March 21, 2011
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. ----- The UAB football team will begin 2011 spring drills Wednesday, the first of 15 workouts the Blazers will hold over the next several weeks.
As the Blazers embark on spring practice, head coach Neil Callaway said he and his staff would be looking closely at positions left vacant or thin by the departures of Jeffery Anderson at tight end and defensive tackles D.J. Reese, David Decordova and Justin Wells.
"Offensively, I think we have a good group of guys coming back at every position except tight end," said Callaway. "I feel comfortable with every other spot because they have played a lot of football and they know what to do and how to do it. I think we ought to be alright, but obviously we have to find a tight end. We have four or five guys who will compete for the position."
Eyes will also be on the Blazer defense this spring as Tommy West takes over as defensive coordinator. West, who has 30 years of coaching experience, including head coaching stints at three different schools, will bring a similar 4-3 alignment to what UAB has run in recent seasons. But he'll also bring a new philosophy to that side of the ball.
"Having Tommy running our defense, we are going to do some things differently," Callaway said. "Tommy has already made a tremendous impact on our football program to this point. He has a lot of experience. He was the head coach at Memphis and had several good years up there and did a great job.
"What stood out to me was when he was there as a defensive coordinator, they led or were near the top in the nation in several categories defensively. Tommy is a guy that has a tremendous positive influence on the players. He understands how to be demanding and caring. Our guys need to be excited about playing for him."
"It will be simple, and hopefully it being simple will allow the players to play hard and reckless," he said. "There will not be as much thinking going on, and there will be a lot more effort and running to the football."
One player UAB will count on in the fall who won't be available this spring is senior defensive tackle Elliott Henigan. Henigan, an All-Conference USA selection last season, will be out as he rehabs from an injury.
Another all-conference performer, senior offensive tackle Matt McCants, will also miss the spring as he rehabs an injury. McCants is one of four returning starters for the Blazers on the offensive line as they head into the 2011 season.
Callaway said there are three or four other players who may see limited action, especially at the start of drills, but overall, the team isn't missing as many players due to injury rehab as in years past.
The thinnest position on the team during spring practice will be at defensive tackle. With Reese, DeCordova and Wells gone, as well as Henigan out for the spring, UAB will look at the progress of sophomore Deric Scott and junior Cody Payne.
"The frustrating part about the defensive tackle spot is that we will be shorthanded there," said Callaway. "At the same time, I do think that it will be an opportunity for us to see what Deric can do. And Cody Payne is moving from defensive end to tackle, and we want him to be a guy we can depend on."
Quarterback Bryan Ellis is entrenched as the starting signal-caller after throwing for 2,940 yards and 25 touchdowns last season. The Blazers will be looking to identify a backup for Ellis with junior Joe Bento and sophomore Jonathan Perry among the candidates.
The Blazers will conclude their spring drills with their 15th practice and the spring game on Saturday, April 16.