By BRAD KEITH
Photos by RUSSELL HUFFMAN
STEPHENVILLE (April 10, 2016) — Jabari Anderson gained big chunks of yards on the ground and catching passes out of the backfield to highlight what was a brief scrimmage in place of a spring game for Tarleton State Sunday at Memorial Stadium.
The event concluded the first spring ball at Tarleton under the guidance of new but familiar head coach Todd Whitten, who took over in December. It’s his third stint at TSU, where he is already the school’s winningest coach.
Anderson was a force out of the backfield on both scoring drives by the first-team offense, converting third downs on a screen pass and on a speed option before scoring on a short touchdown run on the first drive. He carried the ball five times and caught a pair of passes on the second drive, which featured his 15-yard burst up the middle on a delay draw to convert a third down.
“He’s a really good player, a tough kid. He doesn’t really say a lot, he just comes out here and works,” said Whitten. “Can’t ask for anymore than what Jabari has given us, he’s had a great spring.”
That was the biggest run of the day, and it set up a four-yard TD scramble by Derek Kiser, who took all the first-team snaps. Head coach Todd Whitten asked officials to place the ball at the 1-yard line anyway, and Kiser found Tate Whitten – Todd’s son – open on a drag pattern in the back of the end zone.
The second team offense, led by quarterback Alex Craig, struggled to move the ball, gaining just one first down on its opening possession and failing to move the ball before a long field goal try was blocked to end its second drive.
Starting quarterback Zed Woerner and talented wide receiver Bubba Tandy were each held out. Woerner did go through drills before the live portion of the scrimmage, but has not been medically cleared for contact. Tandy was with the team for about half its spring drills, but as he entered the stadium in street clothes Sunday said he fell on his ribs a week ago and coaches decided to keep him out. He missed several weeks with cracked ribs last season.
Backup running back Joseph Sadler was also held out after individual drills, and Tandy wasn’t the only receiver who didn’t participate.
“We only have five healthy wide receivers and we’ve dealt with injuries all spring on the offensive line,” Whitten said. “That’s just how it goes sometimes.”
The defense is led by new coordinator Marcus Patton, who previously had success in the same role with Colorado Mesa.
“I really like what he’s doing on that side of the ball, but he’s shorthanded, too,” said Whitten. “He only has three healthy tackles right now, and they’re young in the secondary. But I think everyone will like what they see from us defensively with Marcus in charge.”
Cornerback Barry Stripling made the biggest defensive play, intercepting a pass from Kiser on the second snap of the scrimmage. The offense reset the drive before Anderson led the way to the opening touchdown.
Whitten said all obstacles aside, he was pleased overall with spring ball.
“We got some good work in, saw some things we needed to see,” he said. “The guys came out and competed hard all 15 days, that’s really all you can ask for right now.”
He said schoolwork will be the primary focus the rest of the semester.
“Go to school, make good grades and make sure you’re on pace to graduate. That’s why these guys are here,” Whitten said. “When we get the semester done, we’ll have a great summer of conditioning and the guys will do 7-on-7 and keep working. I’m a firm believer you can win or lose two or three games just by the work you’re willing to put in over the summertime.”