Cougars Begin Final Week of Spring Practice

April 5, 2011


The University of Houston football team completed practice No. 12 on Tuesday afternoon beginning the final week of spring ball. Head coach Kevin Sumlin also took time to meet with members of the media to talk about the first three weeks of workouts and preview the spring game.

During his 30-minute press briefing, he hit on the theory behind beginning practices prior to spring break, gave an injury update and talked about some position battles still ongoing.

HIGHLIGHTING THE QUARTERBACKS: On Jan. 14, 2011, the Houston quarterback corps went from the thinnest in the country to the most experienced, when the NCAA delivered the news of Case Keenum's sixth-year of eligibility. Keenum's ACL injury has kept him out of contact during this year's spring practice, but the 15 practices are being taken advantage of by senior Cotton Turner and sophomore David Piland.

Turner, who broke his collarbone in the same UCLA game which claimed Keenum's knee, and Piland, who started eight games as a true-freshman in 2010, have been splitting the reps with the first-team.

"Both Cotton and David are progressing really well," said co-offensive coordinator and quarterback coach Kliff Kingsbury. "They are benefitting a lot from all the extra reps they are getting this spring.

"Cotton's health is good and he is throwing great. David's confidence is much higher after being able to play last fall. We knew he would be good but now that he's had some success, his personality is so much different out on the field. We feel like we have three guys we can win with this fall."

Turner has played in seven games over two seasons, completing 74.6 percent of his passes during that time. He passed for 553 yards and threw five touchdown passes. Piland played in eight games and threw for 2,641 yards leading Houston to a No. 13 national ranking in passing. For his play, Piland earned honorable mention Freshman All-America honors from collegefootballnews.com and FoxSports.com. His 24 touchdowns thrown also ranked 10th in the UH record books for a single season.

Coach Kevin Sumlin
Opening Statement
We've been practicing. We've had some open practices for the media to come to. People ask all the time about how we practiced for four days and then took a week off (Spring Break) and then we came back and went a couple more weeks. As a staff we liked that because we can get started on a Saturday without school and classes in the way. We went the first two days with just shorts and helmets. By NCAA rules you can only have a certain amount of practices that are less than 50-percent contact or tackling to the ground. That (break) gives us an opportunity if someone comes up with an injury, they were going to miss some time, but they don't miss the entire spring practice.

Blake Sargent was having a fantastic spring and he's having an MRI this morning on his shoulder. He's the only guy that we've had a serious situation with. Hopefully it's not too bad. If it's a tear or a labrum, that could be a three or four-month deal. That would be concerning since he was doing a great job at center. We do have capable people there but it'd give us an opportunity to plug in some different people there. We've checked out Chris Thompson at center before and Chris is very, very capable. Kevin Forsch has been working as a back up as well. Blake probably won't be available the rest of the week but we have capable guys taking snaps.

I know for fans the Spring Game can be frustrating but there are a lot of schools out there not even having spring games because of the depth situation. It's not like the old days where you have over 100 guys. We're waiting on the signing class to get here, and we only have 85 scholarship guys. You have limited players out there and by practice 15, you're still working on some things to get it done. That's the reason for the (offense/defense) format and it gives us some continuity. As a program, we're not in a position right now to give away a practice day to form a team with some starters and some walkons who might not even play, just for the sake of having two teams out there.

On Case...
Case spends a lot of time with me and he doesn't do much of anything at practice. I've said before we started spring football, we have 84 other guys that need to get better. Can Case get better? Sure, but there are a bunch of other guys who have a lot further to go than he does. We have plenty of time to get him ready. He's doing some 7-on-7 and some other throwing drills. He'll keep rehabbing through the offseason and he'll have plenty of time to be ready.

We've got a great medical staff here I think everyone knows that our trainers and doctors are as good as there is. We listen to them and Case works at it every day. Case is spending a lot of time out there with David (Piland) and Cotton (Turner). He's out there in the huddles with them and that helps him stay involved with everything. I think he's on track to be back. Everyone knows what kind of kid he is - if anything we have to be careful that he doesn't try to do too much.

On position groups...
There's two positions where our incoming guys could help, one being defensive line and other being receivers based on the guys that we signed. I've been pleased with the development of our linebackers. Our starting linebacking corps is solid with George Bamfo pushing that whole group, in particular Sammy Brown. Bamfo is making Brown better because he's working harder to keep his starting position. Efrem Oliphant is a good player, obviously Marcus McGraw has made a million tackles since he has been here, and Phillip Steward is a very, very talented player. That core group of guys is pretty good. We need some of the incoming guys to come in and press those guys and also contribute on special teams. Our specials teams has been very good over the last few years. We don't really have fullbacks or tight ends and that's what a lot of special teams guys are. We have to get better at recruiting linebackers and developing the depth of the defensive line. Maybe some of the high school or junior college guys won't start, but they're going to play.

Some of the incoming defensive line guys will play just because of their size whether it's Dominique (Smith), Joey (Mbu) or Keithen (English) and because of the lack of depth. Ideally, we're probably still a year behind at that position group and we've signed a few junior college players as a stopgap but we're heading towards being able to redshirt a whole class like we do for our offensive line.

On the Spring Game...
For me, tonight's practice is just as important as the Spring Game. For the fans it's different, and I understand that, which is why we try to make it as much as a game type situation as we can. When you have 15 total practices and only three of them can be full scrimmages, it's another day of practice. We're hoping to get a lot done. Last scrimmage we had 100 plays in one hour and six minutes. This Saturday we could be out there for two hours and maybe not get that many.

On the nose tackle position...
Tyrone Campbell has been starting there mostly. We've moved David Hunter inside a little just to get him some looks. We've also moved Austin Lunsford from offense to that position. This may come as a surprise to some but there aren't a lot of guys who look forward to getting double and triple teamed as the nose tackle. You have to be a different type of guy to do that, you see guys in the NFL who get paid a lot of money that won't do that. Austin is a tough, East Texas kid and when I talked to his dad about it, he said Austin had never been more happy. Does he probably have a screw loose in his head, yea but I'm glad - we need more kids like him. Over the course of time, he can become a really good player. He's only a redshirt freshman and he weighs around 285-290 pounds. Next year he could be 300 pounds.

On Kevin Forsch and Chris Thompson at center...
One brings a lot of experience and the other has none. Chris has played tons of snaps and Forsch hasn't. Chris weighs only 280-something and he's the littlest guy on the offensive line, which is something we have worked at is getting bigger on the line. Forsch, we keep his weight down at 305. For the bigger guys, you can do a little bit more with them but experience is a huge factor, especially at that position.



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