Blue Raiders show optimism for 2017 season at Media Kickoff Luncheon

Photo by Tyler Lamb / Sidelines Archives

Story by Timothy Carroll / Contributing Writer

The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders football team held their first press conference of the new season on Wednesday, the first official time players have been available to media heading into the new season.

Coming off of an 8-4 season, the Blue Raiders have some new faces on the team and are looking to build a stronger defense under new defensive coordinator Scott Shafer. With some open spots on both sides of the ball, Head Coach Rick Stockstill believes that his returnees are prepared for any challenges.

“We have some holes to fill from last year, from graduation that took place, but I like our players coming back in those positions,” Stockstill said. “We’ve got some returning players in other positions as well that we feel good about.”

Middle Tennessee returns many of its starters on the offensive side of the ball, including star quarterback Brent Stockstill and standout receiver Richie James. Their biggest holes to fill, however, will be along the front on the offensive line where they are only returning two starters from last season. Even with such a new group, Coach Stockstill has nothing but praise for his new core of linemen.

“I am confident and pleased with the three guys that we will use to replace the three offensive linemen from last year,” Stockstill said.

On the defensive side, however, the Raiders struggled last season by allowing almost 40 points per game in conference play. A large portion of the conference was directed at the coaches and players about what improvements needed to be made to avoid last season’s pitfalls.

“I told our defense that I felt like we underachieved defensively last year. If we give up 40 points on defense then it’s hard to win games,” Stockstill said. “If we can just get little bit better defensively, and you can knock that down by a touchdown, that’s 33 points. Then you ask, ‘Well how much better can we be?'”

As players took the podium for questions, they all mirrored Coach Stockstill’s optimistic outlook on the upcoming season. As the leader of the team on offense, Brent Stockstill believes that one of the greatest strengths of the team lies in its depth.

“We have depth at every position. I am really excited about our offense,” Stockstill said. He was likewise positive about nagging concerns surrounding his collarbone after last season’s injury against UT-San Antonio, saying that he feels fine.

Defensively, D.J. Sanders and Malik Manciel both spoke about having confidence in their defensive teammates this year improvements upon last season’s performance.

“We are hungry. We felt we really dropped the ball last year. We have to put it on our shoulders to do better,” Sanders said about motivating the defensive squad. He and Manciel both believe that the defense’s new speed could help improve their play from last year.

“We play faster on defense, everyone wants to get their hats to the ball,” Manciel said. “Everyone on defense wants to make plays.”

In all, there are a lot of reasons for optimism for this year’s football team to improve from last season. The team will be bringing in a completely healthy receiving core. Brent Stockstill seems to be back at full strength following his recovery from last season’s collarbone injury. The defense is looking vastly improved with new recruits and transfers bringing in increased competition. When the Raiders open play at home on September 2, versus Vanderbilt, Middle Tennessee’s quest for a conference championship will begin, and fans have every reason to be excited.

To contact Sports Editor Rusty Ellis, email sports@mtsusidelines.com.

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