Five things to watch as Memphis Tigers football kicks off 2023 practices

Memphis Commercial Appeal
Memphis football kicks off its preseason practices this week on its road to the Sept. 2 opener against Bethune-Cookman. It's a critical season, with third-year starting quarterback Seth Henigan leading the Tigers into the new-look AAC.
Here are five things to watch as the Tigers begin practice on Wednesday.
1. What kind of leap will Seth Henigan take?
Henigan was named to the Maxwell Award watch list on Tuesday. He's in a unique position as a third-year starter who is still only 20 years old. The Tigers will go only as far as he can take them in 2023.
He showed lots of promise as a freshman and put up similar stats (3,571 yards, 22 touchdowns, eight interceptions) in 2022, and Memphis finished 6-6 in both regular seasons. Tulane and UTSA, picked to finish first and second in the preseason AAC poll, both have elite quarterbacks in Michael Pratt and Frank Harris, respectively.
If Henigan can put himself into the conversation for best quarterback in the conference, there's no reason the Tigers can't compete for the AAC title.
2. Who will Henigan throw to?
Memphis has lost its four leading wide receivers in terms of yardage, so there are plenty of spots up for grabs. The battle will be a critical part of practices, with transfers like Tauskie Dove and DeMeer Blankumsee in the mix with returning Roc Taylor. If there's a position where someone could emerge to play a consistent role, it's at wideout.
Last season's starting tight end, Caden Prieskorn, transferred to Ole Miss, so there's another key pass-catching role to sort out. We'll likely get some clarity on the pecking order as camp goes on and the team releases an initial depth chart.
View Playlist: Videos: Memphis football 2023 spring practice
3. How do key transfers integrate into the defense?
There are open spots across the defense that coordinator Matt Barnes has to deal with as he readies the unit for Week 1. Arkansas transfer Simeon Blair is expected to play a significant role in the defensive backfield, arriving from Fayetteville as a former captain of an SEC team. He will be key in replacing all-conference safety Quindell Johnson. The defensive line also lost key players, but will be anchored by fifth-year Jaylon Allen, who was named to preseason all-AAC.
“We’re ready to get after it,” Allen said at AAC media days last month. “We have so many new faces, so many new things to change up. I’m ready to see them guys shine.”
4. How will a new special teams unit come together?
The Tigers will have a completely new special teams unit, replacing All-AAC players in kicker Chris Howard and punter Joe Doyle. Sam Houston State transfer Seth Morgan is the favorite to take over kicking duties, having earned all-conference honors in the Southland and WAC conferences. Coach Ryan Silverfield has two punter transfers in Reid Bauer and Tanner Gillis aiming to replace Doyle. Blankumsee has experience as a return man who also could factor into the special teams mix.
5. How do the Tigers improve in close games?
Memphis was 0-4 in one-score games last season, and figuring out how to win those kinds of games is an obvious way to take a big step forward. Whether it's execution or game planning, Memphis has a month to figure out how to maximize its ability to compete in close games. It's something Henigan talked about at AAC media days, and likely something that ultimately will determine the fate of the Tigers' 2023 season.
"We've lost basically every close game that we've had the last two seasons," Henigan said. "And we've beat a lot of good teams and then we've lost to teams whose records weren't that good at the end of the year. So just having that mentality at the beginning of the week, it's a blank slate, this is a new team. We beat Mississippi State my freshman year and then we lost to teams that we didn't come out prepared for."

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