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Middle Tennessee Starts Spring Practice With Lofty Expectations

Spring practice is finally here for Middle Tennessee and the Blue Raiders look to be stacked on the offensive side of the ball. How do they look moving forward in a Conference USA ripe for the taking?

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Lost among the hoopla of the upset win over Michigan State in the NCAA basketball tournament, the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders started their 2016 spring practice last Thursday.

The Blue Raiders, coming off of a loss in the Bahamas Bowl to Western Michigan, have nearly every player on the spring roster available for spring drills. Only running back J'Vonte Herrod, wide receiver Sean Smith, wide receiver Rod Ducksworth, and defensive end Steven Rhodes will not be able to participate in the spring due to offseason surgeries.

Most of the excitement for the Blue Raiders moving forward is on offense. Not only do they have the Conference USA Freshman of the Year in Brent Stockstill and Freshman All-American wide receiver Richie James, they also have the majority of the offensive line and two four-star transfers from SEC programs ready to play in 2016.

James, a first team All-CUSA selection in 2015, has already shredded multiple receiving records during his redshirt freshman season. He should shine under the tutelage of new offensive coordinator Tony Franklin. Former Florida State star wide receiver Kez McCorvery will be his position coach.

Expect to see a battle at wide receiver for the other open positions. With the elimination of the tight end position from the new roster, expect to see several four wide receiver sets this fall. Terry Pettis, as a bit of a hybrid receiver, can play on the outside and in the slot to run tight end and wide receiver routes. He should be a matchup nightmare at 6-5, 228 pounds.

The loss of Ed Batties hurts as he and James were the majority of the receiving game last fall.

MTSU

Rising senior Maurquice Shakir leads the offensive line returnees after earning Honorable Mention All-CUSA honors last fall. Sophomore Chandler Brewer was on the CUSA All-Freshman team last fall and senior Daniel Stephens is the most experienced Blue Raiders offensive linemen, seeing action in over 30 career games.

Defensively, things are a bit uncertain as all three starting linebackers and both safeties are lost to graduation. Those five players combined for 351 tackles, 26 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks, five interceptions, and four fumble recoveries. Those statistics will be incredibly hard to replace, but there is talent in the pipeline that is ready to produce.

Second team All-CUSA selection Jeremy Cutrer is back for his senior season after picking off three passes, breaking up 13 passes, and blocking two kicks last fall. His blocked kick versus Marshall won the overtime game and sent shock waves throughout Conference USA that MTSU was for real last season.

Fellow cornerback Mike Minter is no slouch with 55 tackles and nine bass break ups in 2015.

Running back could be the position to watch as the Blue Raiders sort out a packed stable. Former starter Shane Tucker has been getting looks at wide receiver and could play a bit at both running back and receiver under Franklin's system. Four-star transfer I'Tavius Mathers should get every chance to prove he can be the star at running back everyone wants him to be.

Virtually anyone on the MTSU roster could get carries from Stockstill to Mathers to Kimbrow to Tucker and even James from the outside.

Expect to see lots of position battles all over the field and a team ready to prove that the highs of the 2015 season were only the tip of the iceberg.