Spring game provides early gauge

Published 11:10 am Thursday, May 15, 2014

Warren Central quarterback Alex Stevens hands off a ball to running back D.J. Knight Tuesday during spring training at the Warren Central practice field. (Justin Sellers/The Vicksburg Post)

Warren Central quarterback Alex Stevens hands off a ball to running back D.J. Knight Tuesday during spring training at the Warren Central practice field. (Justin Sellers/The Vicksburg Post)

Warren Central has enough players coming back from last season to be considered a favorite in Region 2-6A in 2014.

It also has enough holes at key positions to find cause for concern.

Heading into Friday night’s Red and White spring game, the worries of WC’s coaching staff have eased a bit. A number of players have ably stepped into new roles during three weeks of spring practice, well enough to turn concern into cheery optimism.

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“As far as what we needed to get done this spring, I feel real good about it. I feel like we’ve answered some questions as far as knowing who’s in the right place and who can do what,” Warren Central head coach Josh Morgan said. “I feel good about it. At least a lot better than going into spring.”

WC’s biggest holes this spring were on the defensive line, and at quarterback and running back. Multiple-year starters were lost at all three positions.

The defensive line, especially, was ravaged by graduation. Damon Stamps (Mississippi State), Carl Sims (Holmes Community College) and Andre Voss (Hinds Community College), all starters in 2013, will be playing college football in 2014.

Replacing them are a number of veterans who have seen time mainly as backups.

Hunter Ashley, Talaferro Bass, Jamarcus Williams, Michael Neal and Trey Watts are among the players expected to step up. Those five players combined for just 22 total tackles last season, 20 fewer than Malik Steele, the line’s only returning starter.

Fortunately for the Vikings, they have the bulk of a talented linebacker corps and secondary to support the line as it develops. Five of the back seven, including two-time Vicksburg Post Defensive Player of the Year DeArius Christmas at linebacker, are returning.

“I’m hoping that will at least give us our feet on the ground and some sort of stability and a nucleus there. And it’s a dang good nucleus,” Morgan said.“We have a nucleus, and we just have some spots. If we can get those solidified, I feel like we can be just as good as last year’s defense, and that’s saying something.”

On offense, departing two-year starting quarterback Carlisle Koestler will give way to rising senior Alex Stevens. Leading rusher Aaron Stamps is also gone.

Stevens was Koestler’s backup the last two years, but has thrown 18 varsity passes -— 14 of them in 2012. Stevens will be backed up by Brooks Boolos and Jessie Wilson.

Despite the inexperience at the position, Morgan said all three have done well during spring practice.

“Our quarterback situation is better than it’s been in a long time, as far as depth,” Morgan said.

At running back, D.J. Knight, Nick Caldwell and Jeremy Lewis (19 combined carries in 2013) are the leading candidates to replace Stamps). To get the running game going, Morgan said speedy receiver Marcus Ragan has also been put into the mix.

Ragan was a deadly threat on jet sweeps last season, rushing 49 times for 467 yards and five touchdowns. His 9.5 yards per carry was the best average on the team.

Like on defense, Morgan said a veteran offensive line will help cover up some of the holes at the skill positions.

“The strength of our team is our offensive line, and that’s good to see,” Morgan said.

The need to get the more inexperienced players some valuable game experience influenced the format of the spring game.

Rather than play another team, Morgan figured the best one the Vikings could play was themselves. That will allow them to double the number of snaps everyone receives.

The teams were split up into two teams, Red and White, with varsity and junior varsity players mixed into both squads. The two teams will play what Morgan called “a real game,” with 12-minute quarters, punts and kickoffs.

Including the kicking game was another concession to inexperience. Last year’s specialists, punter Hunter Bell and kicker Jade Pollock, both graduated.

“Questions all over the place, and that was another reason we wanted to do a Red and White game, was to get all the reps we could get,” Morgan said.

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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