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ASU football team still searching for pieces

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Photographs by Special to the Arkansas Democrat Gazette/ROB HERBERT

Arkansas State Coach Blake Anderson

A day before the final scrimmage of fall practice, Arkansas State Coach Blake Anderson said the team continues to sort out certain position groups.

Justice Hansen remains the starting quarterback; the defensive line, led by defensive end and Sun Belt Conference Preseason Defensive Player of the Year Ja'Von Rolland-Jones, "has a chance to be the strongest group"; and preseason SBC second-team defensive back Blaise Taylor is "playing his best football."

But a suspension and a minor injury have kept the Red Wolves from solidifying linebacker and offensive line spots.

Senior linebacker Khari Lain was suspended for the 2017 season on July 31 for not meeting an NCAA policy during ASU's appearance in the 2016 Cure Bowl. The ASU athletic department would not comment on the specific policy.

Anderson said the coaching staff has been "throwing the kitchen sink there finding a guy" to replace Lain, who had 32 tackles in mostly a reserve role in 2016.

Lain was positioned to compete for the "Will" position -- the weakside linebacker slot in ASU's 4-2-5 defense.

"Even in a reserve role, he played a significant role," Anderson said of Lain, who led the ASU defense with 81 tackles in 2015. "It creates a hole where there's a spot where we had experienced guys there. So many snaps. It's a concern, and we've got to fix it."

There are three linebackers with playing experience left on the roster -- Trent Ellis-Brewer (22 tackles), Tajhea Chambers (15 tackles) and Kirk Louis (2 tackles) -- and Chambers is already positioned behind SBC preseason first-team senior Kyle Wilson for the "Mike" linebacker spot.

"It was definitely a big piece missing Khari," said Wilson, who had 79 tackles last season. "He brought an edge. Speedy, hard-headed. Brought a lot of power."

Wilson said Ellis-Brewer has impressed over the course of fall camp, but said "he's still young at the moment" and that the other young linebackers will come along soon.

"Just try to do better," Wilson said. "Don't be afraid of competing. Be ready when the chance is there."

The offensive line, which entered fall camp without a returning starter, also is littered with youth.

Anderson said sophomore guard Troy Elliott, who started two games last season in relief of injured starter Colton Jackson, sustained a minor ankle injury in practice and "should be back soon."

The injury has kept ASU from completely solidifying its starters at offensive line, which Anderson said have been all but secured at the guard positions.

Anderson said 6-5, 330-pound junior Lenard Bonner, who redshirted last season after transferring from Highland Community College (Kan.), and 6-5, 314-pound Iowa State graduate transfer Jaypee Philbert have secured the starting spots at tackle. Jacob Still, 6-1, 288, "without a doubt is the starting center."

The guards will be further evaluated in Saturday's scrimmage.

"It's been a different mixture at those inside spots where they fit," Anderson said.

Today's practice, Anderson said, will "be a build-up day" toward the scrimmage "with nothing new to install and no contact."

With the season-long suspension of linebacker Khari Lain (above), Arkansas State has three linebackers with playing experience left on the roster — Tr...

Saturday's scrimmage will start at 6 p.m. and will be played with real-game situations for the equivalent of a half.

Sports on 08/11/2017

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