By Zach Greenwell
Courtney Dalcourt’s career as a quarterback is over.
And so begins a transition to wide receiver, a spot on Western’s roster that doesn’t have a trio of ample candidates vying for the No. 1 job.
It was finally confirmed Wednesday that Dalcourt will make the switch upon his return from knee surgery — the second one in his short Topper career.
Head Coach Willie Taggart said that he was approached by Dalcourt about making a position switch.
If Dalcourt’s knee continues to heal, Taggart said the Franklin-Simpson High School product may be able to return to the field as early as October.
But the careers of a few other Toppers have officially ended.
Taggart elaborated on the status of senior linebacker Mike Gothard (multiple concussions) and senior offensive lineman Derrick Elder (back), saying both are done playing football. Both may continue to help out the team in some capacity, Taggart said.
Senior linebacker Chris Bullard, who had minor surgery on his knee during the summer, may be ready to go by next week, and freshman defensive back Jerome Speights was held out of practice today with a tweaked knee, according to Taggart.
On the offensive
To be honest, it was a strong day for each of Western’s three quarterback candidates because each did something a little different.
In the 45 minutes media were allowed into practice, we saw junior Matt Pelesasa throw some beautiful deep balls, including a long touchdown strike to receiver Marcus Vasquez.
Sophomore Kawaun Jakes looked much more crisp today and also impressed with a few scrambles, and true freshman Brandon Doughty made several good plays in the pocket.
Doughty, leading a third group, even connected with freshman wide receiver Austin Baker for a touchdown of at least 30 yards on the team’s first-string defense.
He wasn’t immune to the occasional freshman blunder, however, once throwing a quick out-route that was picked off by junior linebacker Tenerio Davis. Had it been a game situation, the play might have been returned for six.
“Every day one of the guys will do something a little better,” Taggart said. “We’re rotating those guys every day — not one guy is starting with the (first-string). We’re grading them every day, and we tell them that depth chart is going to move every single day.”
With several of the veteran wide receivers still dropping passes at a frequent pace, don’t put it past the Toppers to implement some younger guys into the mix.
Taggart has already sang the praises of freshman receiver Donald Campbell, and others like Neil Wilson, Jim Murphree and Baker showed flashes of potential today.
Taggart said that several younger players at the skill positions have potential and will benefit from increased meeting times once summer school ends Thursday.
“Some of it they can’t do because they just don’t know it,” he said. “We come out here and put them in the plays that they do know, and they’re making plays, and again, just having fun. They still make some bonehead freshman plays too, but it’s good to see them make plays and their teammates get excited about it.”
On a final note, kickers Casey Tinius and Monte Merrick did not look their best Wednesday.
Tinius’ lone field goal and extra point attempts while the media were in attendance both clanked off the uprights, and Merrick’s only field goal try – albeit it a fairly long one (hard to tell from where the media was standing) – came up way short.
Smith, Beard shine on defense
While Wednesday wasn’t Western’s best practice on defense, both junior safety Ryan Beard and sophomore defensive lineman Quanterus Smith managed to receive from praise from the coaching staff.
Beard, who has had a tumultuous career to say the least, has gotten off to a strong start this fall, Taggart said.
Taggart said he had a conversation with Beard this summer and told the safety that he wasn’t the same player Taggart knew during his previous stint at Western.
Beard recorded 41 tackles in 11 games — starting 10 of them — during his redshirt freshman year in 2008, but has struggled through injuries and off-the-field issues since.
“I told him, ‘Things are in the past, and you can’t do anything about them,’” Taggart said. “’You learn from them, and move forward. You’ve got your future ahead of you.’”
Beard said that after his talk with Taggart, something just seemed to click.
“He told me that he wanted the player back that he recruited — that guy with the fire, that guy that made plays all that time and that guy that could really bring something to a defense,” Beard said. “That’s what I’m trying to do lately.”
Beard was all around the ball during Wednesday’s practice, making plays and forcing fumbles.
“He comes out here and does everything that you ask him to do to the best of his ability, and from a coaching standpoint, there’s nothing more you could ask for,” defensive coordinator Clint Bowen said. “On the flip side, he’s a good athlete with good football instincts and intelligence, and a guy that’s going to have to take a leadership role in the secondary and embrace that, because we’re going to have some young guys back there.”
Beard said he doesn’t expect to slow up soon, because a positive football career is a fragile thing.
“You’re only a play away from being on the sideline again, and I really don’t want that,” Beard said.
Smith, who dominated defensive drills toward the end of practice, was actually in line to be interviewed by the media until he suffered cramps right before the final whistle.
“Q. Smith is a very talented individual,” Bowen said. “He’s a special athlete – there’s no denying that. As he continue to learn how to play the position, he could obviously be a guy that could make plays for us on defense.
“He needs to embrace that role and do that, because his physical skills really are pretty special.”
Bowen said junior defensive linemen Bo Adebayo and Jared Clendenin were also helping Smith anchor the line, but that the group as a whole still has strides to make.
“We’re not the biggest on the inside, so we’ve got to make sure we stay fresh and play hard with those guys in there,” Bowen said. “There are a lot of bodies in there, but some of them need to step up and take control and show that they’re the guy.”