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WKU junior and College Heights Herald sports reporter

Wednesday football practice quick hits

By Zach Greenwell

And so it begins.

Head Coach Willie Taggart said the Toppers began their introductory prep for Nebraska at Wednesday’s practice, implementing the basics of the Huskers’ offense, defense and special teams.

Taggart said the simplest fundamentals of Nebraska’s game plan were introduced, and that he didn’t expect anybody to be “spectacular” with it right away.

He also said that Western would continue to work on its own game over the next few days, slowly putting in bigger pieces of Nebraksa information.

I’ll have a whole lot more on Nebraska in a notebook at wkuherald.com later today, including what Taggart sees from their personnel and why senior linebacker Orlando Misaalefua feels Nebraska might overlook the Toppers.

— The other big news from today was that former Kentucky Mr. Football Antonio Andrews did practice with the Toppers at running back.

Andrews committed to Air Force in February but left its prep academy and enrolled at Western last weekend. He had been waiting for clearance from the NCAA to begin practicing with the team.

Andrews, wearing No. 24, worked with the second-team offense on several plays late in practice.

Taggart said that Andrews is on scholarship and just like all the other true freshmen, would have a chance to play right away if he could show that he can immediately help the team.

Look for more on Andrews’ debut in my notebook later, as well as a feature later tonight on two of Western’s linebackers, seniors Chris Bullard and Orlando Misaalefua. Those two, along with senior Thomas Majors, will make up a veteran linebacker corps that Taggart said he expects big things from.

— Lastly, junior quarterback Matt Pelesasa was back on the field for a few reps today, although sophomore Kawaun Jakes and freshman Brandon Doughty took most of the snaps.

Sophomore linebacker Chuck Franks, who was carried off the field Tuesday with a knee injury, was on crutches today with a compression cast on his right leg. Taggart said the staff would know more about the extent of the injury after Franks has an MRI this afternoon.

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Tuesday football practice quick hits

By Zach Greenwell

It was another solid day for Western’s defensive unit at Tuesday’s practice — and an equally sloppy day for the offense.

Although Head Coach Willie Taggart said that the first-team offense, led by sophomore quarterback Kawaun Jakes, looked much more crisp early in practice, the defense recorded six turnovers in the final hour that media members attended — most off freshman quarterback Brandon Doughty’s second-team offense.

A few of those defensive highlights included fumble recoveries by junior college transfer linebacker Tenerio Davis and sophomore defensive back Jamal Forrest, and interceptions by Forrest and senior linebacker Orlando Misaalefua.

Misaalefua returned his pick, which came at Doughty’s expense, for a touchdown to end practice and was promptly mobbed by his defensive teammates.

— Doughty had a really rough day under center, to be honest. He was constantly getting pressured by a defensive line that impresses me more each day, and that seemed to jolt the freshman a bit and lead him into making mistakes.

We didn’t see much of Jakes, who was awarded the starting job by Taggart yesterday, as the sophomore got most of his reps earlier in practice.

Junior Matt Pelesasa did not take a single rep today with lingering effects from what was called a sore throwing arm. Taggart said he preferred to let Pelesasa stay out and get healthy, because Doughty “showed today that he’s not ready.”

— I asked for an update on the Toppers’ kicking and punting situation, and Taggart said that it’s a big question mark right now.

Junior kicker Casey Tinius has been out for about two weeks with a strained groin, and Taggart said that the others vying for kicking and punting duties — namely Monte Merrick, Hendrix Brakefield and Kevin Carrillo — have not gotten the job done thus far.

Taggart said that he’s “seriously considering” having an open tryout for kickers at Western because the situation has been so bad. You’ve got to think, as Herald sports editor Jonathan Lintner noted, that now is a time when the Toppers could benefit from having a men’s soccer program on campus. Surely one of those guys could come over and “put it through the yellow things,” as Taggart put it.

Taggart said that he expects Tinius back by the end of this week, although he doesn’t want to rush him and risk further injury.

I’ll have more on Western’s special teams — including quotes from Taggart and special teams coach Karl Maslowski — in a little while at wkuherald.com.

— Taggart said the Toppers had their first “big” injury of camp today, when sophomore linebacker Chuck Franks sustained a knee injury. Taggart said he didn’t know the extent of the injury yet, but his tone suggested that Franks might be out for a long time.

Taggart also said that sophomore receiver Dexter Haynes, who has been out since the middle of last week, has been sidelined with a dislocated rib.

Others who didn’t practice today with minor injuries: running backs Bobby Rainey and Dalton Cissell, defensive backs Tyree Robinson and Derrius Brooks, and fullback Nick Baisch.

— In a final note, former Fort Campbell standout and Kentucky Mr. Football Antonio Andrews was spotted at the stadium today watching practice from the bleachers among fans. The Herald reported Monday that Andrews is enrolled at Western and is awaiting clearance from the NCAA to begin practicing with the Toppers.

Look for a full notebook from today and the story about the special teams unit at wkuherald.com in a bit.

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Monday football practice quick hits: Jakes named starting QB

By Zach Greenwell

Well, what started out as an uneventful Monday morning practice picked up when reporters were informed that sophomore Kawaun Jakes has been named Western’s starting quarterback by Head Coach Willie Taggart.

Taggart said that he’s been impressed by how Jakes bounced back from his basketball-related ankle injury in the spring, as well as how quickly he’s picked up the West Coast offense. Taggart also said that having not seen much of Jakes in the spring, he was surprised by his ability to throw the ball.

Junior Matt Pelesasa will continue to back up Jakes in the No. 2 slot, and Taggart insinuated that true freshman Brandon Doughty will not automatically redshirt. The Toppers only have three quarterbacks on roster, so Taggart said Doughty will travel with the team and would be used in an “emergency situation.”

This is the fifth straight year that Western has had a different starting quarterback to start the season — Jakes, Brandon Smith in 2009, K.J. Black in 2008, David Wolke in 2007 and Justin Haddix in 2006.

I’ll have plenty more on the QB situation — including quotes and video from Taggart, Jakes and Pelesasa — at wkuherald.com later today.

A few other notes:

— Taggart said that the rest of the depth chart for Nebraska would start to fall into place over the next couple days. He also said that the team will firmly turn its attention to the Huskers later in the week.

— Junior running back Bobby Rainey sat out his fourth straight practice with a sore shoulder today, but Taggart officially went on record that he’d just prefer to let Rainey sit for right now and “save it for Nebraska.”

— The Herald’s still working to find out the latest on the “Antonio Andrews to Western” whispers. Andrews, a former Fort Campbell standout and Kentucky Mr. Football, is no longer on Air Force’s roster and is rumored to be coming to Western. No official word is out on that yet, and Western can’t comment until he’s officially on the team, so we’ll just have to wait and see.

We’re still working that from different angles, however, so stay tuned.

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REPORT: Kentucky’s Mr. Football enrolling at WKU

I know I’m a little late to the party with this, but Scott Brown from WKDZ in Hopkinsville is reporting that 2010 Kentucky Mr. Football Antonio Andrews has enrolled at Western.

Andrews, a standout at Fort Campbell, threw for 3,365 yards and 50 touchdowns, rushed for 3,368 yards and 56 TDs and caught one pass for a 56 yard TD during his career as the Falcons’ quarterback.

Andrews considered Western before eventually signing with Air Force in February.

Nashville’s 104.5 The Zone and the Fort Campbell football radio crew have also published the report on their Twitter accounts.

The original report claims that Andrews said he would begin practice with the Toppers today. I’ll be out at Western’s practice, which is taking place from 6:45-8:45 at Bowling Green High School because of the Rafferty’s Bowl at Houchen-Smith Stadium.

Andrews isn’t listed in Western’s campus directory available on its Web site, but that certainly doesn’t mean he wasn’t enrolled very recently.

If Andrews is out with the team, I’ll be sure to pass the info along immediately. If he’s not, I’ll talk to media relations and get to the bottom of the issue.

-Zach Greenwell

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Friday football practice quick hits

By Zach Greenwell

Just got back from Western’s situational scrimmage football practice.

The Toppers worked through several different situations, lining up on the 35- and 50-yard lines early in practice, then moving to midfield and the red zone before backing up to the offense’s own goal line toward the end.

It was a poor day for the offense — probably one of its weakest so far this camp. The offense had several penalties and missed routes, and Head Coach Willie Taggart said he was kind of perplexed by the lack of focus.

Of the three quarterbacks, sophomore Kawaun Jakes was the clear winner today. Taggart said freshman Brandon Doughty began the day with two straight interceptions, and Pelesasa, who has returned from a tired throwing arm, never looked sharp and missed several throws.

It was just a weird day from the offense, to be honest. It probably comes down to a lack of mental focus — the kind of off day Taggart said he’d been waiting for — so it will be interesting to see how the Toppers respond tomorrow.

A few other thoughts from today’s scrimmage:

— Just a few people I saw sitting out of today’s practice — running backs Bobby Rainey and Avery Hibbitt, offensive lineman Adam Smith, receiver Dexter Haynes and linebacker Ben Duvall.

— Speaking of Rainey, I had a chance to talk with him after practice today. Rainey missed practice yesterday also with a sore shoulder, but I think both days have been purely precautionary. He should return to the field soon, yellow jersey in tote.

The conversation I had with Rainey was a pretty funny one. We talked football and just about everything outside it, including his tendency to play with himself on NCAA Football ’11 for Playstation 3.

Rainey commented on whether or not he’s rated fairly on the video game and even admitted that he sometimes puts himself in at QB when Jakes goes down hurt.

We of course also talked about the upcoming season and his expectations as an offensive leader. I’ll have that feature on Sunday, which is the team’s first day off since camp started.

I’ll have a notebook from today’s practice on the Web site soon, along with a feature on senior wide receiver Quinterrance Cooper. Cooper’s seen more losses than just about anybody on this Western squad, and he’ll be the first to tell you he’ll do anything Taggart says if it means wins.

Look for both of those stories at wkuherald.com later tonight.

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Thursday football quick hits: Pelesasa, Rainey sit with minor injuries

By Zach Greenwell

It was a fairly light news day at Western’s football practice Thursday morning.

Junior quarterback Matt Pelesasa was once again held out with what’s being called a tired throwing arm. Sophomore Kawaun Jakes and freshman Brandon Doughty again took all of the snaps under center with Pelesasa sidelined, but Head Coach Willie Taggart said Pelesasa would be back for this afternoon’s second practice.

Junior running back Bobby Rainey was also out of pads – and the infamous yellow jersey – and was seen icing his left shoulder.

Taggart said that Rainey landed awkwardly on the shoulder during a drill, but that holding him out was just precautionary.

“He sprained his shoulder in the summer, and he went to catch a ball and just landed on it,” Taggart said. “He’ll be fine though.”

We’ve seen similar situations from Taggart a lot this fall with tackle Wes Jeffries, kicker Casey Tinius and of course, Pelesasa. It’s pretty clear that when a proven playmaker goes down with a minor injury, this staff would prefer to give him a few days rest over risking something more serious.

Doughty looks strong

We didn’t get to see much 11-on-11 today, but in the few drives we did see, I was really impressed by Doughty.

The true freshman’s mid-range to deep ball looked the best it has, hooking up with tight end Tristan Jones and receivers Quinterrance Cooper and Blake Ayers for receptions of 15 yards or more.

Although I don’t think these last couple days are enough to pull Doughty back into the race with Pelesasa and Jakes, it does make it seem like the future could be bright for him.

Of course, with the offense having such big success, that means that the defense didn’t have its best day.

Taggart said it’s been two straight days where the offense has decisively gotten the better of the D, and he said the latter needs to learn when to say “enough is enough.”

“We were a lot better offensively today than we were defensively,” Taggart said. “But the thing I did like about the defense was that we were running to the ball. It just wasn’t as much energy as there has been.

“The guys feed off each other. When they’re fired up, it’s hard to move the ball on them. When they’re just out there and quiet, it comes really easy for the offense.”

Taggart goes ‘big-time’

On a lighter note, Taggart elaborated on his dinner last night at the governor’s mansion with Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear and his wife.

Taggart was joined by Western Director of Athletics Ross Bjork and President Gary Ransdell.

“I had all the questions I could,” Taggart said. “It’s not like I get to talk to the governor every day. I said I wanted to make sure I got it all out while I was there.

“I felt big-time. I felt like I arrived a little bit there. I walked out with my chest up and a little pep in my step after that.”

Taggart was asked what he had to eat at the dinner and excitedly answered steak and potatoes.

“We were keeping it country,” Taggart said. “Keeping it country in the governor’s mansion.”

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Wednesday football practice quick hits

By Zach Greenwell

Sorry I’m a little late today. The Toppers finished practice Wednesday right around noon, but I hung around after to chat with receivers coach Terry Obee.

I talked to Obee about the potential of freshman Willie McNeal, and how he can be an explosive piece of Western’s offense. Look for more on McNeal’s role this season at wkuherald.com later today.

Pelesasa rests

The biggest news of Wednesday’s practice was that junior quarterback Matt Pelesasa sat out for nearly all drills because of a sore throwing arm, according to Head Coach Willie Taggart.

I only saw Pelesasa take one rep during the time I was at practice, which was a ball greatly overthrown to Bobby Rainey.

In Pelesasa’s absence, I’d say sophomore Kawaun Jakes took about 70 percent of the snaps, while freshman Brandon Doughty got the rest.

It was a good day for both quarterbacks, as Western worked on attacking a nickel defense with short, quick passes.

I’ll have more quarterback updates in a notebook on the Herald’s Web site today.

A few other notes from today’s practice:

— Junior tackle Wes Jeffries was in a sling at practice Wednesday, but Taggart said that it was a minor arm injury that he has been nursing all camp. We’ll keep an eye on that situation, because Jeffries is simply a lineman that the Toppers can’t afford to lose.

— Senior linebacker Chris Bullard was back on the field with the first-team defense today. Bullard had been sidelined for the first week of camp after having minor knee surgery this summer.

— With kicker/punter Casey Tinius still out with a groin injury, freshman Hendrix Brakefield looked as impressive to me as he has all camp.

Brakefield rattled off about five or six straight solid punts at one point, showing that potential that Taggart has mentioned before.

Freshman kicker Monte Merrick, filling in for Tinius, also made the first field goal I can recall seeing him make so far, a chip shot from about 21 yards.

— A couple guys that impressed me today: receiver Jamarielle Brown and running back Dalton Cissell.

I know we’ve tooted Cissell’s horn on a few occasions to this point, but the freshman has frankly looked better than any RB in camp not named Bobby Rainey. Cissell’s biggest play of the day was a strong run of about 25 yards, taking down numerous tacklers along the way.

Again, look for a story on Willie McNeal and a full notebook on the day’s action at wkuherald.com in a little bit.

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