New coordinators get on-field look at talent

Saturday, March 27, 2004

Southeast Missouri State University's new coordinators will get their first chance at on-the-field work with the Indians when spring practice begins today -- and they can't wait to begin making their mark.

The Indians will hit the artificial surface of Houck Stadium at 1:30 p.m., the first of 15 spring workouts allowed by the NCAA. Included among those 15 practices are three scrimmages, capped by the annual spring game on April 24.

New to the Indians' coaching staff are offensive coordinator Rob Likens and defensive coordinator Damon Bradford, who both joined the staff in the past few weeks. They replace Russ Martin, now at Nebraska-Kearney, and Shannon Morrison, who left for Lehigh.

"Both are outstanding young coaches and I'm really pleased we were able to get them here," Southeast head coach Tim Billings said. "They're both anxious to get on the field and assess our talent."

Other than reviewing game film from last season -- which they have done plenty of -- Likens and Bradford have not been able to see their new players perform. That will change beginning today.

Likens, who coached the wide receivers at Division I-A Temple the last seven seasons -- helping the unit set several school records -- is thrilled to be a coordinator for the first time, even if it meant moving down to the Division I-AA level.

"I'm very excited. Even though I left Division I-A, I thought this was a great opportunity for me," said Likens. "I've known of coach Billings for a while and have a lot of respect for him. When he was at Marshall, they put a whupping on us."

Southeast's offense set a slew of school records in 2002 as the Indians went 8-4 for their most victories since 1969. But the offense was not nearly as productive last season -- particularly early -- as the Indians started with five straight losses and finished 5-7 against a brutal schedule.

The Indians averaged a solid 381.9 yards per game last year -- down from 447.3 the previous season -- but they struggled putting the ball in the end zone. The 2003 Southeast squad scored 262 points after piling up 416 in 2002.

"I was very impressed with what they did two years ago, and last year they moved the ball but had trouble scoring," said the 36-year-old Likens, who played at Mississippi State. "If we can improve our red-zone efficiency, I think we can have a really good offense."

Likens, who will have seven returning starters to work with, said Southeast fans shouldn't expect big changes in the offensive system.

"My philosophy is pretty much what they've been doing. We'll be multiple, two tight ends, one tight end, one back, two backs, no back. We'll do a lot of formations," he said. "I don't think the normal fan will be able to notice a difference in our plays. We just want to get back more to two years ago.

"My big thing is we have to develop leadership on that side of the ball. I want to know coming out of the spring who the leaders are."

Bradford keeps OVC ties

Bradford had been fairly familiar with Southeast's program even before coming to Cape Girardeau since he spent the past four seasons coaching linebackers at Ohio Valley Conference rival Tennessee Tech. And the previous year, he was the defensive coordinator at Tennessee-Martin, another OVC school.

"I liked where I was at. I felt it had to be a good fit for me to leave, and I think this is a very good fit. I'm excited," Bradford said. "I've known coach Billings mainly from being in the OVC, and they've gotten better every year since coach Billings has been here. Even though last year was disappointing, they still had a chance to compete for the conference championship."

While Southeast's offense struggled last season, the Indians' defense was the best it has been in some time and by far the best since Billings began his rebuilding project in Cape Girardeau.

The Indians allowed 336.1 yards per game a year ago -- down from 387.2 in 2002 -- and gave up 290 points, down from 349 the previous season.

"We're going to take what they do and I'm going to bring things I've done in the past," said Bradford, 35 and a former NAIA All-American player at Lambuth (Tenn.). "We'll still run a base 4-3 and the average fan won't know the difference."

Bradford, whose new unit also returns seven starters, preaches aggressiveness and physical play.

"We're going to be aggressive, and one thing we're going to focus on this spring is being more physical," he said. "Not that they weren't physical last year, but we want to have a tough-guy philosophy."

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