The final week of Spring Practice began this Tuesday morning at the practice fields of the Schmidt Complex with the team waiting in anticipation for the Spring Game at Howard Schnellenberger Field this upcoming Saturday. For today, we will look at the return specialists to conclude our observation at special teams.
Below is a quick glance at the makeup of the position for the Spring.
Key Returners: LaJohntay Wester (Jr. 5-11, 165), Jymetre Hester (Jr. 5-10, 160), Omari Hayes (R-Fr. 5-9, 165), Jayshon Platt (Soph. 5-10, 195), Je'Quan Burton (R-Sr. 5-10, 187), Jacob Pasley (R-Soph. 6-4, 237).
Key Losses: Johnny Ford, Jordan Young
Newcomers: Xavier Terrell (Recruit/St. Thomas Aquinas, won't join the team until the fall)
Safeties coach Derrick Gibson made himself available to media for the first time this spring.
"A lot of guys are improving. Armani Eli-Adams is doing a great job reading the field like no other, and Dwight Toombs II is coming along," Gibson said. "I want us to be great tacklers and get guys down no matter how hard it look. That's one thing as a unit we got to be better at; we got to be great tacklers in space."
Here is the 10th of our parliament Owl position previews, beginning with two names from the returning specialists, and some notes from today's media availability.
Turning The Wheels
- Expected to Lead Jayshon Platt: For the kick return unit, Platt (pictured above) would probably be the main option. He led the team in kickoff returns with seven last year, finishing with a total of 135 yards with his longest run being for 29 yards against Southeastern Louisiana last September. Having done well in a freshman year where he only made three receptions total with limited playing time as a wide receiver, Platt could continue to make his mark by being more effective as a kick returner. When it comes to receiving punts, LaJohntay Wester (pictured below) is likely to retain his responsibilities there. Wester collected all 14 punt returns for the Owls last season, ending the campaign with a total of 136 yards. He had a season-high four receptions for 57 yards against Ohio last September, with one of them having him run for 41 yards against the Bobcats. Having become more involved with the offense in terms of rushing and passing with career-highs in rushing attempts, rushing yards, passing yards, and touchdowns, Wester would probably maintain his standing as the Owls' leading punt returner.
- Keep An Eye On Je'Quan Burton: Burton might have a chance with getting more kick returns entering the fall. He got the ball for the kickoffs twice last season, putting together 30 yards combined with one of those runs having him go for 24 yards. With the departures of Johnny Ford and Jordan Young having opened up more space on the depth chart, Burton would likely be splitting duties with Platt. Omari Hayes has a chance to earn reps with returning punts. Joining the Owls last summer, Hayes comes from Venice High School where he showcased his astounding versatility as a wide receiver and running back while also making his mark in special teams. In his senior year with the Indians, he averaged 26 yards per kick return and 6.2 yards per punt return. His athleticism and experience with making punt returns would prove advantageous in allowing him to integrate himself into the special teams while reducing Wester's already stacked workload.
OwlBytes for April 11th
- Boosting The Safeties Derrick Gibson was happy to see his title as safeties coach remain intact under head coach Tom Herman. "It's my second year with these guys and we can't do nothing but get better, and I feel great with coach Herman giving me the opportunity," Gibson said. He noted a key difference in working with defensive coordinator Roc Bellantoni, particularly with pace. "He wants us to play a lot faster. It's more simple enough for the guys to play a lot faster this year so I think we're going to see a big improvement from that position," he said.
- Nicked At Safety The secondary will be down a man heading into the Spring Game. Safeties coach Derrick Gibson announced that Teja Young is out due to injury. This makes a significant hole to the team's depth at safety with Young's leadership and skillset now being unavailable for Saturday. Despite the loss, this could provide a great opportunity for Armani Eli-Adams and Dwight Toombs II to gain more chemistry with one another during in-game situations once the Spring Game goes underway.
- Tackling Machines Safeties Armani Eli-Adams and Dwight Toombs II worked in tandem throughout last season, combining for 133 tackles to be among the top three players to have made that many tackles. "I credit coach Gibson a lot. He was a great safety himself, and when you can always learn from someone who's done it, that's really helpful," Toombs II said. Building on his breakout season last year, Toombs II said he has been working on his change of direction throughout Spring Practice. "For a big safety like myself, that would be the biggest thing like coming in and out of breaks and being able to move left and right like the smaller guys at my position," Toombs II said.
Safeties coach Derrick Gibson and safeties Dwight Toombs II and Armani Eli-Adams headline today's video play.
The team will rest on Wednesday before returning to the field Thursday afternoon for their last practice before the Spring Game on Saturday.