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Five things to know ahead of Memphis spring football game

Commercial Appeal Memphis logo Commercial Appeal Memphis 4/16/2021 Evan Barnes, Memphis Commercial Appeal
a group of baseball players standing on top of a grass covered field: Memphis Tigers quarterback Grant Gunnell stretches as the team holds football practice at their indoor facility in the Billy J. Murphy football complex on Tuesday, March 23, 2021 © Joe Rondone/The Commercial Appeal Memphis Tigers quarterback Grant Gunnell stretches as the team holds football practice at their indoor facility in the Billy J. Murphy football complex on Tuesday, March 23, 2021

For the first time in two years, Memphis will have a spring football game at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. It starts at 7 p.m. Friday and socially distant tailgating is allowed.

Fans will get their first look at the quarterback battle to succeed Brady White. Admission and parking are free and the format will be two 12-minute running quarters with breaks at the six-minute marks, a halftime break, then several series in a third period.

Coach Ryan Silverfield said the Tigers will run between 100 and 130 plays. Former Tigers Anthony Miller, Isaac Bruce, Antonio Gibson and Chris Claybrooks will also be present, and there will also be giveaways.

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Fans must enter the stadium grounds through Access 4 off S. Hollywood Street for parking. Fans also have the option to receive the COVID-19 vaccine at the Pipkin mass vaccination site on stadium grounds. No appointments are needed and those who get vaccinated will receive a $10 concession voucher

Here’s what to look for during the game Friday:

The quarterback battle

Silverfield hasn’t said which quarterback is leading the competition, so Friday is the first chance to see how things are going. Can Grant Gunnell, Keilon Brown, Peter Parrish or Seth Henigan make a good first impression to Tigers fans?

Per offensive coordinator Kevin Johns, Brown is comfortable with the offense. Parrish has big-play ability with both his legs and arm. Gunnell, the Arizona transfer, has made strides learning the offense quickly, and Henigan has shown progress despite being months removed from winning a state title in Texas.  

Whoever comes out with the first unit shouldn’t be assumed as the favorite. The Tigers have rotated quarterbacks with different units this spring and Silverfield said that’ll continue in the spring game.

Has running game improved?

Who steps up as the Tigers’ No. 1 running back and how does the offensive line look where Dylan Parham is the only guaranteed starter?

Just like the quarterbacks, the running back who starts isn’t guaranteed to start in September. Rodrigues Clark, Asa Martin and Kylan Watkins lead a group with something to prove after the running game failed to impress last season.

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But part of the problem was the offensive line as well. As much as the running backs need to impress, will this new-look offensive line show promise as well?

a baseball player holding a bat on a field: Memphis Tigers wide receiver Calvin Austin III prepares to return a kickoff as the team holds football practice at their indoor facility in the Billy J. Murphy football complex on Tuesday, March 23, 2021 © Joe Rondone/The Commercial Appeal Memphis Tigers wide receiver Calvin Austin III prepares to return a kickoff as the team holds football practice at their indoor facility in the Billy J. Murphy football complex on Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Will young/new receivers deliver?

Tahj Washington’s transfer to Southern Cal means a position of strength now has unproven depth. Who steps up with Calvin Austin III since Javon Ivory will miss the game due to injury?

Keep an eye on 6-foot-3 sophomore transfer Shamar Nash from Arkansas, who could get looks in his return to Memphis. Same for freshmen Khi Mathieu and Kobe Webster, who have a year of learning the offense under their belt. Sophomore wide receiver Jeremy Tate also has experience knowing the offense.

New faces in new places

Gunnell isn’t the only transfer to watch. Defensive back Julian Barnett and offensive lineman Devontae Dobbs, both transfers from Michigan State, will also be featured as they battle for positions.

a group of football players on a field: Memphis Tigers' Rodney Owens poses with the ball after grabbing an interception against the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks during their game at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020. © Joe Rondone/The Commercial Appeal Memphis Tigers' Rodney Owens poses with the ball after grabbing an interception against the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks during their game at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020.

Gabe Rogers and An’Darius Coffey moved from defensive back to running back/wide receiver, and Rodney Owens will move from nickel to safety.

La’Andre Thomas isn’t a new face, but the junior will see his first action after opting out last season. He played safety his first three seasons but will see time at defensive back.

Who else is hurt?

Freshman receiver Marcayll Jones and sophomore running back Cameron Fleming are still recovering from season-ending injury last season.

All-AAC defensive lineman Morris Joseph hasn’t played this spring due to a shoulder injury. Linebacker Xavier Cullens will also be out after undergoing what Silverfield called a “clean-up procedure”

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You can reach Evan Barnes on Twitter (@Evan_B) or by email at evan.barnes@commercialappeal.com

This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Five things to know ahead of Memphis spring football game

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