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MEMPHIS SPORTS SCENE

MEMPHIS SPORTS SCENE

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PRACTICE, AND REPEAT Let’s paint a scene. The day is beautiful, warm, and clear. Liberty Bowl stadium stands in quiet dignity in the midst of the Mid-South fairgrounds like some bear who has watched generations of cubs come and go. On that field, which is still more brown than green from winter’s administrations, two groups of football players stretch and talk with each other. Coaches stand everywhere, talk to visiting recruits and potential walk-ons, and make last minute decisions about the upcoming Blue & Gray Scrimmage. The stadium’s intercom plays “Taking Care of Business” and fans begin to fill the seats. Admission to the Liberty Bowl is free today. Granted, the attendance is not breaking records as did Ole Miss’ 25,000 plus that came to watch the Rebels play some spring ball. But at the same time, the grouping here has a quiet recognition that this passage of spring is necessary, and even fun as some get their football fix for a couple months. This sentimental scene we have built is punctuated by the crash of helmets on pads, of flesh bouncing off the grass, and of coaches constantly jawing the players. And this scene is paced by the over and again repetition of plays that the players Ð and some fans Ð know by heart. There’s the slant right and left that has become the mainstay of the Tiger first-down offense. There’s the deep pass we see so often at second down. There’s the play-action and the through the middle running of the tailback. And, of course, there’s that razzle-dazzle like the one that ended the day’s scrimmage. But this game isn’t about variety. This game isn’t about showing the world every offensive move. Instead, this game is about practice, practice, practice. And repeat. Quarterback Danny Wimprine, who has emerged as the top tosser for the Tigers, says that he thinks Spring practices are worth the effort. “I think it’s really important. It gives a chance for some of the young guys to step up, for the coaches to see what we do, and for us to work in some of the things we didn’t have a chance to do last year.” Some of those things include blowing a late-game lead against Cincinnati that connected on a 4-28 and later a touchdown to end the game, and the Tigers chances at a winning record and potential bowl bid. Some of those things include coming out into every game as semi-professionals, and not just a bunch of kids wearing the same jerseys. “I think our guys understand that when they are between these lines, it’s time for business,” head coach Tommy West said after the game. Last year, the Tigers showed all the heart in the world, blew one fundamental play after another. If the long snapper didn’t miss the punter or the ball holder, the receiver would run a wrong route. If the offensive lineman didn’t get his man, a defensive lineman wouldn’t get off his block to make the play. This year, as he did all last season, West is showing his players what it takes to win: practice, practice, practice. Repeat. Wimprine says that he’s not tired of it yet. “No not really,” he says in response to the question. “You just have to get better every day. With more reps, you’ll get better. We try to practice perfect every day.” According to Wimprine, he knows perfect because his coaches have told him what perfection is. “We both have the same idea of perfect, so if we’re perfect, we’re perfect,” he says. “So we try to move toward that.” Of course, this perspective is easier for Wimprine, who had a dynamite spring. In the Blue-Gray Scrimmage, Wimprine threw 28 passes for 20 completions, 252 yards, and a pair of touchdowns. He also ran one in for the squad. He did toss an interception, but that was his only blown pass all spring. “I’m just trying to take it calm and easy,” he says of his own performance. “My receivers are getting better every day, and my offensive line is good and playing like a unit. I feel comfortable back there right now.” One only wonders if coach feels the same way. The scrimmage was supposed to last four fifteen minute quarters. But the last play at the end of the fourth quarter was a turnover. So West told the team to go again. And again. And again a couple more times until he started to see the things he liked to see. Like that razzle-dazzle for a wide open touchdown, ending the scrimmage with a score. Ideally, if the Tigers get used to ending games like that, the team will start to win some of those games in the fourth quarter. And repeat. (Care to respond? Write mailonthefly@aol.com.)

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