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February 16, 2012

Valdosta State spring practice underway

VALDOSTA — It may still be winter outside, but the Valdosta State football team already has a spring mindset.

The Blazers offically began spring practice Wednesday afternoon with the first of 14 practices that will lead up to the annual spring game, which will be held March 3 at Bazemore-Hyder Stadium.

“It is so good to be back on the field,” Valdosta State head coach David Dean said. “We had a lot of bounce in our step. I thought we looked good today. We have had a very rough offseason so far, as  with what we have put our guys through physically. So it was good to see them come out here and bounce around and get to work, but everyone looks good on the first day. Tomorrow will be the real test when we put a little bit more in.”

The Blazers are looking to bounce back from a disappointing finish to the 2011 season, which saw them lose the final three games of the season by a combined 13 points. The Blazers led in the final minute in each of the three games, but surrendered touchdowns to the opposing teams.

“We are trying to not talk a lot about it,” Dean said. “We are trying not to dwell on the past, but these guys know. It is brought up time-to-time. You hear them talking about it. More than anything, they just want to be successful and with their work ethic right now, I think it is going to lead to that.”

With spring practice being considered a place where players earn starting positions for the upcoming season, there are several position battles Dean and the VSU coaching staff have their eyes on. The biggest position battle might come at the defensive line and safety positions, according to Dean.

“We have to find some guys to step up on the defensive line,” Dean said. “Obviously our safety position, losing Harrison Dreiling, that position is wide-open. We have several guys that we redshirted last season that have the opportunity to step up.”

Many Blazers are being held out of spring practice or are being held to limited action for numerous reasons. While some are absent due to academic issues, some are recovering from injuries, including quarterback Cayden Cochran, who broke his collarbone in the season ending 30-23 loss to North Alabama.

Cochran is able to compete in 7-on-7 drills, but is unable to participate in full-contact drills this spring. He is expected to be 100 percent by fall practice.

Along with Cochran, the  Blazers remain without running back David Bailey, who is recovery from ACL surgery after he tore the knee ligament in VSU’s loss to rival Delta State in October.

When the Blazers open fall camp in August, they will be re-joined by offensive tackle Ryan Schraeder and linebacker Chas Matthews, both of whom are sitting out of spring drills because each have just one semester of eligibility remaining.

“From a stanpoint, offensively, the timing of things and the blocking, it does hurt,” Dean said. “We understand that it is a rule we have to follow but they’re just going to have to realize that when they come in for camp this summer that they are going to get a lot more reps to get caught back up and they better be in great shape.”

Despite the absences, the Blazers are still fielding 108 players this spring, which includes wide receiver Gerald Ford, who rejoins the team after missing the entire 2011 season after being academically ineligible, and freshman quarterback Kaleb Nobles, who enrolled at VSU a semester early after graduating from Fitzgerald High School.

“Just because (Gerald) missed last year,” Dean said. “It is exciting to have him back. And then Kaleb Nobles, looking at him from the first day, boy what a talent he is.”

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