Like any college football coach, Tennessee State’s James Webster sees plenty of room for improvement for his squad coming out of spring practice.
But he did see something he liked — namely, an improved defense.
Webster made linebackers coach Rod Reed the new defensive coordinator earlier this spring and Webster thinks it made a difference.
“I think our defense improved,” Webster said. “That’s the No. 1 thing that got accomplished. …We need to improve our tackling and our assignments. We need to be more aggressive. We were better against the run.”
On offense, things are a bit more complicated. Starting quarterback Antonio Heffner and running back Javarris Williams did not dress out for the spring game. Heffner is still recovering from suffering a broken leg in a game against Eastern Kentucky last season.
Heffner entered that game as the Ohio Valley Conference leader in passing, total offense and pass efficiency.
Webster said spring practice didn’t do much to build toward next season’s offensive production because of two of the main cogs missing.
“We’ve got to create some cohesion,” Webster said. “We’ve got to get Antonio Heffner back into the swing of things. Javarris Williams missed a lot of the spring because of a school project.”
Still, the absence of Heffner and Williams gave a number of young players a chance to shine.
The biggest standout was receiver Chris Johnson, a former Glencliff standout and brother of C.J. Johnson, who is TSU’s all-time leading receiver in yardage.
“Chris Johnson really stepped up, he was really impressive,” Webster said. “He’s really going to be a good one.”
It’s not like Johnson did too shabby last season. The 6-2, 180-pound receiver had 41 catches for 740 yards and four touchdowns.
Heffner’s recovery also provided backup quarterback Calvin McNairl with plenty of time under center. McNairl played the last part of the season in 2007 after Heffner got hurt, and Webster said that experience was valuable.
“I think he got better,” Webster said. “He’s a lot more knowledgeable. He understands the speed of the game. He’s still got some learning to do. The kid showed great leadership.”
Another young player TSU coaches will keep an eye on is freshman running back Donte Thomas. The Dallas, Texas, product had a 20-yard touchdown run in the Blue and White game.