Despite injuries that sidelined key players like defensive lineman Frank Trotter and wide receiver Marcus Rucker, University of Memphis coach Larry Porter was pleased with the Tigers’ first official scrimmage of the fall Saturday at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.
“You never want to see guys like Frank Trotter and Marcus Rucker on the sidelines,“ Porter said. “You’re talking about potentially our best two players on both sides of the ball and guys who know our system and come back in and pick up where we left off.
“With them missing the time they missed, they’re probably best suited for being able to come back and catch up.”
As is usually the case early in the fall, the defense is a few steps ahead of the offense. It’s no different for Porter this year. Porter praised defensive backs Derek Howard, who had two interceptions, and Cannon Smith.
“For the most part, I thought the defense dominated the day,” Porter said. “I thought they did some good things, I really did. Up front, we played hard. Not perfect. The secondary made some plays.”
One bright spot on offense this fall has been sophomore running back Jerrell Rhodes. Rhodes had at least 150 yards on 12 carries and scored on a 43-yard scamper.
“Jerrell Rhodes has done what he has done every day since we started practicing,” Porter said. “What I saw today, I have seen for nine straight practices. We just have to continue to stay the course with him and allow him to stay in that rhythm he is in right now.”
The issue, Porter said, is finding playmakers to surround Rhodes with. Porter assessed the quarterback play thus far as average. Alabama transfer Keiwone Malone, whose eligibility remains in question, had an outstanding performance Saturday, racking up at least 100 yards and one touchdown on four receptions.
“We’ve got to manufacture some ways to get some playmakers to join (Rhodes),” Porter said. “Our most productive receiver is one that’s not eligible right now. We‘ve got to have somebody come out and do some good things for us.”
Speaking of quarterback play, Porter said Saturday that Andy Summerlin currently holds the edge over the other quarterbacks for the starting job. “None of the other guys have beat him out,” Porter said. “What I’m looking for is consistency at a high level. I haven’t seen it from him yet, so we’ve got a little more work to do before I’m ready to announce (our starter).” Porter said he’ll narrow the quarterback competition to two after watching film tonight.
The defense registered five sacks Saturday, which is a promising stat line for Porter. The Tigers‘ defensive front, with a healthy Trotter, will be one of the better positions for this year’s team.
Backup running backs Joe Price, Carl Harris, and Artaves Gibson combined for a solid day, as well. Gibson led the trio with at least 45 yards and broke a touchdown run of 25 yards. It appears as if Gibson, a true freshman, will likely be second on the depth chart. The bulky Gibson should complement Rhodes well.