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SPOTLIGHT
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Game week starts today for Tigers

Published on -8/23/2012, 10:16 AM

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By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

After a sluggish performance in the second and final scrimmage of fall camp, the Fort Hays State University football team will transition to game week starting today. FHSU, which opens the season next Thursday at Emporia State University, also is expected to release a depth chart today.

"Right now, the kids, they are just tired of banging on each other," second-year coach Chris Brown said. "When you get to game week, they are ready to go. They are refocused, they are really concentrating a little bit more."

Wednesday's scrimmage was mainly situational work and didn't feature tackling until some red zone situations at the end of practice.

"It just seemed like we couldn't get into a rhythm offensively," offensive coordinator Justin Schreiber said.

Several starters, namely junior wideout Keaton Callins, senior kicker Tyler Kimbrough and junior defensive backs Andreas Ashwood (knee) and Stephen Marcotte (health issue), aren't at 100 percent.

Temperatures rose into the 90s the last couple days, a change from the cool weather FHSU had in the first week and a half of camp. Senior guard Hawk Rouse called 2012 the coolest camp he had ever been a part of.

"They got lucky," Brown said with a smile. "I am frustrated with that. I wish that it could have been 110, 120, because they got it easy. We run the heck out of them, and it wasn't so hard when it's cool. When it's 110, 120, they really would have felt a little pain."

Fort Hays will give the players today off as the coaches will prepare the scouting report and scout teams. On Friday, Brown said the Tigers "will practice against Emporia State." Callins, statistically the top returning wideout and likely the No. 1 punt returner, missed the scrimmage, but Brown expects him to return Friday. Kimbrough (hip) could be out for the first game. True freshman Drew O'Brien, from Thomas More Prep-Marian, has stepped in to handle kickoffs, field goals and extra points. O'Brien has shown a strong leg and competed with Kimbrough, a two-year starter, all camp.

Kimbrough is 19 of 33 on field goals and 65 of 71 on extra points in his career, though improved his accuracy on field goals and extra points last season.

"Tyler, it's just kind of up in the air with how he is right now," Brown said. "But O'Brien is doing a good job filling in right now at that position, so either way -- if we get Tyler back, that would be great, but I think O'Brien will be just fine there."

The punting game, a struggle since the spring after All-American Ethan Kosjer graduated, has improved. Brown called junior Cameron Owens the team's No. 1 punter and O'Brien the backup. It's extremely rare for a kicker to handle kickoffs, field goals/extra points and punting duties.

"It's something that we have really worked on, really stressed," Brown said. "Even up to this week, I think I was pretty worried about it, but our punters have really come around. They are kicking it well, and they are finally getting a deep ball where we want it and our coverage has gotten better -- a lot better with our protection up front. It's come a long way in a short amount of time."

Junior quarterback Tarean Austin has worked with the first team the last few days, while senior Anthony Sheppard, the returning starter, is with the second team. While Austin has shown his strong arm, Sheppard continues to make plays with his feet. Schreiber has charted performance this fall and said the quarterbacks are "about one percentage point difference."

"The thing is, he is such a terrific athlete that we have even talked as an offensive staff, just finding a place for him," Schreiber said of Sheppard. "Whether that will be some sort of series during the game. Maybe getting him some wideout opportunities. We definitely have talked about that. We are still at the point where we are evaluating both of them and seeing who is going to be the best guy for us. They are both real good quarterbacks, they are both accurate, they are both smart. They understand our offense and all our checks that we need to make."

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