MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Memphis Tiger football opened up the week at Murphy Athletic Complex with two days of practice. but loaded up the team buses on Wednesday, spending the final days of the week in Jackson, Tennessee, at the U of M Lambuth campus.
Tigers head coach Mike Norvell was pleased with the effort from his team away from home.
"This was the most important week of our season," Norvell said. "Going into the second week of camp. First time that we've been out of school. It was just about football. Majority of the week were outstanding days. We had one, we didn't come out very well, but our guys responded to it. That was something I was really proud to see."
Norvell started the trip to Lambuth last year in his first fall camp as the Tigers head coach. One of the reasons, reaching out to U of M fans in the area. The Tigers ended the week with a scrimmage meant to mimic game day. Even with rainy conditions, the support for Memphis was in full force.
"To see all of our Tiger fans up here giving their support, cheering on these young men, it's definitely special for us as a staff and an organization," Norvell said.
Team bonding, another big reason Norvell introduced the trip. He wants players and coaches to truly know each other. That includes learning each others backgrounds and struggles.
"Getting to hear them tell their stories. Some of the obstacles they've faced. Some of the things that have led them to the University of Memphis. Just so proud and honored to coach these young men," Norvell said.
On the field, Norvell confirmed news that redshirt senior wide receiver Sam Craft will miss the 2017 season, an ACL tear being the culprit. It's tough news for the Tigers starting receiver whose injury-riddled college career seemed to finally be behind him.
"He came in and had an incredible off season, was having a great camp, and then just on a basically almost on a route on error just had a misstep," Norvell said.
"It's hard man," Tigers quarterback Riley Ferguson said. "I feel bad for him. He's been through a lot. I know each year he's had something wrong, and he was having an unbelievable camp. He was one of our best receivers I would say. My prayers go out to him. He's still our brother. He's still gonna be with us throughout the whole process, but it just hurts not being able to have him out there."
As for the scrimmage, most of the proven starters saw limited time, giving way for players looking to earn more reps.
"We wanted to see the young guys play," Norvell said. "There were some mistakes that were made. There was some communication that has to improve, but you got to see some young guys that are really stepping up and elevating their game, and I believe will be able to help our program this year."
Those younger players include backup quarterbacks David Moore and Brady Davis, who are still competing to take the QB-2 slot behind Ferguson. Moore went 7-for-15 passing with 78 yards and touchdown in the scrimmage, while Davis went 6-for-13 passing with 48 yards.
"You know they've both been kind of battling through," Norvell said. "They've had normal camp ailments and soreness. For them to put that in the back of their minds and come out and compete. Both did good things. Both did some bone head things at times, but we're definitely growing, and I'm liking what I'm seeing from our quarterbacks."
Another young player Norvell hasn't stopped talking about since camp started, Tim Taylor the true freshman from East High School. After Saturday's scrimmage, Norvell couldn't help but gush talking about his young running back, who scored two touchdowns in the scrimmage.
"He was one of the guys that I had targeted before that I was excited to see what he would do," Norvell said. "As I said early in camp, I've been so impressed with what I've seen from him in every aspect. He's still learning it, he's still young but boy he's a very talented young man. He's getting better everyday. Very coachable."
Norvell also spoke highly of his defense, which is he says is coming along this fall. Ferguson gave praise to receivers like DaMonte Coxie, Kadarian Jones, Pop Williams and Roderick Proctor, who he thinks will step up now in Craft's absence.
With the August 31 season opener against Louisiana-Monroe approaching, the Tigers go back to work Monday in the third full week of fall camp.