BIRMINGHAM — Trent Dilfer’s first UAB football team will come out from behind the curtain on Thursday night. The UAB Spring game offers the first chance for most UAB fans to see the Blazers on the football field since Dilfer took over the program.
Dilfer said the plan for the game, which kicks off at 6 p.m. at Protective Stadium, is that the first team defense will face the first team offense for “a quarter and a half,” and the second team on both sides will play against each other for the same amount of time. He said the “developmental players” will play in the final part of the scrimmage, and there will be a situational segment to the game.
What does he want to see during the game?
“I think just continue to get better,” Dilfer said. “I think the operation, we scrimmaged on Saturday and felt pretty good about some things. The players, their investment, and their work ethic, we couldn’t be more pleased. But there’s still a transition of learning to play faster. I guess the word to use is cleaner. We got to play clean football and use every opportunity we can in practice to get better.”
In most cases, the spring game concludes spring practice. In this case, the Blazers still have four scheduled practices after Thursday’s game.
“It’s very intentional on my part,” Dilfer said. “I looked at a lot of different models, talked to a lot of different people, had my own thoughts on it. I wasn’t just going to copy someone’s model. I really wanted to save a nice chunk, after the spring game, as kind of a launch pad for the fall. We’ll have a better understanding of who we are (through first 10 practices and the spring game). Let’s really hammer down some things so we start fast in the fall. They’ll be expected in the fall to start off where we left off.”
Thursday’s spring game also features the Dragon Egg Hunt, which will take place on the field at halftime.
What to look for on offense:
*How much of the new system will Dilfer, offensive coordinator Alex Mortensen and the offensive staff unveil to the public? The truth is probably very little. Spring games generally have very vanilla game plans, and there’s no reason to expect anything different on Thursday. It will, however, be a chance to see the base formations for this offense.
*Who are the playmakers? This is an offense filled with playmakers at receiver and running back. There is plenty of returning talent at both spots, but they will be asked to do different things than in the previous offense. Receiver TJ Jones should be busy in this offense, and Iverson Hooks is poised to play an important role. Tejhaun Palmer should be one of the best-returning receivers on an AAC team, and there is plenty of depth and experience. Dilfer has said more than once that the objective is to get everyone involved, which means tight ends JC Sivley, Bryce Damous, Terrell McDonald, and Dallas Payne will have a chance to make key plays. Running back Jermaine Brown Jr. is one of the top running backs in the AAC, but Thursday’s game could highlight Taven Curry, Lee Beebe, Demetrius Battle and the other running backs.
*Jacob Zeno and Landry Lyddy look to have separated from the pack at quarterback. Thursday’s game could show if there is much – or any – separation between the two. Kick if off today, and it appears that Zeno would be the starter. Will that be the same scenario at the end of fall camp?
*Dilfer praised the offensive line after last Saturday’s scrimmage. Thursday will be a chance to see who is stepping up in the search for a winning rotation up front. Unfortunately, offensive guard Zaire Flournoy, who had a perfect spring, is injured and will not play.
What to look for on defense:
*Watch them play, and it’s hard to imagine that defensive tackle Fish McWilliams, cornerback Mac McWilliams and safety Jalen Key aren’t among the top defenders in the American Athletic Conference. A defense built around those three could be very solid.
*Who are the other playmakers? Perhaps that question can be answered after Thursday’s spring game. Dilfer is extremely excited about his team’s defensive front, which features Fish, Tyrique Howard and Michael Fairbanks. Jackson Bratton and Tamarious Brown look to be the top inside linebackers, and the secondary looks to be solid.
*How vanilla will the defense be in Thursday’s game? Just like with offense, defensive coordinator Sione Ta’ufo’ou will probably show a basic look. Some of the players have mentioned during camp that blitzing will be a big part of this defense. Don’t expect to see a ton of that on Thursday night.
*Will there be some new names or unheralded returnees that stand out? Absolutely. True freshmen Ricky Lee III and Everett Roussaw have looked good in their first college spring practice. Do Jalen Mayala and Michael Moore have a shot to get in the mix on the edge? Tennessee State transfer Kendall Johnson is a defensive end newcomer who has made a good impression. Those are just a few possibilities. Plenty of others could fit into this category.
What to look for on special teams:
*It will be surprising if the coverage teams are live, so we might not see that much. It is a chance to see the competition at punter between Arkansas transfer Patrick Foley and redshirt sophomore Caden Long. It also is a chance to see who lines up at the return spots.
To connect with the author of this story or to comment, email steve.irvine@1819News.com.
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