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April 27, 2013

The Illinois State football team wrapped up five weeks of hard work and preparation for the 2013 Saturday, when it took the field in front of Redbird fans in the stands for the Spring Showcase.

In a format change from recent years, the Redbirds worked through the hour and a half workout like a regular practice, going through individual and team drills instead of holding a full scrimmage. Due to on-going construction at Hancock Stadium, the team held a full scrimmage last weekend at Illinois Wesleyan but came out Saturday to show the fans an inside look at practice.

After the blitz drill and 7-on-7 work, ISU head coach Brock Spack invited the fans in attendance down to the field to stand on the turf behind the huddle and watch practice up close. Fans that took advantage got to hear the sounds of collegiate football and got a feel for how physical and fast the play is up close.
The fans then got a chance to stand behind placekicker Nick Aussieker during the final field goal drill of the game. Players, coaches and fans screamed and yelled as Aussieker maintained his composure and booted kicks through the uprights.

Following the Spring Showcase, players signed autographs and took pictures with kids and fans in attendance. The Spring Showcase capped off a busy day at ISU that included the ISU Athletics Garage Sale, the Kids Football Fest and the Redbird Barbecue at the stadium.

The team will now head into the offseason, with the first goal of finishing the end of the school year strong and doing well on finals. The team will return to the field in August for the beginning of fall training camp, in preparation for the season opener at Ball State.

April 23, 2013

From the moment the Illinois State football team stepped on the turf at Hancock Stadium Tuesday afternoon, rain fell and temperatures dropped as the Redbirds fought the conditions during their 13th workout of spring practice.

Last week, the team was able to move practice times up a bit to avoid the rain storms that caused flooding in much of central Illinois. However, there was no escape from the elements Tuesday as receivers fought to catch slippery footballs, running backs struggled to hold onto the football and quarterbacks found it hard to get a strong grip.

"As coaches, we certainly don't like to be out in rain and cold like we did today and the players don't either," ISU head coach Brock Spack said. "Weather is something we can't control as coaches and players, so we have to focus on technique and fundamentals on a day like today. It was very difficult at times on the quarterbacks and receivers, but they need that practice in case they have to play in conditions like this in the fall. Spring practices are all about preparing for the fall and as nasty as it was out there today, it helped the team get used to possible playing conditions later in the year."

Partly because of the rain, the first team session started with a heavy focus on the inside running game before transitioning to some third-down passing scenarios. Marshaun Coprich got the early carries and Cameron Hunt followed with a couple strong gains later in the drill. However, the defense took control and took advantage of the adverse weather conditions to makes some big plays.

Will Davis picked up a sack on Jared Barnett on the first play from scrimmage and Josh Burch batted down a pair of passes on consecutive plays, before Winkler finally connected with Brian Athey on a 15-yard gain down the sideline. Two plays later, Winkler aired out a 68-yard touchdown pass to Scott Kuehn for the only big play of the day. Pat Dougherty put a cap on the drill with a tackle-for-loss on running back Steven Smith, as he attempted to make positive yards on a screen play.

The usually crisp and consistent 7-on-7 drill was a nightmare for the Redbird quarterbacks, as they struggled to make strong throws and the receivers had a hard time grabbing the passes thrown their way. Pat Meehan broke up the first pass attempt intended for Joe Farmer and Burch later picked off a pass by Winkler that slipped out of his hand and floated into the middle of the field. Barnett was finally able to get some momentum with back-to-back completions to Phil Dudley and Chick Chatham, but those would be the last two of the drill.

Defensive intensity ratcheted up in the final team period, with Meehan recording at TFL on the first play and Davis and Rickey Simpson combined for a sack two plays later. Barnett got the offense back on track, with short completions to Hunt and James O'Shaughnessy, before Coprich picked up a pair of first downs with strong runs inside the tackles.

The momentum switched again quickly, when Sam Campbell scooped up a fumble and returned it 15 yards for a touchdown as his teammates ran from the sidelines to celebrate with him in the end zone. A big hit by Bradon Prate in the open field on Hunt followed and Burch capped off the day with another pass breakup to put an end to a slick and chilly practice.

ISU will return to the field Thursday at 3:30 p.m. for its final practice before the Spring Showcase, which will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday at Hancock Stadium.

April 20, 2013

With just a week left during spring workouts, the Illinois State football team held its longest and final team scrimmage Saturday at Tucci Stadium at Illinois Wesleyan. For the second-straight week, the Redbirds traveled up the street to work through a 90-plus play scrimmage and after a week full of rain, the team took the field under sunny skies and cool temperatures.

Similar to last week, the offense began working with its back to the end zone at the two-yard line. The first-team unit, let by Jared Barnett, got a win on the first series by picking up two first downs in three plays on completions to Chick Chatham and a pass interference penalty. The second-team unit was not as lucky, and failed to pick up a first down thanks to a sack on Blake Winkler by Pat Dougherty.

Both units then headed to the 27-yard line to begin driving the field. The first offensive series ended on a fumble by Cameron Hunt, before Winkler led the offense on a solid 10-play drive, highlighted by a 37-yard completion to Cameron Meredith. Barnett led the offense to its first score of the day, courtesy of a five-play scoring drive that was capped off by a seven-yard touchdown pass on a fade route to Meredith.

Barnett came back on the very next series and needed seven plays to get the team on the scoreboard once again. He found Lechein Neblett for a 24-yard gain and a 12-yard pass to Chatham put the ball inside the 20-yard line. Three plays later, Barnett was flushed out of the pocket and ran into the end zone for the first of his two rushing touchdowns on the day.

After the back-to-back touchdowns, the defense made a pair of big stops to momentarily quell the offense's momentum. A sack by Teddy Corwin and pass breakup on third down by Soniel Estime forced a punt on the first drive and Josh Burch picked off a Barnett pass at the two-yard line, as the offense was threatening to score, to put an end to the next series. Starting with the ball at the defense's 42-yard line on the next series, Steven Smith almost single-handedly led the offense to its third touchdown of the game. Smith carried the ball six times, with a long rush of 15 yards that resulted in the touchdown, during the eight-play scoring drive.

A 37-yard field goal by Nick Aussieker in the first series of the red zone drill got the offense off to a good start and Spencer Smith answered on a next drive with a 28-yard field goal of his own to give the offense six points on its first two trips. On the next series, Aussieker had his next field goal attempt blocked by Pat Meehan, but Hunt got the first touchdown of the red zone session with a two-yard carry on the next series.

The scrimmage ended with an overtime, with the offense winning the toss and starting on its own 25-yard line. In the first overtime period, Barnett found Chatham for a 13-yard gain and later scored on a 10-yard keeper to give the offense a touchdown on its first try. In the second overtime, Winkler needed just three plays and two passes to Meredith, the second a 20-yard touchdown pass, to end the scrimmage on a high note for the offense.

Barnett finished his day with a 12-for-17 passing effort for 135 yards and a touchdown, adding to his 25 yards on the ground and two scores. Winkler was 7-for-11 with 91 yards and a score to round out a solid effort by the Redbird quarterbacks. Smith led all rushers with 73 yards and a touchdown and Hunt rushed for 44 yards on 14 carries, with a touchdown. Meredith was the top receiver with four catches for 69 yards and two touchdowns, while Chatham also caught four passes for 32 yards. Neblett added a pair of grabs for 46 yards.

Meehan and Adam Rebholz led all tacklers with seven stops each, and Dougherty added six tackles and a sack. Anthony Boddy and Bryce Kiser also added sacks on the day and Alex Donnelly led the way with 1.5 tackles-for-loss while finishing with four tackles.

ISU will take the rest of the weekend off, before returning to the field at Hancock Stadium on Tuesday for is 13th workout of the spring.

April 18, 2013

The rain and heavy winds didn't stop the Redbirds from getting in a solid practice Thursday afternoon. ISU switched things up and started the day with the blitz session. Jared Barnett finished 5-of-6 in the drill, highlighted by a 25-yard pass to Robert Moore. Blake Winkler took the lead next, and made completions to Steve Smit, before completing three-consecutive passes to Marshaun Coprich.

The offense opened the next drill with Barnett making a completion to James O'Shaughnessy, followed by a 15-yard pass to Coprich. The defense started to find a rhythm with big tackles by Alex Donnelly and Pat Meeham, along with holding off Trevor Rea with a coverage sack.

Barnett connected with Moore and Neblett on the first two plays of the next team series, until Bradon Prate stepped up and marked the only sack of the drill on the next play. Barnett helped the offense get back on track with a 70-yard touchdown pass to Lechein Neblett and an additional 25-yard touchdown pass to Moore.

The Redbirds started using their running game as Hunt rushed for 25-yards in two-plays.The team drills concluded with back-to-back touchdowns from Moore and Cameron Meredith. The Redbirds closed out practice working on special teams and individual sessions.

Illinois State will return to the field at 10 a.m. Saturday morning for a closed scrimmage at Illinois Wesleyan.

April 16, 2013

After a 90-plus play scrimmage on Saturday and a few days off over the weekend, the Illinois State football team got back to work Tuesday on the turf at Hancock Stadium for its tenth workout of the spring.

Throughout the first nine workouts, the bulk of the focus on offense has been establishing a strong, consistent running attack to go along with the Redbirds' high-powered passing offense. However, that focus changed Tuesday, as the bulk of the work during the team sessions revolved around work on the passing game, especially in third-down situations.

"Today's practice was not as physical as the previous ones have been this spring and that was by design," head coach Brock Spack said. "We wanted to focus heavily on the passing game today and came out in a lot of empty backfield sets. We felt it was important for the offense to get that work, and the defense benefits from those looks in coverage as well. We also wanted to focus on using the pass to convert on first down and we got some work done in those situations."

After extended work on special teams throughout the beginning portion of practice, it was time for the 7-on-7 drill. Transfer quarterback Jared Barnett was locked in during the drill, as he finished 7-for-8 including a long 40-yard completion down the sideline to Lechein Neblett. Barnett also completed two passes each to Phil Dudley and Corey Shandrick and connected on a great touch pass to tight end Brian Athey. Blake Winkler was 4-for-6, with completions to Cameron Meredith and Shandrick, but was also picked off by Tevin Allen. Trevor Rea struggled, as he went 0-for-3 in his only snaps of the drill and threw an interception to Matt Goldsmith.

During the team drill, the defense had the early advantage as Colton Underwood and Rickey Simpson combined to sack Winkler on the second play. Barnett then took the reins and struggled to complete passes early and Will Davis added the second sack of the session. Barnett eventually completed a screen pass to Neblett, but linebacker Brandon Westphal sniffed out the play and dropped Neblett in the backfield for a tackle-for-loss.

The offense got some momentum going mid-way through, when Winkler found Shandrick streaking down the sideline for a 35-yard gain. Marshaun Coprich then got into the action with a screen pass that he turned into positive yards and Milton Colbert hauled in a pass from Barnett for a 10-yard gain on third down.

Underwood and Davis put an end to that momentum, with back-to-back sacks on Winkler and Anthony Boddy intercepted a pass on the next play to firmly put an end to the drill and the first workout of the week. The team will return to Hancock Stadium at 3:30 p.m. Thursday for its second practice of the week.

April 13, 2013

The Illinois State football team had to travel up Main Street to Bloomington to hold its first full scrimmage of the spring Saturday, when the Redbirds worked out for two hours at Tucci Stadium on the Illinois Wesleyan campus.

The Redbirds moved the scrimmage to the home of the Titans because of on-going construction at Hancock Stadium and the wet condition on the team's grass practice field. After a brief warm-up period and stretching, the team took to the turf and worked through almost 90 plays in different situations.

"We have a long way to go in all phases of our team," head coach Brock Spack said. "I think we were able to accomplish some good things today and there are still six more practices before we call it a spring. We wanted each unit to get a lot of snaps today, wanted to scrimmage several different situations (coming off the goal line, covering the field, red zone, and goal line) and we were able to get some live PAT, field goals and punts in. So, I think we got a lot done, but we still have work to do."

The scrimmage started with the offense backed up against its own end zone, with the task of picking up two first downs. The first-team unit picked up its first down on the second play from scrimmage, when Blake Winkler found James O'Shaughnessy on the sideline for a 10-yard gain. Two-straight carries from Marshaun Coprich of four and seven yards, respectively, picked up the second first down to give the offense a solid first series.

From there, the defense stiffened and did not allow a first down on the next three series. A sack by Bradon Prate on Jared Barnett put an end to the third drive of the session and two solid tackles by Brent Spack in the final series put an end to the offense's momentum. Punters Pat Wright and Spencer Smith then took turns punting from their own end zone, with Wright booming a 40-plus yard punt that Tevin Allen was not able to return due to solid coverage.

The focus then shifted to driving the field. The defense was strong early, as it did not allow the offense to get past midfield through the first four series. A pass breakup by Dominic Clarke and sack by Will Davis ended the first drive quickly, before Barnett and O'Shaughnessy were able to connect on the next drive for the initial first-down conversion of the session.

After the first four series, the offense was able to find its rhythm and put together two solid drives. Adam Pittser orchestrated an 11-play drive, which included a 15-yard pass to Phil Dudley and a 20-yard connection with Lechein Neblett, which got the team just past midfield before the drive stalled. The offense then scored its first touchdown of the day on the next drive, as Barnett led a nine-play scoring drive that was capped off by a one-yard touchdown run by Steven Smith.

More live punts followed that drill, with one being blocked by Kevin McGarry that he returned 13 yards for a touchdown. From there the offense moved into the red zone, where it struggled early on. On the first drive, the defense forced a field goal by Nick Aussieker, which was blocked by Allen to end the threat. On the next drive, a bobbled hold forced another missed attemp and Clarke picked off a pass from Winkler on the first play of the next drive and returned it 86 yards for the touchdown.

The offense eventually put seven points on the scoreboard on the fourth series in the red zone, when Winkler found Dudley in the back of the end zone for a 13-yard touchdown. A 23-yard field goal on the next series by Spencer Smith capped off the red zone work, as the team headed to working on the goal line.

A four-yard touchdown run by Cameron Hunt on the second play from scrimmage gave the offense another touchdown, before Aussieker's extra point was blocked by Adam Rebholz. Coprich then scored a pair of one-yard touchdowns on the next two series to end the day on a high note for the offense.

Coprich led all rushers with 50 yards on 15 carries, with the two goal line touchdown carries. Winkler completed 5-of-11 pass attempts for 50 yards, including the touchdown to Dudley, and Barnett was 4-for-9 passing for 46 yards. Tight end Brian Athey led all receivers with three grabs for 25 yards and O'Shaughnessy finished with two grabs for 24 yards.

Davis led the Redbird defense with six tackles, which included a sack and 1.5 tackles-for-loss on the day. Spack also added six stops and Prate finished with three tackles, including the sack. Clarke finished his day with three tackles, a sack, an interception and a breakup in the secondary.

The team will take the rest of the weekend off, before returning to Hancock Stadium at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday for the 10th practice of the spring.

April 11, 2013

Despite cold, wind and a light mist hovering around Hancock Stadium on Thursday, the Redbird offense caught fire and impressed ISU head coach Brock Spack with its performance during a team red zone session during the team's eighth workout of the spring.

"I was very impressed with the production of the offense during the red zone session at the end of practice," Spack said. "I thought at times last year we stalled in the end zone, and as much as we have confidence in our Nick Aussieker, our goal is to come away with seven points every time we are down there. We were able to do that well today and it was good for the defense as well to get that work. We will continue to do that this Saturday when we scrimmage, and this was as efficient as I have seen the offense all camp."

Once individual position drills were over and the team went into the blitz session, it looked as if the Redbird defense was going to dominate the two-hour workout. Will Davis started out the drill with a sack and Rickey Simpson followed a few plays later with a tackle-for-loss on a carry by Cameron Hunt. On the very next play, Simpson sacked quarterback Blake Winkler and two plays later, Teddy Corwin and Brandon Westphal combined on a sack.

The focus then shifted to work on the goal line, with the defense backed up to its own four yard line. It took two plays for Marshaun Coprich to score on a play off tackle, but the defense stiffened and did not allow a score for five more plays, when Hunt barreled his way in from four yards out. Adam Pittser capped off the drill with a touchdown pass to Tim Wilson in the corner of the end zone.

The defense also had a solid showing during the 7-on-7 drill, when the defensive backs and linebackers recorded four pass breakups and an interception. Jared Barnett found James O'Shaughnessy down the sideline for a 30-yard gain early in the session, but Tevin Allen jumped in front of a pass from Winkler two plays later and returned the interception for a touchdown. Pat Meehan and Brent Spack then broke up passes and Josh Burch added one a few plays later. Allen almost had his second interception of the day, but could not hang on and ended the drill with a breakup.

Will Davis added two more sacks to his total on the day during the first 20 plays of the team session and Dontae McCoy added a breakup to extend the momentum for the defense, before the focus shifted to the red zone. After a slow start on the first four plays, the offense scored touchdowns on three of the next four plays.

The first touchdown came on a 13-yard pass from Winker to Cameron Meredith, who made a leaping catch at the back of the end zone and managed to get his feet down in bounds for the score. On the next play, Winkler connected over the middle with Phil Dudley for a 15-yard score, as Winkler threaded the needle between several defenders. Two plays later, Pittser found Lechein Neblett in the corner of the end zone, as he came down with the catch leaping over a defender to put a cap on the impressive drill.

ISU will head across town Saturday for a closed scrimmage at Illinois Wesleyan to round out the week's work.

April 9, 2013

The Redbirds took the field on a sunny Tuesday afternoon for their first practice on the week and seventh of the spring, which means spring camp is nearly half over and time is running out for the team to get its work done.

The squad started the day off with individual drills and quickly changed gears to a fast-paced team atmosphere. Newcomer Jared Barnett went 3-for-4 in the first team drill and a 15-yard carry by Marshaun Coprich was a highlight. Blake Winkler took the reins behind center and made four-straight completions and Coprich followed with three-consecutive carries for positive yardage.

The offense started slow in the 7-on-7 drill, with back-to-back incomplete passes from Adam Pittser. Barnett the entered the lineup and helped the `Birds get back on track, going 3-for-3 with two completions to tight end Tim Wilson. Pittser found his rhythm in his second series and finished the drill with two completions to John Nicholson and Steven Smith.

The defense came out strong in the final team drill, thanks to an interception by Josh Burch and back-to-back sacks by Zach Marshall. Barnett later completed an 18-yard pass to Phil Dudley, followed by a pass to Lechein Neblett and another to Dudley. The offense stayed solid and continued to click, with a pair of 10-yard carries by Smith and two more carries from Dudley. The practice ended on a high-note for the defense with an interception by Kalium Ewing.

The team will return to the field at 3:30 p.m., Thursday afternoon at Hancock Stadium for its eighth practice of the spring.

April 6, 2013

With six practices under his team's belt during the spring, ISU head coach Brock Spack felt it was time for his team to scrimmage a bit during its regularly-scheduled practice Saturday morning. The team worked through the two-hour workout, its third in three days, and concluded practice with a 35-play scrimmage on the grass practice field.

"We don't like to go three days in a row in the spring typically, but we needed to make up that extra day of practice we lost because of the snow," Spack said. "The players had to grind through practice the past few days, so we thought it would be a good day to scrimmage a bit at the end to liven things up. I think they fought through the stretch well and we will push the players to get even better when we get back on the field Tuesday."

The first hour and a half of practice was standard, with work spent on individual drills and with the team blitz and 7-on-7 work. However, when it was time to scrimmage the team moved to the grass practice field, which was still a bit soft due to the amount of moisture that has sat on the field over the winter months.

The defense controlled the tempo early, forcing three-and-outs on the first two series of the scrimmage. The offense finally picked up a first down on the third series, when quarterback Adam Pittser found Marshaun Coprich out of the backfield on a screen pass to pick up 22 yards on third and long. The defense stiffened again, allowing just two yards on a pair of carries by birthday boy Cameron Hunt and forcing an incompletion on third down to get off the field.

Coprich picked up 10 yards on another screen pass two series' later on third down and 16, but was run out of bounds by Dion Starnes before he could pick up the first down. The offense faced that scenario thanks to a tackle-for-loss on second down by Sam Campbell and Bryce Kiser and Dominic Clarke combined for a TFL on the next play on a rush by running back Steven Smith.

Zack Marshall then put an end to the next series and forced the third three-and-out for the defense, when he picked up a big sack on Pittser on third down. The offense would finally get on the scoreboard during the next series, when Cameron Meredith showed why the ISU coaches thought moving him to receiver would be a good idea. On second-and-three from its own 40 yard line, transfer quarterback Jared Barnett dropped back and found Meredith deep over the middle for a 60-yard touchdown pass on a post-corner route.

Offensively, Hunt led the way with 10 yards on three carries and Meredith led all receivers with his 60-yard touchdown grab. Coprich added 32 yards on the screen passes and tight end Tim Wilson added 14 yards on a pair of catches. Barnett finished the scrimmage 3-for-6 and passed for 74 yards. Defensively, Campbell was one of six players with at least two tackles, including his TFL. Clarke had a pair of TFLs and Josh Burch finished with two tackles and a pass breakup. Marshall, Teddy Corwin and Rickey Simpson also added a TFL apiece.

The team will return to the field at 3:30 p.m., Tuesday afternoon at Hancock Stadium for its seventh practice of the spring.

April 5, 2013

The normal schedule for spring workouts for the Illinois State football team consists of practices on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday which allows the team a day off in between sessions. However, the team took the field Friday for the second day in a row to make up for the lost first day of practice due to snow and went through a two-hour workout at Hancock Stadium.

The focus on fundamentals was evident once again early on, with a focus on spacing coverage on special teams units. After individual position drills, the team gathered at midfield for the blitz session. It didn't take long for All-American defensive end Colton Underwood to make his presence felt, as he picked up a tackle-for-loss on the second play from scrimmage. Tevin Allen then picked up an interception off of Jared Barnett, as he was forced to throw off-balance with a rusher in his face.

The offense eventually got rolling and picked up a pair of big gains. Blake Winkler avoided the rush, bootlegged out and found Lechein Neblett for a touchdown down the sideline four plays later. Winkler also picked up a solid first down with a nice run as the pocket collapsed.

Winkler continued his strong practice with a 5-for-6 effort in the 7-on-7 drill. He completed passes to Joe Farmer and Robert Moore, before later connecting on big plays to James O'Shaughnessy and Scott Kuehn. Barnett was 3-for-6 during the drill with a nice completion to O'Shaughnessy and Adam Pittser finished the drill with a pair of completions to Neblett.

Neblett remained a top target for the Redbird quarterbacks during the team sessions. He caught a 25-yard strike from Pitter during the 9-on-7 drill and made a circus catch between two defenders on the sideline on a great pass from Pittser in the final rotation of the day. Underwood also continued his dominance in the team session, as he picked up a sack on Winkler just three plays into the final team period.

Cameron Hunt helped the offense control the ball with several good runs over the next few plays and Moore made a great catch on a deep pass over the middle from Winkler a few plays later. Cameron Meredith made one of the best catches of camp to date eight plays later, when he jumped high over Dontae McCoy and caught a pass from Barnett 30 yards down field at its highest point.

The team will return to the field at 10 a.m., Saturday morning, at Hancock Stadium for its third and final practice of the week.

April 4, 2013

With so many new faces on the roster and several young players working to fill roles in the starting lineup, the focus around Illinois State football spring camp continued to be on learning fundamentals as the team took the field Thursday for its fourth workout of the spring at Hancock Stadium.

"This time of camp is very important, because we've had the pads on for a few days and these younger players are starting to get a real feel about what its like to play at this level," head coach Brock Spack said. "The key for them and the veterans is to keep their focus and embrace the process. We want them to be better at the end of practice than when they started and better from the end of one day to the next. That consistent improvement over the next few weeks will be what we are watching closely."

In his pre-spring press conference, Spack reiterated the importance of working on special teams and the team did just that early in practice, working on kickoff coverage drills and punt returns. The returners also caught balls from the jugs machine and on the far side of the field, end rushers worked on blocking balls kicked off the foot by punters.

Following the special teams work and individual position drills, the focus shifted to 7-on-7 work. Quarterbacks Adam Pittser, Jared Barnett and Blake Winkler shared the snaps equally, with Winkler leading the group with a 5-for-6 effort. He completed passes to five different targets, including receivers Donovan Harden and Corey Shandrick and Lechein Neblett. Pittser was 3-for-6 with a pair of completions to Cameron Meredith and Barnett was 4-for-6 with connections to James O'Shaughnessy and Meredith.

The intensity then ratcheted up with first appearance of the Bird Drill, which matches three blockers and a running back against three linemen and a safety. Running back Cameron Hunt scored on his second attempt of the three-play drill and later Phil Dudley scored on his third and final try. The defense also had some big stops, with Sam Campbell showing some explosion from the defensive tackle position after his recent move from the offensive line. Linebacker Andre Allen and safety Anthony Boddy also had big hits in the hole during the hard-hitting drill.

After one-on-one drills for receivers and cornerbacks and the inside run drill, the entire team left the Hancock Stadium turf to head to grass practice field for the team session. Up there, the focus for the offense was to pick up a pair of first downs with their backs against the end zone.

The defense controlled the drill for the first four series, with the only first down for the offense coming on a late hit penalty. In the first series, a tackle-for-loss by Dontae McCoy put the offense in a hole and on the next series Boddy came up with a TFL of his own and Josh Burch broke up a pass by Winkler to force fourth down and win for the defense.

The offense finally gained some momentum with Barnett calling the signals. On first down, he rolled out to his right and fired a strike downfield to Dudley for first-down pickup. After a pass breakup and a short run by Marshaun Coprich, Barnett used his feet to pick up another crucial first down as he ran for 12 yards as the pocket collapsed to pick up another first down and win for the offense. Barnett was congratulated by teammates and coaches as he headed to the sideline, including Spack who was watching over the defense.

The Redbirds will return to action Friday at 3:30 p.m., to make up for one of the missed workouts last week due to weather. The team will also have practice beginning at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday morning at Hancock Stadium.

April 2, 2013

When the Illinois State football team attempted to open spring practice a week ago, a late-season snowstorm put a kink in those plans and the Redbirds were forced to cancel their first two scheduled workouts. ISU was eventually able to get on the field Friday and Saturday, before holding its first fully-padded practice of the spring on Tuesday at Hancock Stadium.

The team took the field under blue skies and chilly conditions, but the energy and tempo were up for the team's first contact drills of the season. Head coach Brock Spack and his staff watched intently and worked with players throughout the two-hour workout, stressing the importance of forming a new identity heading into the 2013 season.

"It's important for us to form our identity on both sides of the football this spring," Spack said. "We have several new players out there who are stepping up into new roles that need to establish their spot on this team. On offense, we need be more physical and establish a solid running game. On defense, we need to be technically sound and be a run-stuffing unit. That is what these spring practices are all about and we are stressing to our players about embracing that process over the next four weeks."

After warm-ups and individual drills commenced, the first blitz drill of the spring took place. In that session, the defense blitzed on every play and the offense was tasked with getting off a positive play and beating the pressure. Running backs Marshaun Coprich, Cameron Hunt and Collin Keoshian each had solid gains during the first few plays of the session, before the defense stiffened up. Safety Dontae McCoy stopped Hunt in the backfield for a loss a few plays later and defensive end Will Davis followed on the next play with a TFL of his own.

The focus then shifted to the passing game, with quarterbacks Adam Pittser, Blake Winkler and Jared Barnett taking equal snaps during the 7-on-7 session. Winkler led the group, completing 4-of-6 attempts, with nice completions to Donovan Harden and tight end Brian Athey. Pittser and Winkler were each 3-for-6, with Pittser finding Scott Kuehn for a big gain down the sideline and Barnett finishing the drill with three-straight completions to Joe Farmer, Cameron Meredith and Kuehn.

Practice finished up with a 30-plus play team period as the shadows began to fall over the playing surface at the stadium. The offense maintained the momentum through the first five plays, mixing it up with running and passing plays. Defensive end Bryce Kiser put the defense on the board first with a sack on Pitter and Josh Burch followed on the next play with a pass breakup, adding to his interception during the 7-on-7 period.

Barnett then connected with Chick Chatham for a big completion down the sidelines a few plays later, before Kerry Guest picked up a sack to quell the offense's momentum momentarily. The highlight of the day came a few plays later, when Coprich cut back on an inside run to the outside of the right tackle and beat the safety for a 60-yard touchdown run much to the delight of his teammates and coaches.

The Redbirds will return to action Thursday at 3:30 p.m. at Hancock Stadium for the second of three practices this week.