Aug. 17, 2015
RUSTON, La. - Louisiana Tech practiced for two hours in shells on the Tech Practice Fields Monday in the team's ninth practice of camp after a two-hour full pads session Sunday evening.
Entering the second week of camp, Louisiana Tech's play book installation is complete and now the focus is on refining, correcting and building depth for a team with plenty of experience among the starters but a lot of youth after the first team.
One of those areas needing to build experience and depth quickly is at linebacker, a position that lost all three starters from a year ago. Those three starters that are lost -- Tony Johnson, Terrell Pinson and Mitch Villemez -- represented 179 total tackles a year ago, almost 40 percent of the team's total.
The linebackers have two seniors returning that have seen significant game experience, Nick Thomason and Beau Fitte. Thomason started the final two games last season while Fitte, a player head coach Skip Holtz has high hopes for this season, made a pair of starts against UL-Lafayette and Northwestern State.
"I think Beau Fitte has had an unbelievable spring, an unbelievable summer, he's having an unbelievable camp," Holtz said of the redshirt senior linebacker.
A native of Port Sulphur, Fitte has played in 30 games over his career and has 86 total tackles (40 solo, 46 assisted) to his credit with five tackles for a loss of 14 yards, two passes defended and two forced fumbles.
"When I was asked earlier who I thought would be the surprise of this football team, I thought for Beau Fitte not being a starter -- even though he has played some football here, been a great special teams player, waited his turn patiently -- I have really been impressed with not just the way he has been playing with his talents and abilities but with the way he is leading and his attitude. He is one of the first ones here, he is one of the last ones to leave, he's vocal, he's leading and he's really grabbing the bull by the horns. I've really been proud with what he's done," Holtz added.
Fitte joins Thomason as two players that have embraced leadership roles within the linebacker group. Thomason registered 52 total tackles last season and notched seven tackles for a loss of 17 yards. Immediately following the season, he had surgery on his shoulder.
"Nick [Thomason] as well. Nick has missed a lot of time with his shoulder surgeries since he's been here and I know he's waited to play a healthy season. For the first time since he's been here, he feels like he has two healthy shoulders. He is playing with a lot of confidence right now."
While Russell Farris saw some playing time last season, Fitte and Thomason enter camp as the only two players with significant time and even a good portion of Fitte's playing time has come on special teams. That leaves the challenge of building a two-deep with several inexperienced players to newly promoted defensive coordinator Blake Baker, who made the switch from an experienced group of safeties to an inexperienced group of linebackers with his bump up in rank.
"He certainly went from the easiest when you take guys like Kentrell Brice, Xavier Woods, Secdrick Cooper and even Lloyd Grogran," Holtz said of Baker's move. "There are some pretty talented players sitting in that room. Going down to the linebackers where you really don't have a returning starter, you've got three guys that have played a little bit of football then a whole bunch of new faces. We're trying to find five or six linebackers we can go into the season with. He does have a challenge but Blake coaches with a lot of energy. He is a really good football coach and I have an awful lot of confidence in him and the job that he'll do over there."
Baker is challenged with building a depth chart of linebackers before Louisiana Tech opens the season on Sept. 5 against Southern. Entering this week, he has to do so as players go through two-a-days and what Holtz likes to call the "Dog Days" of camp.
"We are in what they call the dog days," Holtz explained. "This is the middle of camp and the excitement of it starting is over yet we don't have the light at the end of the tunnel yet. They can't see an end in sight. This is the dog days you have to push through but this is where football teams are made. I made the comment early in camp that we are going to learn a lot about our team once we get through the dog days. When we push through this we'll find out what kind of leadership we have."
The development of leadership is not just limited to the linebackers either. Bumps and bruises for Carlos Henderson and Paul Turner and a stomach virus for Kenneth Dixon has left the three playmakers on the sideline. They are currently day-to-day. That means a few second team players find themselves running with the first team and needing to embrace the challenge and responsibility that comes with it.
"Carlos [Henderson] isn't out here and Paul [Turner] isn't out here today from some bumps and bruises," Holtz said. "Kenneth [Dixon] has had a stomach virus -- he isn't going -- so a lot of your playmakers are out. Who is going to step up and make some plays? Right now some of those young guys are in a challenge where they have to step up. That's what camp is all about, that's what these dog days are all about and we're going to see how much some of these young guys are going to grow up and how much the defense can keep it going with the confidence that they are playing with right now."
Louisiana Tech is working towards that Sept. 5 kickoff against Southern when the Bulldogs will open the newly-expanded Joe Aillet Stadium. Several ticket packages -- including full season tickets, mini-plans, family packs and single game tickets -- are currently on sale from the LA Tech Ticket Office by calling 318-257-3631, emailing TechTickets@latech.edu or by visiting LATechSports.com.
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