The Valdosta Daily Times
VALDOSTA — The Valdosta State football team opens spring practice Friday, exactly two months following its national championship victory over Winston-Salem State.
The Blazers will finish spring drills before the university breaks for spring break in March.
This season, though, Valdosta State will not hold a spring game, due to the lack of depth at certain positions.
With spring practice just a few days away, here are a few storylines to watch:
Offensive line development
The Blazers graduated all five offensive linemen from the 2012 championship team, and enter spring practice with limited depth and even less experience.
During a visit at Crossroads Baptist School last week, offensive line coach Andy Richman admitted he will likely have to take an easier, less intense, approach with his linemen during spring practice, because of the lack of depth.
Some top linemen on the roster for spring include: Mike Moore, Colin Glasco, Jesse Yancey, Jack Bradley, Alexander Brock and Austin Thompson.
The Blazers only signed one offensive lineman last week during National Signing Day, and will look to add more through junior college transfers before the start of the season.
Pope out with injury
After playing the majority of the 2012 season with a minor knee injury, linebacker Chris Pope underwent surgery earlier this year and will miss spring practice. Pope missed spring practice last year with a knee injury.
He returned and led the Blazers with a team-high 127 tackles, putting him less than 100 tackles away from breaking Larry Dean’s all-time tackles record, set in 2010.
Gerald Ford out
With only 1 semester of eligibility remaining, reigning Gulf South Conference Offensive Player of the Year Gerald Ford will not participate in spring practice. Ford is not able to workout with the team until the spring semester is complete. Ford will re-join the Blazers in the summer.
Ford finished the 2012 season with a team-high 69 catches for a team-high 1,026 yards with nine touchdowns.
Nobles to be No. 2 QB
After redshirting in 2012, quarterback Kaleb Nobles will enter spring practice as the No. 2 quarterback on the depth chart. Nobles’ promotion comes after it was announced that junior Graham Craig would transfer to a different school.
Nobles, listed at 5-foot-10, enrolled early at VSU last spring semester, and participated in all of spring practice last season. He played in the spring game and turned heads with his foot quickness, agility and arm strength.
With starter Cayden Cochran entering his senior season, Nobles has the potential this spring and in 2013 to develop himself as the quarterback of the future for the Blazers.
Despite being redshirted in 2012, Nobles traveled with the Blazers to every game, signaling in plays to Cochran and the offense.
An empty hole at corner
VSU enters spring looking for some players to step up at the cornerback position. Four-year starter Matt Pierce and key reserve Alex Webster are out of eligibility, meaning rising senior Dominique Wheeler is the team’s top returning cornerback.
Defensive back coach, and co-defensive coordinator, Seth Wallace will look to players like Jazzin Anderson, Manny Evans and Amel Magwood to step up and compete for starting jobs.
With the graduation of senior Daniel Andersen, the Blazers will have a small battle at the kicking position. In reality, the battle is rather limited.
Freshman Antony Pistelli was redshirted in 2012, so he can have four years of eligibility, while sophomore Jake Walker will keep his kickoff duties.
Dominic DeMasi is the likely choice to be the team’s punter in 2013, although DeMasi will not participate in spring practice because he is a member of the baseball team.
More running back talent
Freshmen Austin Scott and Cedric O’Neal shined last season, becoming the first running back duo to each rush for over 1,000 yards. This spring, redshirt freshman Juwan Johnson could be the running back that turns heads.
Johnson, a 6-foot-0 talent from Groves High School, enrolled at VSU in the fall and was given a redshirt because of the strong play by O’Neal throughout camp.
Still, Valdosta State head coach David Dean was impressed with Johnson’s development and what he brought to the table.
Coming off a national championship victory just two months ago, a major part of spring practice for the Blazers will be focus. With the 2013 season still seven months away, the focus of players could be on what was just accomplished, not what is coming up in the future. Turning the focus to 2013 will be a major key for the Blazers.
I’ll have more spring practice coverage as it continues. Follow me on Twitter at @Ed_Hooper.