The Bucs avoided what appeared to be a serious injury, saw their defense have its way with the offense and even had a local favorite go through a big-time position change.
“I was pleased with the effort,” Sanders said. “I saw guys running around. I saw some energy. I saw some enthusiasm. That’s what I wanted to see.
“The execution on offense isn’t nearly what it needs to be or where it will be.”
With rain pummeling the field at Greene Stadium for much of the afternoon, the Bucs struggled with ball security. Fumbles, bad snaps and passes slipping through receivers’ hands were commonplace, more than the first-year head coach would like to see even on a damp spring Saturday.
“We got a lot of wet ball work,” Sanders said. “It looked like sometimes we were throwing and catching a wet ball out there. Way too much. It doesn’t matter if it’s rain or mud or what’s on the ball, we still have throw it and catch it and we can’t have as many wasted opportunities in the passing game as we had.”
Linebacker Alonzo Francois was hurt while breaking up a pass, but escaped serious injury.
Francois hit receiver Braxton Richburg, knocking the ball loose. Both players hit the turf and Richburg was wobbly when he got up. Francois stayed down.
It was a scary moment.
Coaches and trainers told the players on the field not to touch their fallen teammate, who was immobilized and eventually taken to the hospital by ambulance.
Good news came later in the day when it was learned that Francois, generally regarded as one of the good guys on the team, was able to walk and was released from the hospital.
“Any time you’re out here in a football environment, whether it’s a game, practice or scrimmage and you have a situation like that, it’s always scary,” Sanders said. “The thing was, you saw him moving pretty quickly. He was responsive pretty quickly. You always hope for the best. Obviously, we’re all hoping that ’Zo will be OK.”
NEW POSITION FOR WIEGER
Meet Dylan Wieger, tight end.
Wieger, a former Sullivan South star, has been moved to tight end and caught a pass in the scrimmage. The red-shirt junior was a record-setting quarterback in high school and was a backup for his first two seasons at ETSU after red-shirting his freshman year.
“I really like it,” Wieger said. “It’s a change of pace for me. I get to hit somebody and make some catches. Coach Sanders knows a lot of football and knows a lot about offense, so when he asked me if I was interested in changing positions, maybe get on the field a little more, I was all for it.”
The 6-foot-3, 235-pounder caught a 10-yard pass from Austin Herink.
“Austin threw me a good ball,” Wieger said. “Next time I just have to make a move and get down the field. It was really enjoyable to come out here and get some live reps and make a play.”
Sanders said the switch was an attempt to get Wieger on the field when he was down the depth chart at his original position.
“He’s a good sized guy that has good athletic ability,” Sanders said. “He has some things that we don’t have enough of. Just the fact that he’s almost 240 pounds. He runs, he’s a good athlete.
“Honestly, he’s not quite as good a quarterback as couple of the other guys we have. Rather than just have him stand over there on the sideline, let’s see if we can find something he can do to help the team. He’s got a great attitude about it. He wants to do whatever it takes to help.”
JJ Jerman, the Bucs’ all-conference kicker, was injured while being hit on a field goal attempt. After his 49-yard attempt sailed wide right, Jerman had to be helped off the field while not putting any weight on his left leg, the one with which he kicks. There was no word on the extent of his injury.
It was the second time Jerman has been hurt in spring practice. He suffered a severe knee injury during the spring of 2016 and rebounded to be one of the team’s most efficient offensive performers.
HITTING THE QBS
The quarterbacks were fair game as far as hitting went. None of them wore a different color jersey to signify they were off limits.
When Herink took off on a run early in the scrimmage, the defense at first looked hesitant to tackle him. Then when they did finally hit him, eyebrows were raised around the stadium.
“We haven’t been used to that in the past,” linebacker Austin Gatewood said. “Coach Sanders made a great point. They’re going to get hit in the games, so make it as close to a game as you can. We have some tough quarterbacks.”
The offense generated just two touchdown drives. The touchdowns were by tight end Justin Gilliam, who caught a 28-yard scoring pass from Trey Mitchell, and Quay Holes, who scored on a 15-yard run.
Gilliam’s score came on the ninth offensive series.
“The offensive line did their job and the quarterback got me a good ball,” Gilliam said. “It’s just my job to get in the end zone once I caught it.”
Holmes led the running backs with 56 yards on seven carries.
BY THE NUMBERS
Herink, the team’s starter the past three years, and his main challenger Logan Marchi, a transfer from Temple, combined for 19 completions and 157 yards passing. Tyrique Sandusky completed two passes for 57 yards.
Thirteen players caught at least one pass, led by Kobe Kelley, who had five receptions for 47 yards. Drae Butts caught four balls for 53 yards and Andrew Heyward had a 51-yard reception.
On defense, Chei Hill led the way with five tackles and two fumble recoveries. Tremond Ferrell had two sacks, while Gatewood, Chris Ross and Jason Maduafokwa all recorded one sack.
The Bucs will hold another scrimmage on Saturday, March 31. The annual spring game is set for April 5.