Daily Egyptian

Hard Knocks: Saluki Football

By Brent Meske, @brentmeskeDE

SIU’s football team returns to Saluki Stadium on Monday for the beginning of spring football practice. 

The Daily Egyptian will cover the events of practice, scrimmages and the Spring Game in the style of HBO’s yearly documentary series “Hard Knocks.” This year’s storylines include a quarterback battle and the loss of offensive leaders, punt and kick returners, corner backs and captains. 

Senior Mark Iannotti and junior Ryan West continue their quarterback battle from the second half of last season. The battle began Oct. 25 when Iannotti was pulled for West before halftime of a 41-26 loss to Indiana State. West started on Nov. 8 against Missouri State in a 32-22 win and they split time on Nov. 15 in a 40-21 loss to Northern Iowa. Iannotti started the final game of the year against Illinois State with playoffs out of reach.

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Last season, Iannotti started 10 games to West’s two. Iannotti had an efficiency rating of 139.76 with a 63 completion percentage, 2,241 yards, 22 touchdowns and 8 interceptions in 12 games played. West had an efficiency rating of 120.59 with a 61.5 completion percentage, 599 yards, 7 touchdowns and 6 interceptions in six games played. 

Tight end MyCole Pruitt and running back Malcolm Agnew have graduated, leaving the Salukis with gaping holes in a streaky offense from last season.

Pruitt and Agnew combined for 41.1 percent, and players returning this season amounted for 34 percent of SIU’s total offense last season. After losing Pruitt and Agnew, as well as wide receivers Tay Willis and LaSteven McKinney, SIU will have to rely on players who were briefly used last year.

Although running backs coach Larry Warner has said he is open to any of his backs being a starter, it is likely sophomore Cameron Walter who will assume the starting role he inherited when Agnew went out with an ankle injury on Oct. 18. Walter started two of the final four games and finished with the second most rushing yards—338—on the season. Co-offensive coordinators Bill O’Boyle and Nick Hill will be tasked with figuring out an offensive game plan for the season. 

With the departure of Willis and McKinney, the team loses both its primary kick and punt returners respectively. Willis had 33 of the teams 45 kickoff returns. The only returning player with multiple returns was Walter, but it is unclear if the Salukis will use their likely starting running back as the kick returner as well. McKinney returned all but two of the team’s punts last season. Junior wide receiver Billy Reed is the only returning player to have a punt return last season. He returned one punt for 16 yards. 

The cornerback position saw Courtney Richmond and Boo Rodgers run out of eligibility. Richmond and Rodgers combined for 66 tackles last season. They also both had 2 interceptions and were the only players on the team with multiple last season. Sophomore Devon Mathis and redshirt freshmen Jefferson Vea and Darrius Spivey-Nunn are returning. None of the three players have seen playing time in their career. Defensive coordinator David Elson is left with much to do regarding his defensive backs. 

Last season’s captains, Pruitt, Agnew, Thor Hadfield, Tyler Williamson and Blake Miller are gone, leaving the Salukis with the need for a new crop of leaders. 

The 2015 Salukis begin spring practice at 6:30 a.m. on Monday. They will practice three times a week for four weeks which will culminate in the Spring Game at 6 p.m. on April 17 at Saluki Stadium. 

Brent Meske can be reached at [email protected] or 536-3311 ext. 269. 

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