UAB football spring practice: Offense shines, defense improves in first scrimmage


The UAB football team is a week away from closing out spring practice with its annual spring game and held its first scrimmage Friday at the UAB Football Operations Complex in Birmingham.

“We’re getting a lot better and cautiously optimistic,” UAB head coach Trent Dilfer said. “The biggest thing I’m looking for this spring is relaying a foundation that can win a lot of games. A lot of that is not football. It’s attitude, effort, buy-in, brotherhood and how they communicate.”

With a large majority of the coaching staff back for a second season, the game-day operation during the scrimmage was more concise than at any point before the season last year and communication between coaches and players has not been an issue.

“We’re so far ahead because we just know each other better,” Dilfer said. “The players know us and we know the players. They know the expectation and players are coaching each other.”

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Offensively, UAB finished last season ranked 18th in both total offense (450 ypg) and passing offense (288.9 ypg) and should be even more explosive despite losing its top two offensive players from a season ago.

Lee Beebe is leading the running back unit with Isaiah Jacobs and LSU transfer Armoni Goodwin out with injuries and the receiving corps is filled to the brim with potential after Amare Thomas burst onto the scene during his true freshman campaign.

“We have a lot of playmakers,” Dilfer said. “Kameron Shanks had a heck of a day. Not a ton of touches but Corri Milliner was explosive. BJ Hawkins was explosive. Jamoi Mayes was explosive. All of our receivers are making plays.”

“Lee Witherspoon played really well, he’s a Swiss army knife,” he added. “T-Mac (Terrell McDonald) is a Swiss army knife and he played well. Our skill positions on offense are playing at a really high level. Not as consistent as we need them to be but their impact on daily practices is not just felt but heard.”

UAB lost both its leading rusher (Jermaine Brown Jr.) and receiver (Tejhaun Palmer) from last season but is as deep as ever at the skill positions with the development of a young receiving corps and an influx of portal talent in the offseason.

Brandon Buckhaulter and redshirt freshman Kameron Shanks each had a touchdown, the former hauling one in down the sideline on a throw from Trace Campbell, but the offense also sputtered at times due to presnap penalties.

“Replacing T-Palm is going to be hard so this offense is going to be way different than how it was last year when we knew we had that primary we could go to no matter what,” Zeno said. “All these guys are getting the ball. It’s basically if you took T-Palm and took him apart and put him in all the receivers. Everything is more calm and relaxed, I’m seeing stuff better and getting the ball out faster.”

Defensively, the Blazers brought in a mix of early enrollees and transfers to bolster a unit that was one of the worst in the nation last season, ranking 118th in total defense (435 ypg), 123rd in rushing defense (197.1 ypg) and 88th in passing yards allowed (237.9 ypg).

Among those already making moves are linebacker OC Brothers, edge-rusher Ezra Odinjor and safeties Sirad Bryant and Adrian Maddox.

“Hopefully, we’ll be a lot better than last year,” Dilfer said. “The goal is not to be a little better but a lot better. We were obviously atrocious (last year). Everybody in the building knows that and nobody would be offended by that. Everybody owns it. There’s a lot of work to be done but we have better personnel.”

While the offense is seemingly light-years ahead of its defensive counterparts, UAB’s defense did flash its potential during a goal-line stand late in the scrimmage.

“We’re being more relentless in getting to the ball and maximizing our effort and intensity,” Kendall Johnson said. “We’re enjoying it but also being serious about it. We don’t like getting scored on, I don’t think any defense does, and last year was definitely not where we wanted to be.”

The Blazers have one week of practice remaining before concluding with the annual spring game and showcase, Saturday, April 6, at the UAB Football Operations Complex.

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