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Back to practice with plenty of work

Spring football practice began Tuesday, just a day after most players returned from spring break. With some familiar faces gone, including running back Andre Hall, many players who have been with the team but aren’t that well known are filling empty roles.

“There’s so many things we got to do,” coach Jim Leavitt said. “We got to get tempo, we got to get pace, and we got to get moving around. Is there some talent out here? Yes. Did we lose some talent? Yes. Is it noticeable? Yes. We lost a lot of leaders, but am I concerned about it right now? No.”

Freshman quarterback Carlton Hill enters spring drills as the No. 1 quarterback, while behind him at running back is freshman Moise Plancher. Backing up Hill is senior Pat Julmiste, and behind Plancher is redshirt freshman running back Ricky Ponton.

With the dismissal of wide receiver Johnny Peyton in January, Amp Hill, a wide receiver transfer from LSU, stepped into the No. 1 receiver slot, with sophomore Amarri Jackson filling the No. 2 slot.

Leavitt also mentioned the departure of a few faces on defense, such as lineman Tim Jones, Terrence Royal and Jon Simmons. He called all of them a “big loss” to the team, but a good replacement is defense end Frank Harry, a junior college transfer who enrolled in December.

There are a few position changes going into the drills before the Spring Game on April 15, which is being held at Raymond James Stadium at 7 p.m. and will be telecast on Catch 47. The most notable of changes include Indiana transfer quarterback Grant Gregory moving to defensive back and quarterback-turned-receiver Courtney Denson, who worked exclusively with defense.

Tight end Nick Capogna has moved to first-team center with the departure of John Miller, and defensive end George Selvie, who worked in the fall on the offensive line, has gone back to defense.

Leavitt does boast about his linebacker core, which returns two seniors – Stephen Nicholas and Patrick St. Louis – and junior Ben Moffitt, who Leavitt says will be the “leaders who really stand out.” But Leavitt also says to keep an eye on returning redshirt sophomore Danny Verpaele, who has recovered fully from an ankle injury that sidelined him for the entirety of the 2005 season.

All in all, Leavitt was happy to be back on the practice field but said there’s still plenty to be done.

“I still think there’s a lot of work to do,” Leavitt said. “It’s a great group of guys, but they still need a little more leadership.”

– Mike Camunas