“We’ve had a good camp so far,” said Sonny Dykes as he heads into his first game as a head coach on Saturday as his Louisiana Tech Bulldogs take on the Grambling Tigers. “The level of competition has been really good. Offensively I think we’ve gotten better. We’ve had some injuries, but I don’t expect anyone, outside of maybe Kendrick James, to miss the first game. “
Coach Dykes said multiple players have missed two or three days at a time, making it hard for the team to develop chemistry on offense. “It’s important for us to play consistently,” added Coach Dykes. “You have to learn to play at a high level day in and day out. We’ve made tremendous strides from this spring. We’ve had four or five really solid practices back to back. The guys are getting their legs back and I’m anxious to see how we play.”
With the first game less than a week away, the quarterback position remains a point of interest for Tech fans. “That’s why we named a starter early,” explained Coach Dykes. “We wanted to see how it worked out. Ross has gotten hot and he has really performed at a high level. Steven has gotten better and those guys have gone back and forth a little bit. We’ll see how practice goes this week. I would like to play a couple of guys, (in the first game) it depends on what happens in the game. It’s always better when you can play two guys early in the season and see which one of them reacts better.”
Coach Dykes was quick to point out that his team will have to play their best to pull off the win on Saturday. “It’s an interesting game,” he acknowledged. “The thing about Grambling, if you look at their history, is they know how to win. They’re going to have athletes. If you look at the number of players that they’ve put in the NFL, it’s really remarkable. They’ve got a proud tradition and they’re going to play extremely hard against us. We’re going to have to play at a high level to win the football game. There’s no question. “
Colby Cameron was singled out for his improvement this spring on offense. The sophomore quarterback asked to practice some at receiver and performed at a high level. Since then, he has really picked up his play at quarterback and has led Coach Dykes to mention that all three quarterbacks could see playing time this season.
On defense, Coach Dykes saw significant improvement in the secondary. He mentioned Ryan Williams and Olajuwon Paige have really competed well at cornerback and that Javantay Crowe and Jamel Johnson have improved at safety. Dave Clark, a late addition to the class, brings a lot to the table at cornerback and should be able to help the team more as he gets healthy.
Brandon Patterson, another recent addition to the team, was mentioned by Coach Dykes as a player who has had a good camp. With just Ramone Randle and Mason Hitt returning at Defensive Tackle, Patterson will be counted on along with Justin Ellis and Shakeil Lucas to bolster a unit that saw D’Anthony Smith move on to the NFL. Ellis, a freshman from Neville High School in Monroe, welcomes the challenge. “I think we’ve come together as a group,” said Ellis. “We don’t have D’Anthony anymore so we have to bring that same firepower that he had. We’re ready to get out there and perform. In high school, the coach would put me on defense to take on three offensive linemen so the linebacker could make the tackle. I’m not looking for the fame, I just want to get in there and blow stuff up.”
While the Bulldogs lack experienced depth up front, there is a lot of depth at linebacker. Jay Dudley and Adrien Cole had big years as sophomores and are joined by two guys that have really improved over the last six months. Solomon Randle and Dusty Rust give the defensive coaches options when it comes to lineups and formations. “Our base is a 4-3,” said Randle. “We’ll run more like a 4-2-5 when Tank is down in our Gator package as an extra WILL linebacker. We’re going to mix it up. We’re going to play a lot of spread teams so you may even see a little 3-4. We’ve practiced it a little bit.”
Randle said he enjoys playing alongside fellow Mobile native Adrien Cole. “We’ll play inside together in a 3-4,” added. “But in the 4-3 I can play the SAM. I just want to be on the field to help the team as much as possible. I want to lead by example. I want to work hard in practice and show people how I prepare for games.”
Randle’s versatility gives the coaches options on what defenses they can run. On offense, it is just as important for linemen to play more than position. “Playing multiple positions is almost a must on the offensive line,” said sophomore Stephen Warner. “When someone gets injured, it makes it easier to shift people over. It creates more of a depth at places that you may not see on paper.”
Warner, along with fellow young linemen Jordan Mills and Kevin Saia, got thrown into the fire as freshmen last season. That experience gives the Bulldogs more depth on the offensive line than in years past. “We have a good group of guys,” noted Warner. “We’re a cohesive unit. We’re all friends. We have a lot of senior leadership from Rob McGill, Cudahy Harmon, and guys like that.”
Coach Dykes says with game week here, the emphasis goes from working on fundamentals and technique to game planning. Sophomore Lyle Fitte says Bulldog fans can expect an exciting offense. “I love the system,” explained Fitte. “We’re a high octane offense. We’re wide open and I have high expectations. We set the bar high.”
Fitte says the new offense makes playing the game more fun. “I enjoy coming to practice,” he said, “and working to get better. I’m working with the running backs, the receivers, and the return game. I’m in a position to make the team better. It allows me to use my talents in different aspects of the game. I bring everything. If the coaches feel like I can help at running back or if they line me up at receiver, I can do that too. I just want to be coachable and do whatever the team needs me to do.
Fitte said he learned a lot last year from observing Phillip Livas both on and off the field. With players like Livas and Fitte along with an exciting group of new receivers, there is plenty of firepower to go around. The new offense put in place by Sonny Dykes and Tony Franklin will make this team one to watch in 2010. It all starts Saturday in Independence Stadium in Shreveport.