We all know it's been extremely hot recently, but today's practice was where the heat won the battle. Granted, it was the first time the players were in shells and today's practice was noticeably longer than yesterday's first foray onto the outdoor practice fields. Today, the players were constantly bent over, visibly huffing and slowing down, and making trips to drink fluids. The biggest casualty was freshman sensation, Nicholas Brassell, who went down during drills, sometime around 5:15 or 5:30. He first just rehydrated with some water and gatorade and then rejoined the receiving drills. Just two plays into the drills, though, he was quickly ushered over to the ice baths where he stayed for a good thirty minutes. I thought for sure he was done, but like a champ, he was back out on the field for the scrimmaging that finished the practice. It looked like the players fought through the weather well and the training staff was very much on top of things. I know there's been debate as to whether the heat and humidity will be an issue for the Cougars on opening day, but after today, I can't imagine them being able to handle this heat-that is, if this sort of weather is present on September 3rd. More after the jump..
I want to start out with a simple observation about Houston Nutt. Very early in the practice, Houston walked over in my direction and started chatting with a few fans, one of which he was particularly familiar with. He was his usual joking self, very animated, in great spirits, and probably most importantly, very comfortable. This isn't he first time this week that I've noticed how relaxed and confident he seems. Maybe it's just the fact that he can be on the field again, but he's having a good time on the field. I have to think that is good for our team. They need Houston to be himself and not trying to be something that he's not in order to manufacture some good will that doesn't exist.
When I first showed up today, D.T. Shackleford was standing on the sideline next to Fancy Pantsy Yancy Porter and they were having a nice little conversation. D.T.'s message to FPYP was a bible verse that he couldn't remember word for word, but basically said, "Be Patient on the Lord...because we want stuff on our time, but he has his own schedule". Spirivals readers, get wooly. Either way, it's clear Shackleford is a great guy and has his head on straight, no matter how much watching these practices hurts him. One thing of note, he was NOT wearing his knee brace today and the medical staff yelled at him for it and told him he better stay out of the way(in case someone runs out of bounds and smashes something a la what happened to JoePa earlier today).
I love that UPS delivery guy. If you aren't aware, the UPS guy drives by every day on his route and he slows down by the practice fields and yells at the top of his lungs a cheer to the players. You can tell they notice and the fans love it too. He's awesome.
Mike Marry has now officially (by my important designation) replaced Kenny Williams as the new Rebel "Fear the Beard" guy. It's not as thick of a beard, but Mike Marry is a monster. He's huge, he's ripped, and he's got a great beard, so that's enough to make him the guy. By the way, if we can get Marry and C.J. Johnson on the field at the same time, we're gonna put some fear in a few running backs' hearts. Those boys are not only thick, but they are tall. They look like what I call "Alabama Linebackers". I know we're thin at LB, but we do have some players.
Speaking of linebackers, I was particularly impressed today with Serderius Bryant and Keith Lewis. First of all I saw them up close today. Bryant is super short, but man is he thick. In a hitting drill with the other LBs, he showed that his height can be a real benefit, as he used that low center of gravity to put some real power into hitting the others. Later in the practice, Bryant burst through the Offensive Line and stuffed Enrique Davis for at least a 3 or 4 yard loss. Lewis was equally active throughout the day. He was super aggressive through the drills. During Skeletons he had a nice breakup of a pass from Randall Mackey and later blew up a draw play to Jeff Scott in the scrimmage.
The defense won the day again for the second straight day. This is very good for a number of reasons. First, the defense should be ahead of the offense earlier in camp. If they weren't it would likely signal another long year for the defense. Second, they are really dominating the practices with respect to energy. During the scrimmages, they are on the sidelines cheering "De-fense" and yelling at the offense. D.T. is constantly jumping up and down and yelling at his teammates. They celebrate together and they are taking a lot of pride in their work. Whether it produces results is yet to be seen, but their actions are refreshing. Very different from last year. The "practice victory" resulted in the finish of practice where the defense sat and watched the entire offense do up-downs for losing.
Brishen Matthews and Vincent Moss were working with the linebackers in hitting drills today. They were both physical enough to hang in there, which is good. Moss is an interesting guy. He's a walk on, and he was commended in the spring for his play at cornerback. Now, today he was playing linebacker...how is that you say? Well, after looking at him, he's a pretty thick guy to play corner and the chart lists him at 5'11" 195lbs. I think that we have added enough talent to the corner position, that Vincent could be one of those guys that, in a pinch, could play up high in a 4-2-5-ish sort of lineup. He's clearly got some speed, but he's not so small that he'd get completely swallowed up. Again, I think it's an insurance option, but one more that we didn't have yesterday.
Here's the quarterback lowdown. In very honest terms, just know that Barry Brunetti is gonna win the job barring some miracle. The coaching staff likes him and his tendencies and his leadership. I can't say I really blame them, though he wouldn't be my choice. Here's the lowdown on Brunetti. He has a tendency to play it safe. He's not very accurate down the field. He clearly made an effort today to try to go down the field more with mixed results. He hit a crossing route or two, but also showed the same tendency to overthrow out routes and fades. But he does take care of the ball and he has enough mobility to create with his legs.
Zack Stoudt sometimes looks confident and othertimes looks like Jevan Snead in 2009...here's what I mean by this : He looks like he's thinking about about every pass and not reacting. Take, for example, a simple screen to a running back. Stoudt take the simple pass and looks like he's trying to push the ball to a certain spot as opposed to just reacting and tossing it to the player. The result is often a wobbly or low pass that the player must stretch to catch, therefore not being allowed to worry about the run after the catch. He won't start.
Then there's Mackey, my choice. He's the only player that makes really impressive throws down the field. Granted, he's inconsistent, but he's not getting to play with the first team so it's almost not fair. He made a throw on a back shoulder route today that had Nutt jumping up and down with excitement. In the scrimmage, he made several nice plays, one a drag route toss to Earnest Harmon and the other to Tobias Singleton on a 15-20 yard out route. Interestingly, he did get almost as many snaps as Brunetti in the scrimmage today, but he took every snap with the 2nd/3rd team while even Stoudt (who got a lot fewer snaps) played with the first team some.
Overall, it probably wouldn't have mattered as the defense, especially the front 7 were all over the place. At one point Charles Sawyer came on a blitz and pressured Brunetti who then ran into a sack from Jason Jones (one of two from him on the day). When the defense wasn't getting sacks, they were applying pressure and hits to the quarterbacks. At one point Brunetti was stripped by Uriah Grant and the ball was recovered by Gerald Rivers.
-Yesterday the starting CBs were Marcus Temple and Wesley Pendleton. Today, Charles Sawyer replaced Pendleton on the first team. Charles rewarded the coaches with a very nice interception in some drills where he jumped a slant route from T.J. Worthy and intercepted Barry Brunetti (I think, not positive).
-Another change in the first team was at the defensive tackle position. While Carlton Martin held his spot, his partner today was Uriah Grant as opposed to GIlbert Pena. Interestingly, during stretches, the third team contained Bryon Bennett, Woodrow Hamilton, Carlos Thompson (who recorded a sack in the scrimmage), and Cameron Whigham.
-The second team defense included Gilbert Pena, Justin Smith, Gerald Rivers, and the "demoted" Wesley Pendleton.
-Throughout the day, I noticed Senquez Golson. Not because he made interceptions, but rather because I would see a dropped ball. Every time a receiver dropped a ball they seemingly should have caught, I would check out the corner and see Senquez. Sometimes he would get a hand in, sometimes he would simply be on the receiver's back. It's clear that he impacts the receiver that he goes against. He may not start for us, but if he is here and healthy, he will be an impact player in the near future.
-I like Marcus Temple. Marcus Temple plays the position of corner differently than every other corner on our roster. He plays it like we played it last year. He's generally 4 yards off of the receiver and then closes on the tackle. He is in decent position, and doesn't give up the deep ball. But he just doesn't have the athleticism to play aggressively. We have 4 or 5 other corners that can be more aggressive than he can simply because of speed and agility. He'll play this year because of his experience, but he won't finish the year as a starter in my estimation.
-During punt returns, only Ja-Mes was not with the group again today. Korvic Neat responded wonderfully from his rough day yesterday. I don't think he mishandled a ball all day. In fact, I don't think there was a single true "muff" other than maybe Nick Brassell, who quickly recovered the ball. I'm starting to think that we may have 4 or 5 legitimate options who can take punts without us having a heart attack on every play.
-The punters seem to be getting some nice air on the ball. Ritter shanked maybe one ball out of 6 or 8, but overall the punting was nice. During the pooch punt section, Campbell knocked one into the would-be endzone, but hit another very nicely.
-Overall, it was a bit more of a sloppy practice. The heat and pads had something to do with this, but this is a good thing, in my opinion. If we had seen the Offense dominate this early in camp, things would be looking bleak for the defense. To see so much disruption, so much pressure, and such exuberance from the defensive side is a bright spot.
-As far as the receivers go, TJ Worthy did not repeat his performance from yesterday. Instead, today the standouts were Collins Moore and Donte Moncrief. I expect at least one of these two to be in the rotation come game-time along with Brassell, Melvin Harris, Ja-Mes, Vincent Sanders, and possibly Tobias Singleton. Each of these recievers had their moments today, but none were consistently brilliant, otherwise the offense might have moved better.
-Much like the receivers, the running backs rotated between good and bad moments. Devin Thomas broke a big run off a draw during the scrimmage. The same can be said of Enrique, Brandon Bolden, and even Zarold Wilder. Jeff Scott didn't break a big one today, but had a 10-15 yard sweep and looked effective.
-Practice ended today with a deep ball from Zack Stoudt that should have been picked by Frank Crawford, but he couldn't hang onto. Great positioning, but didn't finish the play.
I think tomorrow's practice will be a large improvement, as the players will have adjusted to the shells. More importantly, we're only 2 days from full pads, when tackling goes live and we can see how these freshmen hold up physically.