The East Tennessee State University football team will cap off the spring season with the Ballad Health Blue-Gold Game on Saturday at William B. Greene Stadium.
ETSU is coming off an 8-4 season, which saw the Bucs win a share of the Southern Conference championship and suffer a tough 34-27 loss to Jacksonville State in the first round of the FCS playoffs.
After losing 47 players from that team, ETSU coach Randy Sanders helps us preview what to look for Saturday with gates to open at noon and kickoff scheduled for 1 p.m.
What is the main objective you want to achieve?
Sanders: “We want to come out of this game looking like we know how to function. Spring isn’t about putting the team together or how good the team is. We’ve got one healthy quarterback and seven offensive linemen, so we’re really thin at some positions. I don’t expect us to look like a well-oiled machine by any means.
“We have to be able to get in and out of the huddle, operate at the line of scrimmage, get communication done, get lined up correctly, get the snap and be flying around. If we can do that and play with the same type of effort and intensity we did last year, we will have accomplished something this spring.”
As usually the case in spring football and early in the season, is it fair to say the defense is ahead of the offense?
Sanders: “The defense is way ahead of the offense right now. We’ve got one quarterback and he’s a true freshman who got almost no work last year. We’ve got some offensive linemen in new positions and some guys have had to learn to play center. We lost our first two centers from last year, so that means we’re moving guys around.
“We have some new faces at receiver, trying to give them a little more versatility. We’re losing 47 guys from last year’s team and that’s a lot of maturity. There are a lot of holes to fill, but it’s been a good spring to this point.”
Your quarterback, Cam Lewis, what are his strengths and where does he need to make the most improvements?
Sanders: “He’s athletic and he’s gotten much better in the passing game because he’s gotten more work than I’ve ever had a quarterback get over the last two weeks. He’s had every single rep. It’s good for him to get the work, but it’s bad that he’s the only one getting the work.
“His athleticism really shows. He still has a lot of work to do in the passing game and managing the offense. From where he started day one to today, it’s night and day.”
In addition to quarterback, what position or units need the most work at this point?
Sanders: “It’s hard to single out units. The position, we have one tight end and he was a true freshman last year. We have some experience returning in the defensive secondary, but we also led the country in pass interference calls. I expect us to do a better job covering there.
“We lost Tremond Ferrell, who was an outstanding defensive lineman. We need some guys to step up inside on defense and be more physical in the trenches. We have some good linebackers who have done a nice job and I expect them to step up. There are a lot of holes, but all those things being said, quarterback is going to be critical for us.”