By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
As spring football practice concludes at Missouri Southern, both coordinators say the Lions’ foundation is in place.
“When you’re building a defense, it’s like building a house,” defensive coordinator Jay Thomas said. “You want to make sure your foundation is strong, and then you go from there. We’re putting the walls on it right now. We still haven’t gotten the house completed. I wish we could keep going. I wish we had 15 more days.”
“The foundation is built,” offensive coordinator Bob Howell said. “Now it’s putting more speed to it, expanding it. We want to be able to get into some pistol, short-gun situations.”
The Lions played their spring game Saturday morning, and the White team posted a 28-7 victory over the Green team at Fred G. Hughes Stadium.
The first-team offense and defense played on the White team with one exception. Quarterback Kyle Webster, No. 1 on the depth chart as spring ball ends, directed the Green team.
“I put Kyle on purpose with the 2s,” Howell said. “I wanted to put him in some difficult situations. He had a tendency early to want to go out of the scheme and make something happen, make plays. He needs to learn some patience, let the kicking game and defense work for us.
“I was real happy with how Kyle played. A lot of times he didn’t get to his pitch key and so he got what he could. I thought he managed the outside real well, and when he had some opportunities throwing the ball, he made good throws and we had some guys to up and make some plays.”
Webster hit Will Cuffee with a 14-yard touchdown pass late in the first half to account for the Green’s score.
Kellen Cox, moved from wide receiver to quarterback, and Shane Hartzler shared time directing the White offense. Cox raced 67 yards on an option keeper around the right side on the White’s first snap, and Hartzler hit Landon Zerkel with a 21-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter. Wide receiver Ne’Ronte Threatt scored twice on runs of 1 and 6 yards, both on option pitches around right end.
The Lions’ switch to an option offense has also been a learning experience for the offensive linemen.
“The offensive line was what I call a high-hat team, played with their heads up and a lot of pass protection,” Howell said. “Now we’re asking them to be a different type of animal. We want them to have weight on the hands, coming off the ball with a flat back and very aggressive. They have really taken to it, and I think as we get better there, it will be a lot easier on the quarterbacks and running backs.”
Thomas saw improvement in his defense throughout the spring, especially in the last week.
“When you turned the film on from Day 1 to Day 14, it was like wow, night and day,” he said. “A credit to these kids, they had to learn a totally new system, an NFL-type system. We threw in 12 coverages and 15 fronts in 15 days. We kept the blitz packages down so we didn’t really confuse them, and they did well. We were force-feeding them to see how much they could learn, and on top of that, we built our foundation.”
“I think we had a successful spring game in my mind because we got to evaluate guys in game-type action,” head coach Daryl Daye said. “We tried to create as close to a game as we could and then protect them as much as we could.”
The enthusiasm wasn’t limited to the players and coaches. Approximately 400 fans watched from the stands, and several former players stood along the sideline.
“We always want more, but I was so proud that they did come out,” Daye said. “A ton of ex-players showed up on the sideline. That’s something we’re trying to concentrate hard on, get those guys back involved and let them know how much they are appreciated and wanted here.”