Bobby Petrino will conduct his first official practice as coach of Western Kentucky at 4 p.m. today when the Hilltoppers open spring practice.

Hired in December to replace the departed Willie Taggart, Petrino will get to put his team to work under his orders at Houchens-Smith Stadium.

“The first couple of days, I think it is very important that we have great detail and great attention to detail," he said via email to the Daily News. "Our players really have to focus on the technique and the fundamentals that our coaches are teaching. That is very important. I have always believed that it is the technique and the fundamentals within the play that allow it to be successful.

"There is going to be a lot of learning going on and there will be high energy, particularly the first two days. Sunday is where I really want to see where our energy is and where our focus and our concentration is. We all know we have a lot of work ahead of us, but it will be fun putting everything together.”

Petrino will be looking to flip WKU's business-like, ground-and-pound game under Taggart to the former Arkansas and Louisville coach's aggressive, aerial attack.

Two big areas of concern for Petrino and his staff will be replacing senior quarterback Kawaun Jakes and the entire defensive front after the graduations of Quanterus Smith, Jamarcus Allen, Cole Tischer and Rammell Lewis.

Sophomore James Mauro and junior Brandon Doughty will be the top two quarterbacks entering the spring in what Petrino has termed an "open competition."

Sophomore DaMarcus Smith, a former Louisville commit and Central Florida signee from Seneca High School, will also be in the mix.

"We will allow them to determine who will be the starter and who will compete to be the starter," Petrino said. "But as a quarterback, the first thing you really have to do is understand what the coaches are wanting and what the offense is all about. You have to do a great job of leading the team, and to do that, you really have to make good decisions and be able to execute."

Defensively, Smith, Allen, Tischer and Lewis combined for 129 tackles and 19 sacks last season. The Hilltoppers will be thin along the defensive front, but strong behind that group, with linebackers Andrew Jackson and Xavius Boyd and defensive backs Jonathan Dowling, Arius Wright, Cam Thomas, Brett Harrington and Tyree Robinson.

"It is going to come down to the area where we lost a lot of players and that is the defensive front," Petrino said. "We are going to have to establish where we are at there. We also have to determine who the other two or three offensive linemen are going to be that will help us contribute and help us win games."

Western Kentucky is also scheduled to practice at 10 a.m. Saturday and Sunday, then will have three days off before resuming Thursday.

Fourteen practices will lead to the annual spring game at 2 p.m. April 20. The Tops are coming off a 7-6 season and 24-21 loss Dec. 26 to Central Michigan in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in Detroit.

“You would like to have some idea of where we are on the depth chart. You really want to know who the guys are that will give us a chance to line up and play and win," Petrino said. "I would like to see some leadership established and then be able to go into the summer and see who is really going to be the leaders of our team.

"We are going to have our offense, defense and special teams installed, and then we will come back the last part of spring ball and I would like to see us execute and have an understanding of exactly what we would like to do. I also really want to set the standard for how we are going to work and how physical we are going to practice. I want to make sure our players really understand what our standards are going to be.”

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