UAB football transitions from fall camp into preparing for season… – 1819 News

Fall camp officially closed on Saturday night at Protective Stadium with UAB’s second and final scrimmage.
According to reports from UAB media relations, quarterback Dylan Hopkins and running back Lee Witherspoon stood out on offense. Hopkins directed a first-team offense that produced several big plays, and Witherspoon had a long touchdown run where he reversed field before racing into the end zone.
Defensively, true freshman Trey Miles was strong in pass coverage, Jason Riles Jr. scored a touchdown after scooping up a fumble caused by a teammate, and Keon Handley Jr. had the lone interception of the night.
UAB head coach Bryant Vincent was not available for comment after the scrimmage but did speak to the media beforehand. He said that the scrimmage would “solidify” the depth chart as the Blazers now move into game preparation mode for the Sept. 1 opener against Alabama A&M at Protective Stadium.
He was asked about the depth chart and then asked specifically about the quarterback race between Hopkins, the returning starter and favorite to hold onto that role and Baylor transfer Jacob Zeno.
“If you look at the last three years, we’ve played really, minimum, two quarterbacks in a season and (at times) had three quarterbacks,” Vincent said. “I think it’s important in the next couple of days, we’ll name a starter, but our backup will also play. We always talk about protecting the team and having the next guy ready. When your backup hasn’t gotten many reps, it’s hard for him to come in and be ready to win a game if that’s what’s needed. We plan on our backup being ready.”
It’s also important that the other two quarterbacks in camp – Bryson Lucero and Damon Stewart – have shown the ability to play if needed. Both have had solid moments during camp, proving on the field that it’s a deep quarterback room.
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Obviously, battling for starting spots and playing rotation didn’t stop at quarterback.
“Any time you have competition at any position, it usually brings out the best in both players,” Vincent said. “Competition is a big key to having a championship program.”
With the transition from fall camp into fall practice, and classes beginning on Monday, we will take a look at four more things that stood out over the past three weeks.
Vincent quickly put his own stamp on the program: Of course, there is still plenty of Bill Clark’s influence on the program. Vincent has been vocal about that and hasn’t shied away from being committed to building off what Clark built since coming to UAB in 2014. However, Vincent is also coaching to his personality, which has been easy to spot during practice.
Ultimately, though, the core beliefs stay the same.
“To me, to continue the UAB standard is to have a UAB football team that’s going to come out, it’s going to be physical, it’s going to be tough, it’s going to play from the very beginning, and we want to finish our opponent in the fourth,” Vincent said.
The running game is still a focus for obvious reasons: The running game was mentioned as a strength in both scrimmages despite star running backs DeWayne McBride and Jermaine Brown Jr. taking the day off in both. A.J. Gates worked himself into shape and into the rotation. Lee Witherspoon is doing what was expected when the former high school star transferred back home from Mississippi State. True freshman Taven Curry has also flashed the ability to contribute quickly.
However, on game day, McBride and Brown will get the bulk of the carries and are certainly the top duo in the conference.
Defensive front and edge rushers are still a question mark: The pieces are in place. The question mark will remain until it shows in the game. Fish McWilliams and Isaiah Forte are a good place to start inside, and junior college transfers Tyrique Howard, Drew Tuazama and Joker Gill are developing. Kevin Penn had a strong camp early on but has missed time recently with an injury.
Kelle Sanders and Michael Fairbanks are the starters on the edge. Fairbanks’ versatility is huge with his proven ability to play inside and outside. Sanders needs to play at an all-conference level. It won’t be a surprise if Kyle Harrell leads the team in sacks. Nakia Eason has a role, but he’s been fighting a recent foot injury.
Quality depth is evident throughout: For the most part, the Blazers appear to have avoided major injury woes thus far. But there have been some players dinged up during camp, forcing them to miss time. In most cases, because of depth throughout, the Blazers haven’t missed a beat in camp.
Building that depth is the objective. Cornerback coach Daric Riley had an interesting perspective on the other side of having a bunch of players who have starting ability.
“At some point, someone has to be a starter, only two can start, and there’s about eight that can’t,” said Riley. “The hard part for me is I care about them, and I want them all to be successful. Only two of them are going to be on that Jumbotron. Only two of them are going to be on the paperwork that says starter. It’s tough to say which two and that hurts you as a person because we all have a soul, you know, and they all want to be successful. They’re all fighting to be starters. Only two can. It’s definitely a positive, but it’s a negative in I care about those guys and want them to be successful.”
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