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Better QB play evident in Tigers' first spring scrimmage

Published on -4/15/2012, 7:21 PM

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By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

Last spring, the Fort Hays State University football team, for the most part, struggled at quarterback with Blake McAhren and Dain McFarland. The offense had difficulty as the Tigers grasped the new-look pro-style offense.

McFarland eventually left the program, while McAhren started for about half the season in 2011 before he gave way to transfer Anthony Sheppard. This spring, the quarterback play and offense has improved.

That was evident in the Tigers' first of three spring scrimmages Saturday morning at Lewis Field Stadium. Sheppard, junior transfer Tarean Austin and redshirt freshman Treveon Albert -- who also saw ample time at wide receiver -- played well.

"Last spring, during scrimmages, offense would always come out sluggish and slow, and we would pick it up," senior lineman John "Hawk" Rouse said. "I think today we picked it up a lot faster, quicker than what we have in the past. I think it's a good sign that maybe we are going to actually start coming out faster and harder than what we usually do."

Fort Hays ran through different situations and had several special teams sessions during the nearly two-hour scrimmage.

"Overall, we did OK for the first scrimmage," second-year coach Chris Brown said. "Got to shore some things up on offense and defense, blocking scheme-wise, and just staying a little bit lower on defense and making secure tackles. We missed a few today, but that's first scrimmage jitters. Kids are excited, kind of lose their minds a little bit, but I think we will be all right. Saw some good things out of some kids."

The competition at quarterback is expected to last through the summer and into the fall. Sheppard and Austin, a University of New Mexico pickup by way of Tampa, are the front-runners. The athletic Albert could be one of the Tigers' top wideouts, a position where FHSU currently has several injuries and little depth.

"The summer will be huge for those guys as well and hopefully we can keep them here this summer and work in the weight room and do some 7-on-7 on their own," Brown said. "We like competition at all positions. ... If they don't have competition behind, they get lax and take it easy, but with guys pushing each other, we are going to be a lot better than I think we were last year."

Brown has seen an improvement from Sheppard, who accounted for 364 rushing yards, 889 passing yards and 10 total touchdowns in 2011. Earlier this spring, Sheppard said he was more comfortable in the offense and with his teammates.

He threw several touchdown passes, including one to redshirt freshman tight end Zack Gaughan, a Hays High School graduate. Senior tight end Eli Cordon made a couple TD grabs and junior wideout Tanner Hageman held onto a catch after he took a big hit across the middle. The speedy Sheppard also used his feet and rushed for a touchdown.

"(Competition) has really pushed him and (Sheppard) has really stepped up and done a good job as well," Brown said. "When you have that guy behind you right at your heels, you have to get better. If you don't get better, you'll get caught and you'll get passed up. It's really pushed him, and he has done a good job of handling the pressure and running with it."

Austin made one of the day's more impressive plays when he rolled out right, came back left, found an opening and fired a touchdown pass of approximately 50 yards down the left side.

"He just has got such a good pocket presence about him," Brown said. "He is not afraid to stand in there. He sees things well. He makes some good reads and some good checks. He has got a very strong arm and he can run as well. Him and Sheppard are really doing a good job right now -- and Treveon. All three of those guys at any time can play for us. I am proud of those guys. They just have to keep doing what they are doing and keep getting better each week."

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