VALDOSTA -- Popular question No. 1 about Valdosta State's football program entering spring practice? Who's the quarterback?

For that and more questions and answers to be addressed in the next few weeks, read on.

"As a whole team, we've got to get good at doing the little things and come together," said head coach Chris Hatcher.

Who is the quarterback? By words and by actions, Hatcher plans on not having an answer for a little while. That's how he's always worked, giving all candidates a chance for the early days of practice. Remember, Hatcher wasn't the first, second or third choice 11 years ago, but he ended up starting at quarterback by game four of his freshman season.

Experience-wise, the top candidates are sophomore Buster Faulkner (307 yds, 3 TDs last season) and junior Kenn Barnett, who started in 1999 and was the quarterback coming out of spring in 2000. Then came Dusty Bonner and Barnett redshirted. He moved to linebacker last season but a broken finger kept him off the field.

"The system helps, because you know what you're doing every day," said Hatcher. "Great players make the system work.

"It's time for some of these guys to step up."

Whoever the quarterback is, he won't have to do it by himself. Seniors Reggie Mosley and C.J. Lofton are back at receiver, while junior Aaron Jenkins and sophomore Tyran Robinson return at running back.

"We've got some weapons, we've just got to find out what combination works."

Who will block for the quarterback? If Bonner could have had five more guests at the Harlon Hill Trophy presentation, it would have been the offensive linemen which protected him for two years. The same group which cleared the way for Jenkins to run for a school-record 1,503 yards last year.

Gone are four of the linemen who had been together for three years -- center Tully Payne, tackle Jason King and guards Bill Epps and Keith Gosse.

"We've got to find that closeness and togetherness all good offensive linemen have," said veteran line coach Shawn Bostick. "It takes a special group."

So who joins right tackle Chance Hutto on the new line?

"We've got to find four guys who will step in for us," said Bostick. "There are four guys here, it's just a matter of finding the right mix. The ability is there."

Guard Torrey Howard and tackle J.R. Neal have had to step in for injured starters in the past two seasons. Center Dustin Dodson and tackle Kelvin McDavis also got playing time when, like Faulkner, the Blazers blew out opponent after opponent.

"The bullets will be flying a little bit faster this year," Bostick said. "It's different in the first quarter than the fourth quarter."

Who are these guys coaching defense? There are plenty of familiar faces back on defense -- 18 of the top 30 tacklers from last season are participating in spring practice.

But who's calling the shots? Coordinator Kevin Shirley moved from Hoover (Ala.) High School earlier this month and Ashley Anders is the newest coach on the block, officially starting this week after coaching last year at Holmes (Miss.) Community College. Anders will coach linebackers.

Graduate assistants Jeff Randa and Terry Turner are working with the line, a group already hurt by academics and injuries.

"We've got to find some depth. We've got good players on defense who have proven themselves," said Shirley. "They've got to reprove themselves to a new staff.

"And to win championships, you have to have some quality backups. I'm hunting for 22 players, not 11, if I can find them."

Safeties Ced Dickerson and Wesley Brown and middle linebacker Mike Fowler are the top tacklers returning from last season. Linebacker Marlin Adams (seven sacks, 14 tackles for loss) also returns, but end Fatari Lyons (also seven sacks, 14 tackles for loss) is out with a knee injury.



VSU spring football

WHEN: continues today-Thursday, April 1-6, 8-11

SCRIMMAGES: Thursday, April 6, April 11 (spring game at Cleveland Field, 7 p.m.)

COACHES CLINIC: April 4-6 (information: 333-5970)

2002 OPENER: Aug. 31 at Albany State



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