[ED: Juco and I wrote this back and forth. Apologies all around for the inconsistencies in language.]
Saturday, the annual RedBlue/Grove Bowl/Spring game, an event equally mired in both insignificance and nomenclatural inconsistencies, took place in front of an inaccurately estimated record crowd on a warm, sunny Oxford afternoon. In attendance amongst the players' families and bored Oxonians were yours truly, Juco, Ivory, One Man, 25 Days a Week, his hot ladyfriend, and some other hardly noteworthy FotC's.
It was fun, I guess. I mean, it's spring football which, while football, isn't really football. You understand what I'm saying here. Regardless though, we were there and I have no doubt that more than just a few of you are a tad curious as to what we saw and resultingly opined. We'll do it as we've done before and organize our thoughts position-by-position.
It's after the jump, naturally.
Quarterbacks - I know we have all treated Nathan Stanley's status as our first team guy as a sort of a foregone conclusion, but it's closer than we first imagined. Both he and Raymond Cotton have good size, strong-ish arms, use their feet well, and make good decisions. Stanley actually had a bit more zing on the ball than I remembered which is an alright indicator of some sort of progress, I suppose. Their movement away from pressure and patience against the rush was an excellent contrast from Jevan "OH SHIT I HAVE THE FOOTBALL" Snead of last season, albeit they weren't facing Powe, Lockett, and the other skullcrushers on our defensive line very often. Both threw outs, hitches, hooks, and other dink-and-dunk type throws pretty well. The deep ball, however, was surprisingly underwhelming. I can distinctively remember an overthrow from Cotton and a pretty ugly underthrow from Stanley. The latter was a bit surprising because, even as a freshman Stanley had awesome touch on the deep ball in scrimmages. Also, for a guy with a bum shoulder, Cotton seemed to throw effortlessly. Suffice it to say that there is a great chance we will see little dropoff in quarterback production from last season (which, really, is more an indictment of Jevan than a suggestion of skill or progress from Stanley or Cotton).
Runningbacks - There's a lot here because a lot of guys got touches yesterday. The story of the day was certainly Derrick Herman, who had 140 yards on eight carries including three for 78 behind the second string offensive line. Korvic Neat also played well, getting eight carries for 94 yards. Those two provided just a few glimpses of hope for scat backs in an otherwise powerback-driven backfield. I'm really happy with what Herman showed, making something out of nothing a few times against a stingy first-team defense. Neat also has Dexter McCluster/waterbug feet but hardly the lateral movement. He was fun to watch. Brandon Bolden's only carry was for 57 yards and looked awesome. His late-season speed improvement has carried over to the spring. That run was all about speed and vision, and he has both. He won't be an elite burner, but he is certainly faster than he was last season or the season before. Enrique Davis was alright. I don't think he has progressed quite as well as a lot of other people do. I'll say it again: right now, he's an average to slightly-above-average back. Rodney Scott probably isn't in line for many carries, and Devin Thomas didn't do anything in the scrimmage to come away as the spring hero he was last season.
Wide Receivers - Oh wow, this is going to be a tough year if one of these guys doesn't step the hell up. Ja-Mes Logan, Jesse Grandy, and Markeith Summers got a majority of the looks and performed just a smidge under "serviceably". Notable drops came from Grandy and Logan and were purely the fault of the receiver (defense wasn't covering too hard and the throws were fine). Grandy is definitely the biggest playmaker of the corps, as well as the scrawniest guy on the field. If a stiff breeze doesn't carry him away before he can get his pads on this fall, he'll make us happy. His most memorable play came on a short route which he quickly turned into a long-touchdown score (sidenote: on said play, Lionel Breaux laid an excellent block downfield which sprung Grandy free). Melvin Harris also had a great long score which saw him reel in a nice pass from Cotton, lay a nasty stiff arm on Charles Sawyer, and fight for the endzone. As a group, we've got a half-dozen guys who are alright-to-good and nowhere near great.
Tight Ends - Did we play any?
Offensive Line - The offensive line was actually pretty good. I know that our first string was essentially matched up against the third string defensive line, but I was also relatively impressed by the second string offensive line's production. Remember, they were matched up against Powe, Lockett, and company. While that group certainly produced, there were several plays when the offensive line was able to open a significant hole for the backs. In pass protection, our second string is pretty awful, but that's the be expected due to their youth. As for the first string, they dominated the opposition, hence 9.9 yards per carry for the first team offense. I wouldn't get too giddy over this unit, but all reports that they improved greatly during the Spring seem to be true; they went from "wow, this is bad" to "eh, they'll do."
Defensive Line - Get this: Jerrell Powe, Kentrell Lockett, Ted Laurent, and Wayne Dorsey are all good. They were only on the field for a few drives but everything about them stood out. They're big, strong, tough, and play their positions well. Our defensive front will, once again, be a strength of the team and one of the best in the conference.
Linebackers - I love DT Shackleford. He is fantastic. He is not one to aggressively convey the wood, but he makes very, very few mistakes and uses great fundamentals to get the stop. He also showed excellent leadership on the field, calling reads from his spot at Mike and directing traffic with significant effect. The starters + Shack (he's technically Cornell's backup) are all pretty good 'backers. Allen Walker and Jonathan Cornell are essentially the same guys they were last season. Joel Kight on the other hand looks even more confident and has put a little more beef on his frame. I know he's a bit on the short side but he still plays so aggressively. He'll be a real asset at the Will for us although he likely won't perform to the level of Patrick Trahan just yet. I really loved how they moved as a unit and provided excellent support for the guys up front. Dare I say, they "backed" the "line"? /lamejoke'd
Defensive Backs - Charles Sawyer is as good as advertised. He sticks with his man, uses his feet well, and has a nose for the ball. He had two picks during the game which, while the result of sub-par throws, required him to extend his body and pluck the ball out of the air. The other corners weren't noticeable, mainly because I was so focused on Sawyer, but also because they weren't abhorrent or spectacular. None of our safeties are all-conference material, but they're all quite good. Damien Jackson, Fon Ingram, and Johnny Brown all cover well and tackle exceptionally well. Brown had some especially great tackles in run support. Dele Junaid loves to knock the shit out of people which, if he gets better in coverage, will be fun to watch in a few years. Demareo Marr is still dastardly robbing Ole Miss of a scholarship.
Special Teams - We have trouble kicking field goals. We excelled on kickoffs, placing each attempt into the end zone. Tyler Campbell didn't get to punt due to the first string offense's ability to put together significant drives. As for the backup punters, yikes.
Miscellany - Cellular South, thanks for the "send a text message to this number and we'll put it on the ribbon board" deal y'all had going on Saturday. "Ryan Nerguson loves the Rebs" was, after dozens of Ivory Tower message submissions, finally broadcast to all of Vaught-Hemingway in the 3rd quarter. Other message attempts include "[WHISKEY WEDNESDAY] luvs da oLe MiSs Rebz," "Will you marry me [GOST], love [JUCO]," and "Free Pat Patterson."
Speaking of wedding proposals, approximately three people were engaged to be hitched on that sunny Saturday. Nothing says "romance" like a glorified practice. Thank you, Cellular South for giving these fine, young future divorcees a forum via which to express their love.
During the halftime awards ceremony, Bradley Sowell was awarded the "Most Improved Offensive Player" award. Let's hope so. DT Shackleford was also given some prize for being a damned genius. Great work, Shack. Also, there was plenty of Dex love being spread with him being presented something for being named an All-American and some gigantic trophy given by these people, a group of folks who use numbers 'n' other scary shit to determine just how important certain players are to their team. So take THAT, Mark Ingram and Anthony Dixon.
Also, hater of technology Langston Rogers retired recently, giving the halftime a very, very awkward retirement ceremony complete with Coach Nutt himself popping up on the Powetron to deliver Rogers his well wishes. It was awkward. In said message he did typical Houston Nutt speak meaning that he was unintentionally hilarious, stumbling over words, coughing (they obviously filmed the damn thing with one take). The most bizarre part about it? Langston and Houston were standing next to each other on the field. Why the Powetron and a prerecorded message was even dreamed up as necessary is beyond us.
In Closing - I think that this scrimmage put the Cup's mind to rest at least a little bit. Sure, it's only a spring game, but when compared with the spring games from the past two seasons, it was nearly identical. I'm sure that's a horribly flawed way to look at it, but I found myself expecting the spring offensive performance to be dismal, and it was for many of the practices. It's obvious though that the offense has improved a little bit, and that's quite comforting in a season that's all about gaining bowl eligibility. We're still not covered in wool. We still don't think we'll be anywhere better than Shreveport or Memphis come the Holiday season. But we do have this wacky idea that our team will be, at the least, "respectable" this Fall.