Monday, April 12, 2010

Texans go through game-type scenarios in scrimmage

Sports Editor

Tarleton State showed a little bit of everything in its second spring football scrimmage at Memorial Stadium Friday night.

The Texans will show a lot more in next Saturday's 11 a.m. Purple-White Spring Game.

Friday was all about situational football, and the Texans went through countless scenarios. The offense started with their backs against the wall at their own three-yard line for the first few series, and eventually worked on scoring in its goal line sets from the opponents' three-yard line.

Tarleton even practiced its four-minute offense, working from its own 30 to get first downs and melt away the closing minutes of a game with a thin lead intact.

About the only thing the Texans didn't go through was a hurry-up offense.

"We saw a lot of things and got a lot of game-type scenarios on tape to use as a teaching tool," Tarleton head coach Cary Fowler said. "I'll have to look closely at the film, but all-in-all I think we accomplished a lot tonight."

Three different quarterbacks left an impression on the head coach, two with their arms and one with his legs.

Aaron Doyle, a redshirt freshman from Evant, earned some style points when he broke away from a potential sack and scrambled to the one before leaping over the final defender at the goal line for a 15-yard touchdown.

The run was similar to the TD by Scott Grantham in double overtime of Tarleton's 57-56 playoff win at Texas A&M-Kingsville last fall.

"I love it," Fowler said. "That's one of the things Doyle brings to the field is his ability to make plays with his feet. We want that out of our quarterbacks."

Doyle also faked a handoff and kept the ball around the left side for a 34-yard run and had a one-yard TD plunge on third-and-goal.

Jackson Crawley, a redshirt freshman from Dallas, had the best-looking scoring pass of the night, a 19-yard arial to Kevin Adkins.

Junior-to-be Casey Paige directed the first-team offense most of the way and also made some big plays, including the longest of the night - a 50-plus yard pass to Arthur Buckingham on a deep cross route that got the offense fired up after the defensive units dominated the opening minutes of the scrimmage.

"Aaron and Jackson both made some big plays and Casey did a lot of good things," Fowler said of the quarterback race. "I will have to look closely at the film before saying which one looked the best (Friday)."

The defensive units also had bright spots, forcing two turnovers when the offense started from deep in its own territory, including a fumble that was recovered in the end zone for a defensive touchdown. Another turnover came on a forced fumble when the offensive units were working in goal-to-go situations.

Blair Johnson made it four turnovers on the night when the safety leaped and snagged an interception near the middle of the field.

"That's something I've been pleased with all spring is our defense's ability to force turnovers," Fowler said. "The turnovers you saw tonight weren't so much giveaways as they were takeaways."

One player who continues to be impressive this spring is tight end Will McLane, a 6-4, 252-pound redshirt freshman from Smithson Valley. He had a pair of big first-down catches.

"Will has had as good a spring as anyone," Fowler said. "He's one of our best football players right now."

Fowler has pledged to make the tight end position a big part of the Tarleton offense next fall, and McLane isn't the only player at that spot who has been productive this spring.

Tanner Maher, who coaches were hoping to have a breakout season last year before he suffered multiple injuries, had a pair of catches in the scrimmage. Fowler says Bradley Peschke has also been productive throughout the spring.

Evan Robertson and Raphael Sneed each had big plays at running back. Robertson's touches were limited, but he scored on a 13-yard run. Sneed had several runs of five yards or more, scored on a two-yard goal line plunge and drew cheers from the group of more than 100 spectators when he cut back to the middle of the field after catching a screen pass near the right sideline and darted to a 35-yard gain on third-and-10.

"Sneed ran hard and looked good in the open field. He's another guy who has come a long way this spring," Fowler said. "We didn't work Evan too hard tonight. He could have done a lot more, but we already know what he can do."

The only real setbacks have come along the offensive line, where a few returning starters are still rehabbing injuries sustained last fall, and others have been hurt during spring ball.

"Our offensive line did a good job (Friday) considering there were only six or seven of them at full strength and they didn't get much rest," Fowler said. "But the ones who were on the field tonight got a lot of reps, and that can only help them down the road."



Robertson making the most of second chance

Sports Editor

A reversal in priorities was all Evan Robertson needed to find success - both in the classroom and on the gridiron.

Robertson, who played in 12 games as a true freshman at Division I FBS North Texas in 2006, says he spent his freshman year as an athlete-student, as opposed to being a student-athlete.

"I didn't have my priorities in order. It was football then school," Robertson says of falling behind academically and leaving both the sport and his college education on hold for two years.

"Coach Mac (former Tarleton head coach Sam McElroy) let me have a second chance, and I'm so glad, because now I'm making the most of it," Robertson continued. "I've changed majors, I'm making better grades and I'm getting to play again."

Robertson was originally a business major, but has switched to accounting. The result of his student-first approach can be seen in two semesters' worth of work.

"My first semester here (spring of 2009) I made four As and a C, and my second semester I made three Bs and a C," he said. "I know if I stay focused I can keep it up (in the classroom)."

Keeping his numbers up on the field has always come natural to Robertson, who caught UNT recruiters' attention by earning district offensive most valuable player honors and a spot on the All-CenTex Team as a high school standout at Pflugerville.

UNT had every intention of making Robertson a regular in its backfield rotation, giving him 78 carries as a true freshman. He gained 381 yards (4.9 yards per carry) and scored twice that season, but never again wore green and white on a Saturday.

"He had some (academic) trouble and didn't play for a couple years," says new Tarleton head coach Cary Fowler. "He's a guy who needed a second chance, and we're glad we gave it to him."

Tarleton had a connection to Pflugerville and Robertson because TSU linebackers coach Henry Coffer was his position coach in high school.

"(Coffer) knew about him and knew he could play," Fowler said. "More important, he knew he was a good kid who just needed to focus on what's important, and he's done that since he's been here."

Robertson was a sophomore last fall, and by the end of the season was getting more carries than Lone Star Conference South Division Preseason Offensive Player of the Year Roderick Smith.

Smith battled nagging minor injuries throughout his senior season, but when the two were healthy and spelling each other regularly, one coach said they were like the Division II version of the San Diego Chargers' LaDanian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles.

"(Strength and conditioning) Coach (Rod) Cole started saying that," Robertson said of the comparison. "I guess it kind of stuck."

The comparison made sense, seeing how Robertson rushed for 894 yards and Smith added 775. Both averaged more than five yards per carry.

But Robertson did much more than just run with the ball. He also averaged 25.5 yards on kickoff returns, good for third in the LSC, and had 13 receptions for 120 yards and a pair of scores. He finished with 1,576 all-purpose yards.

Fowler is planning on getting Robertson more touches this fall.

"We need him to carry the ball 20 times a game, and we have to put him in situations where he has the ball in the open field through the screen game and in passing routes," Fowler said.

He could get more special teams touches, as well.

"Evan will still be involved in our return game on kickoffs and you may see us use him on punt returns, too," Folwer said. "We want to put the ball in the hands of our best players, and there's not any better than him."

Robertson welcomes the increased workload and plans to spend his summer preparing for it.

"It's a lot different without (Smith) here. I know I'm going to get the ball a lot more, and I'm excited about that," says the 5-9, 185-pound Robertson. "I'm going to spend the summer working out to get bigger and stronger so I'll be ready for it."

Fowler knows the added strength will help Robertson handle the additional touches, but says it's his vision that makes him special.

"He has a lot of strengths - good balance, quick feet and breakaway speed, but what really sets Evan apart is his vision," Fowler says. "He sees holes open up at full speed faster than I can find them going back and watching film in slow motion. It's incredible how fast he can find holes, hit them and then turn upfield."

Thanks to his second chance, Robertson's vision is of more than just his on-field goal of gaining more than 2,000 yards this fall.

With his priorities in order, graduation is also coming into sight.

And that's one hole Robertson plans to hit full speed ahead.

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