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April 6, 2009

Burnette growing in the system

The quarterback competition this spring between rising junior Dwight Dasher and redshirt freshman Brent Burnette has been the recipient of many press clippings as Middle Tennessee goes through spring drills.

Much of that attention has centered on Dasher, the athletic signal caller that showed enormous promise as a freshman in 2007 before spending most of last year as a backup to Joe Craddock.

Burnette's bid for the starting job has plenty of intrigue as well though. The Maryville (Tenn.) product arrived on campus last year after quarterbacking one of the best high school programs in Tennessee.

Known as a winner with strong intangibles, Burnette's performance on the practice field last year impressed coaches.

This year, under new offensive coordinator Tony Franklin, Burnette is facing the challenge of learning a new system while competing for the job this fall.

He has embraced that challenge with open arms.

"From the first day until now, I know I have a better concept of the offense," Burnette said last week. "We've been watching film with Coach Franklin and we're getting it down. It's coming more quickly than I thought it would, but the key is to get where you can play without overthinking."

Playing without overthinking is exactly what head coach Rick Stockstill pointed out about both Burnette and Dasher following last weekend's scrimmage inside Floyd Stadium.

"It's really hard to judge them right now just because they are learning so much," Stockstill said of his quarterbacks following that March 28th scrimmage. "Nothing is natural right now because they are still learning to go through all of their reads. Once they understand the offense better, where they can improve as much as anywhere is in their leadership. Right now they aren't doing that because they are so worried about what play is being called and what they are supposed to do (on the play)."

Burnette has experienced ups and downs this spring on the practice field, at times leading the offense with some authority and at other times struggling with the new reads and decision making the offense requires.

He has a strong arm and spins the ball well out of his hands, but his mobility in the pocket may be slightly underrated.

He has shown that at times this spring by buying himself some extra time in the face of pressure.

"I like to stay in the pocket, but when it collapses you've got to get out and find receivers," Burnette said. "I feel like I can do that. I have great receivers and they get open. All you have to do is slide to the right or left or step up and buy that extra second so you can find a throwing lane."

With just a few practices left this spring to make deeper impressions, Burnette is looking forward to continuing his growth in the new system.

While Stockstill is not likely to announce a quarterback front runner after spring drills, the opportunity to compete and improve over the last few weeks has been invaluable to Burnette.

"We just need to get on the same page with everyone as an offense so we can drive the ball up and down the field," Burnette said of his goals for the final stretch of spring practice. "We had quite a few three-and-outs (in last week's scrimmage) and we need to eliminate the turnovers. The number one thing is to take care of the ball. You always want to have the ball at the end of the play so we'll come out next time and do a better job of that."

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