5 questions Memphis football needs to answer as spring training begins

Memphis football begins spring training on Sunday after a disappointing 6-6 season.

Tigers coach Ryan Silverfield has the luxury of bringing back two starting-caliber quarterbacks, but the Tigers also need to replace their main tackle, receiver and tight end. Memphis has two new coordinators who use the spring as teaching sessions as well as development.

Here are five storylines to watch over the next month ahead of the April 22 spring game.

How bad will this quarterback competition be?

Incumbent Seth Henigan opens as a starter at quarterback but will face Grant Gunnell in August. It’s more intriguing than expected, but every quarterback has questions to answer.

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How much more comfortable will Henigan be after his Freshman All-American season? For Gunnell, how healthy and fluid will he be after surgery for a season-ending leg injury?

They parted ways last August and Silverfield said he was content to let things play out again instead of deciding his quarterback next month. It may be strange given Henigan’s success, but when the offense needs to improve, everything is to be won.

“We’re not going to sit here and say hey, let’s make sure this guy gets the day one rehearsals with the starters that day. We’ll just go out and see what happens.

October 14, 2021;  Memphis, Tennessee, USA;  Memphis Tigers wide receiver Javon Ivory (13) runs after the catch for a big win during the first half against the Navy Midshipmen at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.  Mandatory Credit: Petre Thomas - USA TODAY Sports

Who becomes the No. 1 receiver?

Expect a collective effort to replace Calvin Austin III, who dazzled in his preparation for the NFL Draft. Receivers coach David Glidden has praised his squad’s depth, but consistent playmakers need to emerge

Junior Javon Ivory has the most experience and even moved up to No. 4, Austin’s number last season. Eddie Lewis showed great playing potential towards the end of the season. Gabriel Rogers showed promise for his speed but injuries affected his production.

Younger receivers such as Koby Drake, Marcayll Jones and Roc Taylor will also have chances. But expect a No. 1 receiver per committee to be the goal this spring instead of finding a true No. 1.

New coordinators, smooth sailing?

Memphis hasn’t had to replace two coordinators since the 2018 season. So how quickly will the players adapt to new offensive coordinator Tim Cramsey and defensive coordinator Matt Barnes?

Defensive coordinator Matt Barnes speaks to members of the media prior to Memphis football spring training Wednesday, March 16, 2022 at the Billy J. Murphy Sports Complex in Memphis.

Cramsey’s adjustment might be easier since Silverfield said the Tigers would run the same offense. Barnes, however, brings a new program from Ohio State where he was the interim last season. The Buckeyes primarily featured four defensive linemen up front and two safeties down in pass coverage

Not only will the defense learn something new, but six starters left from last season. There are veterans among linebackers Zay Cullens, safeties Quindell Johnson and Rodney Owens, but there will be a lot of teaching and development with Barnes and his team this spring.

How will the racing game improve?

Better to be significant. Memphis returns its four main running backs but lost position coach Anthony Jones Jr. to TCU. Silverfield takes over coaching duties this spring and previously served as running coordinator while serving as a Tigers assistant.

It’s a tricky transition even for an experienced band. Rusher leader Brandon Thomas was a bright spot before injuries slowed his first season, and senior Asa Martin has come out on top in the last four games. There’s also more competition with Northern Illinois sophomore transfer Jeyvon Ducker in the room.

The biggest concern is the offensive line with Dylan Parham gone. Three starters return and Austin Myers, who started at left tackle before a season-ending injury, is also back. New addition Ira Henry (Florida State) could help, but developing chemistry and better production are top priorities after the Tigers’ rushing yards per game have declined over the past two seasons.

Which new faces will have an impact?

Of the Tigers’ 18 newcomers, seven are junior college players and five are transfers. This means that most of them come to fight for playing time.

Ducker, the Mid-American Conference rookie of the year last season, is expected to grab attention by pushing running backs. Tight end Anthony Landphere, who transferred from San Mateo College, could lead the race to replace Sean Dykes.

Also keep an eye on the linebackers. Transfer Charlotte Tyler Murray has experience as a fifth-year senior, as does junior Geoffrey Cantin-Arku, who transferred from Syracuse. Sophomore Warren Peeples, who had 12½ sacks last season at Highlands Community College, was described by Memphis aides as a workaholic.

With three starters gone, look for these linebackers to have perhaps the biggest impact around returning Xavier Cullens and Jaylon Allen.

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You can reach Evan Barnes on Twitter (@Evan_B) or by email at evan.barnes@commercialappeal.com