March 25, 2010
RUSTON, La. - As the Louisiana Tech football team works through its first spring practice season with new head coach Sonny Dykes, LATechSports.com will be taking a look at the progress of various positions on the team. Third in this series of installments is a look at the inside receivers with coach Mark Tommerdahl.
One of the biggest personnel changes for the Bulldog offense this coming season is a move away from a two running back or tight end set and mixing a receiver and tight end set into what is called an inside receiver. Position coach Mark Tommerdahl has made that transition as well, moving from just coaching the tight ends to guiding the inside receivers.
The inside receivers include two basic positions: a tight end and an "H" receiver, which is usually someone with a smaller body size but a considerable amount of speed. This spring, Louisiana Tech is implementing the new offensive set with the inside receivers learning their new positions and routes.
"It is a work in progress," says Tommerdahl of the progress made in the spring. "We've got our tight ends which are getting used to being split out a lot. They had some experience with that last year, now they are getting a lot of it. We are pleased with what we have at the `H' position. Richie Casey is a guy that comes to mind immediately. He is going to be a really good player for us. We have a good mix of youth and experience; we have a good mix of big guys and quick guys.'
The transition to a new offense is never seamless or easy but in moving to the spread offense that is being orchestrated by head coach Sonny Dykes and offensive coordinator Tony Franklin, the amount of action and speed of the game that the inside receivers experience makes the players always moving and always in a position to make a play.
The challenge to Tommerdahl is in having to coach almost polar opposite types of players. With the tight end usually being a larger body type but not as fast and the "H" receiver having a lot more speed but less size, there is no one type of player that the coaches are looking for to fill the inside receiver spot.
"We have to be really diverse and that is the best answer I can give you," Tommerdahl explains. "They are receivers and they have to do a great job of blocking, especially for the tight ends because they are blocking in space. Our smaller guys, the Hs, they have to block like a doggone tight end. You better be able to do it all at these spots."
The challenge for the tight ends personnel this year is having to replace a playmaker like Dennis Morris who led the nation among tight ends with 12 touchdown receptions and was named the national Tight End of the Year by the College Football Performance Awards while garnering All-America status in 2009.
However, Tech's current personnel allows Tommerdahl and the coaching staff to have several options within the inside receivers. While there is still no clear-cut single replacement for Morris, there is an opportunity of the position producing even more this year.
"[Eric Harper] is smooth but we'll get him smoother," continues Tommderdahl. "For his size, he has really, really good athletic ability. He is learning how to compete on every play and he has gotten a lot better at that. He is starting to really have fun playing football and football is important to Eric. That shows in the way that he plays. He just has to improve on the nuances of route running because we are asking him to run more and, certainly, different kinds of routes."
"They are the real deal. It will be a lot of fun working with them."
"On the other side, you have a completely different body component with Richie Casey," explains Tommerdahl. "And we expect Phillip Livas to be there in the fall, along with guys like Hayden Slack, Sharman Brown, et cetera. The ball will get distributed a lot and not only will we fill Dennis's shoes, it will be like we are splitting them up."
Tech has a significant amount of speed at the "H" receiver if the team has a healthy Casey and Livas this fall.
"They [Richie Casey and Phillip Livas] are the real deal," says Tommerdahl, smiling. "It will be a lot of fun working with them."
Whoever enters the 2010 season in a starting position at the inside receiver position will have plenty of chances to make plays in the Bulldogs new fast-paced, attacking offense. In the meantime, the players are enjoying the new pace of the offense with an increased emphasis on throwing the ball.
"They enjoy it," Tommerdahl said. "Guys like to play catch and we're just in the backyard playing catch, throwing a lot of balls. They are really enjoying it."
Fans don't have to wait until the T-Day Spring Game to get their first glimpse of the inside receivers in action as all practices are open to the public and Bulldog fans are encouraged to attend. The next practice will be held at 4 p.m. on Friday, March 26 at Joe Aillet Stadium with the first scrimmage of the spring season set for 10 a.m. on Saturday, March 27.
For the most comprehensive coverage of Louisiana Tech's spring football practices, check out the Spring Football Central at LATechSports.com. For complete coverage of Bulldog Football, please visit the official home of Louisiana Tech Athletics at LATechSports.com.