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Five spring practice questions for the Memphis Tigers

Memphis v Cincinnati Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Ryan Silverfield inherited a championship winning Memphis Tigers team and won eight games in his first season as a head coach. Entering his second season, there are some big questions that need to be answered. Finding a quarterback is arguably the biggest one, but there’s also some stability on his coaching staff that should help some of those position transitions. What’s life look like for the Memphis Tigers in 2021? These questions should help address that.

Who’s the heir to Brady White’s throne?

Brady White and his 10,000+ yards passing have departed the Memphis Tigers program, leaving a void at a vital position. One of the biggest quarterback battles in the conference now ensues, with Arizona transfer Grant Gunnell and LSU transfer Peter Parrish leading the charge for the spot. Gunnell brings two years and nearly 2,000 yards of experience, and is the favorite to win the spot. The winner needs to replace a guy that brought stability and consistency to the offense, but they’ll have a plethora of talent to work with when the season begins.

Can the running game find traction?

A run of three consecutive seasons with a 1,000 yard rusher came to an end last year, and the Tigers weren’t really close. In fact, in those three seasons, Memphis averaged 3,031 yards on the ground offensively. Last year, they rushed for a combined 1,597. If the offense wants to find balance, the running game needs to find traction. Losing Kenny Gainwell proved to be a big blow, and he’s not coming back. Rodrigues Clark led the team in rushing yards in 2020, and will compete with fellow sophomore Asa Martin for the starting job. Kylan Watkins, Memphis’ second leading rusher, and Marquavius Weaver will also get reps. An improved rushing attack will be the biggest improvement this offense needs, especially with a new quarterback in the picture.

Southern v Memphis
Thomas and Francis return, but can elevate the Tigers pass defense?
Photo by Joe Murphy/Getty Images

Who besides Quindell Johnson will thrive in the secondary?

Quindell Johnson is a dude. He’ll be an All-Conference first team selection when it’s all said and done this year, but he’ll be without cornerback TJ Carter, who transferred to TCU. Who will join him to help defend the pass? Senior Jacobi Francis returns for one final season, and should win one of the cornerback jobs. Fellow safety Rodney Owens tied with Johnson for the team lead in interceptions with three, meaning the one spot that remains unknown is the corner spot opposite Francis. Sylvonta Oliver saw significant time at that spot last year with mixed results, so there should be a competition. La’Andre Thomas, who opted out last year, returns as well. Regardless of who plays, the Tigers need to find a way to stop the pass better after finishing 117th in passing yards allowed per game. In a league where explosive offenses thrive, struggling on the back end doesn’t typically lead to good things.

What will coordinator stability do for Memphis?

It seems like nearly every year under Mike Norvell meant finding one or two new coordinators, and for the first time in what seems like forever, Memphis won’t have to deal with that. Offensive coordinator Kevin Johns and defensive coordinator Mike MacIntyre both return for another year with the Tigers, giving their players some familiarity on both sides of the ball. Both coordinators return a good chunk of experience on their respective units, something to get excited about heading into the season.

Where are the Tigers headed under Ryan Silverfield?

Memphis finally broke through against UCF last year, winning a thriller 50-49, but they didn’t have many signature wins on their schedule. The Knights also ended up finishing 6-4 last year, so not quite as meaningful as the Tigers hoped. They also beat USF, Navy and Houston, teams with a combined record of 7-20 by a combined seven points. A three point loss to SMU was frustrating, and the Tigers also were steamrolled by AAC Champ Cincinnati by 39. This becomes a big year for Ryan Silverfield and his staff. They’ve been doing well on the recruiting trail, but the play last year (even with eight wins) suggests that they could be at a tipping point. The AAC’s been fun to watch with Memphis competing for conference championships, but it would be naïve to ignore some of the signs that there might be some trouble coming. Do I want the Tigers to struggle? No. Is it possible? Absolutely.