FOOTBALL: Four story lines to watch during Spring Practice

Cardinals open practice Wednesday afternoon

Ready to put the disastrous 2009 season in the past, Ball State University will open spring practice on Wednesday afternoon.

In Stan Parrish's second season as head coach, the Cardinals will be a much more experienced team. But, they still have questions to be answered in spring practice and in training camp this August.

Here are some of the story lines to follow as Ball State works towards its spring game on April 17.

1. Quarterback competition
Freshman Kelly Page started the first seven games of the season before a broken thumb ended his year. However, Page was splitting time with senior Tanner Justice before the injury and won't be handed the job back automatically.

Justice is gone, but Page will have to compete with freshman Aaron Mershman for the job. If the competition is still going on in August, new recruit Keith Wenning will likely be a factor once he gets to campus.

"We'll have good competition there, a very honest and open competition," Parrish said. "Kelly's the starter to start off. I would think we'll have good competition through spring and through fall camp."

Mershman has not played in a game but still has a lot of experience. He enrolled at Ball State early to take part in spring practice last year and became Justice's backup when Page went down.

"Aaron Mershman will get a good look based on the fact we moved him up and didn't play him," Parrish said. "He practiced up the last six weeks of the season. He did a good job, and he'll get every opportunity this spring to show us what he can do."

2. Coaching change
Defensive coordinator Doug Graber retired in February, and defensive ends coach Jay Hood was promoted to fill the role.

Hood has largely continued what Graber was doing, but it will still be a change the defense has to adjust to.

"We kept most of the same terminology, but coach Hood has tweaked it," Parrish said. "I think the players are comfortable even though we had to tweak our staff a little."

James Bettcher was hired as the new defensive ends coach. Parrish says that transition has been smooth as well.

"Coach Bettcher jumped right in here," Parrish said. "He'll do a good job with our ends."

3. Crowded backfield
The NCAA awarded a medical redshirt to MiQuale Lewis on Friday, clearing the way for the tailback to return for a fifth season.

The return of the Cardinals' third-leading career rusher is good news, but it means Parrish will have to get creative with his running backs. Cory Sykes and Eric Williams combined for 921 yards last year, and both will be back. In addition, David Brown was redshirted last year, but Parrish is excited about him as well.

"We've got to find a role for all four of those guys," Parrish said. "They're some of our very best players on the team. We've got to get multiple backs on the field at the same time."

4. Finishing games
Parrish wants Ball State to focus on closing out games.

Multiple times last year, the Cardinals were unable to hold leads late in games. Especially memorable was the Homecoming loss to the University of Toledo on a 51-yard touchdown pass with under a minute to play.

Ball State also suffered collapses against the University of North Texas, Army and Ohio University. Parrish is making the elimination of that problem a focus this spring.

"If we've got a game won, we've got to close it out," Parrish said. "That's our No. 1 issue and concern."


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