August 8, 2016

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MARTIN, Tenn. – As the sun set over the horizon of the newly constructed press box at Hardy Graham Stadium on Monday evening, the University of Tennessee at Martin football squad was making progress within its shadows in the squad’s fourth practice of fall camp.

Donning just their Skyhawk gear - which consists of helmets and shoulder pads - UT Martin continued its grueling schedule in its final day before putting on full pads prior to Tuesday’s practice. With the light wardrobe, the Skyhawk offense pushed their play to another step, leveling the field against the competitive defensive unit.

“There is a process to this,” said UT Martin head coach Jason Simpson. “I think last night the defense had a lot of energy and ran around good. It was good to see after a film session that the offense matched that and made some plays. You’re always concerned if one side is more dominant over the other. I think we are right where we need to be and I hope the defense responds tomorrow and everything keeps going back and forth throughout camp.”

While ranking as one of the top offensive units in the Ohio Valley Conference last season, UT Martin is looking to replace not only the play of All-OVC quarterback Jarod Neal but also his top receiver Rod Wright who ranked amongst the nation’s best targets. Without a clear favorite to win the spot left open by graduation, the Skyhawks will look to FBS transfers Gunnar Holcombe (Marshall) and Troy Cook (Florida State) to fill the void through a quarterback competition which is expected to last all camp.

“For the quarterbacks to be accurate, to throw and catch with them, things are starting to come more naturally to them,” said Simpson. “Troy has had the most consistent days but today was Gunnar’s best day. He was able to compete and make some plays. I forget sometimes that Gunnar is only 19 practices in this program but we have thrown a big playbook menu at him and things are starting to slow down for him. Tonight was a good night for him.”

Despite the loss of Wright and his 14 touchdown receptions, the shelves are far from bare in the receiving core. Junior wide receiver Caylon Weathers is primed to improve upon his breakout sophomore campaign after tallying 726 receiving yard and eight touchdowns. The return of seniors Ben Axline and Kyle Kerrick - who each missed time last season due to injury – are looking for strong finishes to their Skyhawk careers while Memphis transfer Greg McKillion has also shown strong flashes through the early days of camp.

“I can tell from their individual drills that they are starting to become more comfortable,” said Simpson. “Their success in 1-on-1s is starting to carry over into pass scale and team pass. Today was definitely a step forward for the wide receiver group as a whole. We preach that if you can improve yourself individually, it improves your group and the stronger your group gets, the better this team can be.”

UT Martin will return to practice field on Tuesday evening at 7 p.m. while being equipped in full pads for the first time this fall. The Skyhawks will turn around and have a pair of practices at 9:15 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday for the first of three two-a-days of camp. All practices are open to the public.

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