Photo Courtesy // MTSU Athletic Communications
Middle Tennessee’s first spring scrimmage of the 2016-17 season concluded Saturday afternoon, and big hits and explosive plays were plentiful.
MTSU began spring practices back on March 17, and those two weeks of drills certainly helped set up an energetic opening scrimmage for the Blue Raiders.
Here are five observations from Saturday’s scrimmage:
Demetrius Frazier developing quickly
With the departures of former receivers Ed Batties, Christian Collis and Derek Barnes, MTSU wide receiver Demetrius Frazier is going to be trusted with an expanded leadership role this season.
“I’m just trying to play a role where I’m not just talking, but showing actions,” Frazier explained. “I’m trying to be great at everything I do, and lead by example on and off the field.”
Frazier saw work with the first-team offense during Saturday’s scrimmage on the other side of redshirt sophomore receiver Richie James, and Frazier impressed right away.
The redshirt senior wide out capped off the first drive with an eight-yard touchdown grab from MTSU quarterback, Brent Stockstill.
Frazier has shown lots of toughness during the opening weeks of camp, and will be an intriguing playmaker to watch as spring practice continues.
Offense growing into Tony Franklin’s system
Former Cal offensive coordinator Tony Franklin arrived on the MTSU campus towards the end of January, following previous MTSU offensive coordinator Buster Faulkner’s departure to Arkansas State.
And with Franklin’s arrival comes his intricate offensive scheme.
Stockstill and the Blue Raider offense showed no signs of struggling to pick up Franklin’s game plan, and the MTSU signal caller credits that to repetition.
“It’s really simple to pick it up, but to carry it over to the game field takes reps,” Stockstill said. “Me and John [Urzua] are getting better each day. Today was a great learning experience and we’ll go back and watch some film. By the time the first game rolls around, we’re going to be fine because it’s a fun offense to play in.”
All eyes on linebackers
Much like the wide receivers group, the Blue Raiders also saw the graduations of important members of the linebacker unit.
Former MTSU linebackers T.T. Barber, Trey Wafford and Cavellis Luckett highlight the key losses at the position.
Myles Harges, D.J. Sanders, Darius Harris and Chris Melton are expected to guide the linebacker positions in the upcoming season.
The group showed flashes of promise during the scrimmage, but still missed tackles and allowed gashing runs by the Blue Raider backfield.
“We were missing tackles early, but I thought we played fast,” MTSU head coach Rick Stockstill said. “They did some good things, and some things not so good. The defense probably gave up too many big run plays, but there was a lot of good, and some things we’ll have to get corrected.”
The Blue Raider linebacker group has a lot of work to do over the course of spring, summer and fall workouts.
Backfield stout again
If there’s any certainty about the upcoming season, it’s that the Blue Raiders will boast another stable of reliable running backs.
Former Blackman High School standout and Ole Miss tailback, I’Tavius Mathers, is finally eligible after sitting out the 2015-16 season due to NCAA transfer rules.
Mathers displayed great vision and explosiveness Saturday afternoon, highlighted by a 47-yard burst down the left sideline.
Sophomore Desmond Anderson, minus one fumble, had some nice runs, showing off his electric speed that made him a threat last season.
Redshirt junior Kamani Thomas and Terelle West also had solid days on the ground.
No layover of talent in secondary
Kevin Byard, Xavier Walker, Quay Watt and Jamarcus Howard.
Normally, when a team loses four talented starters such as those names in the secondary, it’s a tumultuous rebuilding process.
That’s not the case for the Blue Raiders.
Redshirt senior safety Alex Dale and upcoming sophomore safety Jovante Moffatt have excelled in their new roles in a very short amount of time.
“We’re still kind of learning,” Dale said. “We played a little bit last year, but now we’re looked on as leaders. So we’re trying to grasp everything as quick as possible, and Jovante is doing a hell of a job right now.”
“I think our safeties are getting better,” Coach Stockstill added. “I’ve been really pleased with Jovante, especially with the limited amount of snaps he’s gotten. He’s done a nice job and he’ll be a really great player. Alex [Dale] has had a good spring and done a nice job, and I think he has a good grasp and understanding of the defense. Both of those guys have done a great job.”
Along with the stellar play of Dale and Moffatt, redshirt junior cornerback Mike Minter and senior cornerback Jeremy Cutrer were great in coverage during the scrimmage.
Minter intercepted a pass and added multiple deflections, and Cutrer made a couple of huge hits in the open field.
MTSU’s defense won Saturday’s scrimmage, and it was due in large part to the play of its secondary.
- Jeremy Cutrer left during the middle portion of Saturday’s scrimmage with an upper thigh injury after attempting a tackle. Cutrer did not return and had his right thigh wrapped with ice.
- Demetrius Frazier (fractured thumb) was a full participant in the scrimmage after logging a full practice week. Frazier had a doctor’s appointment Friday morning, and will have the cast kept on for approximately three more weeks.
- MTSU defensive back Dontavious Heard returned from his concussion Saturday afternoon. Heard saw an increased amount of reps following Cutrer’s injury.
To contact Sports Editor Connor Grott, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @Connor_Grott.