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March 29, 2011

Spring Practice Notebook

Through last weekend, Tulsa had completed five spring workouts, including a 45-minute scrimmage on Saturday. A number of Golden Hurricane players have stuck out during practice, and battles for position are starting to heat up. The following notes provide insight and impressions from the past seven days.

G.J. Kinne had been throwing the ball very well on Tuesday and Thursday, but he ended up 7-of-17 for 75 yards in Saturday's scrimmage. Some of his struggle was likely due to the cold, misty conditions, and he has looked solid up to that point. He needs to continue to work on his finesse for shorter throws, but he is throwing well on the run and seems to have control of his cannon arm on long throws.

Redshirt freshman quarterback Kalen Henderson was impressive running the scout team last season, and he continues to impress through this spring. He connected on three of his first five passes in the scrimmage and finished 6-of-15 for 112 yards.

Henderson's brightest play on Saturday was a 36-yard strike down the right sideline to Freeman Kelley. Kelley was tightly covered, but Henderson put the ball right on the money. He will make a strong push to take over at QB next season.

"He's a great player," said Kinne. "He's got great talent. You're going to see a lot of him after I leave, probably."

Senior placekicker Kevin Fitzpatrick has looked solid so far this spring. Matt Hulse, a senior walk-on, has also been taking kicks. Hulse can also be seen working out with grayshirt freshman Cole Way on punts. At 6-foot-8, Way is clearly noticeable, but not just due to his height. He also has a lethal foot.

When Way and Hulse began warming up, Assistant Coach Scott Downing told the guys fielding punts to "back up…these guys can boom it."

Some young receivers will have to step up this season, and there is no shortage of talent. Sophomores Jordan James and Freeman Kelley have been impressive. Kelley is a speedster that has a knack for meeting the ball in the air at the perfect moment to make leaping grabs. James has improved his hands and is making catches in traffic, using his 6-foot-2 frame to shield off defenders.

"We've got to get that timing down," said Kinne. "That's what the spring's for, and summer. The summer will be huge for those young guys. I'm looking forward to it."

2011 will be Kinne's third season as a starter at Tulsa. The senior sat out the 2008 season after transferring from Texas, and there has been constant coaching turnover at his position since he arrived.

"This is my fifth offensive coordinator in five years, so I'm kind of used to (change)," he said. "We're just coming out here playing every day. We've got a great team, we're just going to keep on continuing to build on our success from last year."

It will also be Kinne's third head coach in five years, including his time at Texas, but he is excited to play for Bill Blankenship.

"It's awesome. I love Coach Blankenship," Kinne described. "We've always had a great relationship. He's given me a lot of freedom out there, and I like that. Like (Saturday), on third down, they gave us zero coverage, and I was able to check to (Damaris) on a fade. In years past, we haven't been able to do that."

There are some fun battles to watch in each practice, but many of them involve playmakers Damaris Johnson and Willie Carter. Defenders do their best to keep these two from breaking long plays, but they can only be contained for so long.

Johnson and cornerback Justin Skillens went one-on-one a few times in last Thursday's practice. On one particular play, Skillens had Johnson blanketed, but DJ somehow got his hands to the ball, which popped up in the air. The two wrestled for position to try to make a play on the ball, but it hit the ground just passed the outstretched arms of Johnson.

Carter was also making plays on Thursday and caught a pass over the middle that he took to the house. He caught free safety Dexter McCoil trying to jump the route, and it backfired on the defense.

In Saturday's scrimmage, the first-team offensive unit included Kinne, RB Trey Watts, TE Clay Sears, WR Damaris Johnson, WR Jordan James, LT Tyler Holmes, LG Clint Anderson, C Trent Dupy, RG Stetson Burnett and RT Joe King.

Coaches pointed out that the veterans on the offensive line played well, but the younger linemen have some work to do. Head Coach Bill Blankenship mentioned that Kinne, Johnson and Carter all stood out as expected.

"I think our guys are performing well," said Blankenship. "I like the way our coaches have them. I think the attitude, the culture, the camaraderie is really strong right now."

The first-team defense for Saturday's scrimmage was made up of SS James Roberson, FS Dexter McCoil, CB John Flanders, CB Lowell Rose, OLB DeAundre Brown, OLB Curnelius Arnick, MLB Shawn Jackson, DE Cory Dorris, DE Tyrunn Walker, DT Derrick Jackson and DT Rashad Robinson.

As pointed out by the defensive coaching staff, the stars of the day were Flanders, Brown, Walker and Dorris.

"The defense came out and played with a lot of enthusiasm," said quarterback G.J. Kinne. "That's what we need. We're a team, and in spring we get a little caught up in offense and defense, but all-in-all, we're a team, so I'm proud for those guys."

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