First-year Coach Larry Porter said it was important in the spring to narrow the quarterback search.
After freshman Ryan Williams' performance in the Blue-Gray Game on April 17, it would appear he will enter the fall as the frontrunner.
Williams completed his first 14 passes on the way to a 15-for-17 day for 186 yards and three touchdowns. Because Porter does not allow freshmen to speak to the media, Williams couldn't publicly assess his performance.
And Porter was playing coy, though Williams clearly outperformed the other contenders for the QB job.
"I thought Ryan stepped in there and had a good day," Porter said. "Cannon (Smith, a University of Miami transfer, who had been running the first team most of the time in practice) didn't play as well as he is supposed to, but I think if you look at his consistency throughout the spring, you can't make a judgment at that position based just on one practice."
The most notable defensive performance in the Blue-Gray game came from defensive tackle Frank Trotter, who had five tackles, two sacks, a forced fumble and a pass break-up and won the game's defensive MVP.
The Tigers are coming off a 2-10 season and desperately need the defense to be solid from Day 1. In the scrimmage, the defense kept the offense out of the end zone until the 51st play.
"We just wanted to come out strong and show we are not backing down," Trotter told the Memphis Commercial Appeal.
Schematically, the 2010 defense should provide many different looks.
"We've seen every kind of coverage, every kind of blitz," Smith told the newspaper. "They've shown some good stuff."NOTES, QUOTES
--Receiver Marcus Rucker, a sophomore who had 241 receiving yards last year (third on the team), had his spring practice time limited by a class scheduling conflict. Porter has not been happy with his progress this spring, but Rucker still figures prominently in the team's plans in the fall.
--Quarterback Cannon Smith, who transferred from the University of Miami, is the son of FedEx founder Fred Smith. FedEx is based in Memphis.
QB Ryan Williams -- He goes to the head of this class after his impressive display in the Blue-Gray game. "He's eager to learn," cornerback Darius Davis told the Commercial Appeal. "He's a young guy, but he's in the process of getting ahead of the game."
CB Darius Davis -- Porter moved Davis from safety to corner and it looks like a natural fit. "I am so comfortable at the position," Davis said.
WR Jermaine McKenzie -- A transfer from the University of Miami, he's yet to play in a game but now has two spring practice seasons behind him and everyone is expecting huge things. "I feel like I can be a big-time playmaker for this team," he told the Commercial Appeal.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "With Coach Porter coming from a big-time program (LSU), and bringing coaches from a number of powerhouse schools, it gives us an inside look at how those programs run things. I think that is something we needed." -- Receiver Jermaine McKenzie in the Commercial Appeal.STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
2010 OUTLOOK: One of coach Larry Porter's top goals is to create "an identity of toughness." After a 2-10 season, Memphis will have to prove itself up front on every play and go from there. The Tigers again appear deep at wide receiver, but wide receivers do not make winning seasons -- they merely can make plays that contribute to a winning season. Getting back to .500 in Porter's first season would have to qualify as a success.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: While Porter is holding off on deciding who his starting QB is, there is no question that the strength of the offense will be at receiver. Jermaine McKenzie leads a promising cast of newcomers at the position that also includes juco transfers Billy Foster and Dejarrius Adams. There are also returnees Cam Baker, Marcus Rucker and Curtis Johnson. "I think we can become one of the top receiving corps in the nation," McKenzie told the Commercial Appeal.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Coordinator Jay Hopson has a big challenge ahead of him. He inherits a defense that was near the bottom of multiple NCAA defensive categories a year ago. Safety and former Florida State player Marcus Bell is the defense's go-to guy.Bell said that last season the defense operated strictly from a "make-a-play" mind-set. "This year, we're learning some X's and O's about the game ... it's more using the brain, not just the muscle."
SCOUTING THE SPECIAL TEAMS: Paulo Henriques, who handled kickoffs a year ago, returns. But the Tigers need to find a dependable placekicker. The punting job is also open. With so many good receivers on the squad, return men will have little margin for error and competition for these spots continues into the fall. Porter has made special teams a point of emphasis, saying it will be the "heartbeat of our team."
--Fifth-year senior Winston Bowens has moved from linebacker to defensive end, part of defensive coordinator Jay Hopson's goal to get the "best 11" on the field.
--After being limited by back and hamstring injuries the last two years, running back Gregory Ray is getting another chance to win a starting job. He had 35 yards on 11 carries in the Blue-Gray game.
--The Tigers have signed defensive back Lonnie Ballentine, who also had offers from multiple SEC schools, including Alabama and Tennessee.
Previous Report: 04/09/2010