking the first time the program has achieved that feat since the 1950's, but lost 12 starters from last year's team and has a big challenge ahead of him to extend the streak to five. That journey starts today, when players report back to campus before the first practice of the fall at 3 p.m. Friday, Aug. 2 at Hancock Stadium.

On offense, the biggest question will be who takes the snaps at quarterback after the graduation of four-year starter and the school's all-time leading passer, Matt Brown.  Adam Pittser and Blake Winkler return for a chance at playing time and Iowa State transfer Jared Barnett comes in looking to make his mark.  With big wins at Iowa State on his resume and two years of playing time in the Big 12, Barnett came on strong at the end of spring practice and made it a three-way competition. 

Whoever is quarterback will have several weapons returning to throw the ball to.  Junior Lechein Neblett (49 catches, 667 yds., 5 TD) and senior Phil Dudley (32 catches, 229 yds., 1 TD) return along with junior tight end James O'Shaughnessy (19 catches, 403 yds., 3 TD), who came on strong late in the season and saved two great games for the playoff stretch.  Replacing all-time receiver Tyrone Walker will be tough, but Cameron Meredith looks to make an impact after converting from quarterback and showing flashes of athleticism and explosiveness in his route running in the spring.

The offensive line will lead the way, with four starters returning who started all 13 games together last season.  Tackles Josh Aladenoye and Jermaine Barton solidified the line in 2012 and will provide big bookends for whichever player wins the quarterback job.  The line will also be a key for a group of running backs, who should split time.  Senior Jonathon Miller played well last season, before suffering a knee injury and will be watched closely in the fall.  Cameron Hunt and Marshaun Coprich each saw time in the backfield last year and newcomer Collin Keoshian will be the big, power back Spack is used to seeing from his time in the Big Ten.

On defense, the big fix is in the front seven, with five starters needing to be replaced.  Luckily, 2012 Buck Buchanan Award Finalist and First-Team All-American Colton Underwood (95 tackles, 10.5 sacks, 19.5 TFL) returns for his senior season to anchor the defensive front, along with senior defensive tackle and two-year starter Albert Sparks.  Bradon Prate, Sam Campbell, Will Davis and Rickey Simpson will look to fill out the other tackle and end spots, respectively, and should provide the unit with the necessary depth to keep their legs fresh. 

All three linebackers will be also be new, with last year's trio all having graduated.  Sophomore Alex Donnelly did start four games when Austin Davis went down with an injury and played well, so he will be looked to for leadership.  Fellow sophomore Pat Meehan has learned from two First-Team All-MVFC linebackers the past two years (Josh Howe and Mike Zimmer) and is poised to take over in the middle.  Senior Brandon Westphal has been a standout on special teams during his career, but will look to make the most out of his first starting chance.  Young linebackers Brent Spack and Andre Allen took a lot of snaps in the spring and should provide depth, and recent Ohio State transfer David Perkins will look to get up to speed quickly to provide some athleticism on the outside.

Mike Banks and Matt Goldsmith return at cornerback along with Tevin Allen and Dominic Clarke, making that position the most veteran-laden group heading into camp.  Senior safety Ezra Thompson also returns, but a big hole remains at free safety with the loss of Third-Team All-American Ben Ericksen.  Dontae McCoy was the backup at the position last year and looks to be the favorite heading into the season, but Dion Starnes and Soniel Esteem could push the veterans with their talent and explosiveness.

On special teams, placekicker Nick Aussieker returns for his third season and looks to improve on his solid numbers from last season (11 FG, 79 pts) and longsnapper Chris Highland is a preseason All-American.  Punter Patrick Wright is battling a potential season-ending back injury, so junior college punter CJ Laros (Citrus College) was brought in to help with punting duties.

A tough non-conference schedule includes games at Ball State and 2012 Ohio Valley Conference Champion Eastern Illinois, along with the home opener against FCS provisional program Abilene Christian.  The MVFC schedule will be tough as always and the season will be a long one, with 10-straight games before a bye week in the last week of the regular season. 

Fans can follow all the action throughout camp on, with daily practice updates, photo galleries and player interviews posted throughout the two-week session. The fall workouts will commence with the annual Fan Fair and Scrimmage on Saturday, Aug. 17, beginning at 2 p.m.


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