Our first stop was to watch the outside linebackers. Marcus Smith was sporting a cast on his left hand and thumb and it turns out that he has a strained ligament that will cause him to miss contact in at least three practices. He was still able to participate in drills and got a little bit of popping in.
True freshman Lionel Dotson has very nice size (6-4, 242) and appears to be extremely quick. He did not see a lot of action in team drills but was fast and aggressive in drill work. Copeland Bryan looks as if he has put on some weight. He still looks a bit thin, but he's clearly added some bulk.
Next we moved over to the defensive backs. The veterans were working a lot on coverages and reacting to formations. For the most part the young players were being used mainly as offensive players and were learning by watching the older players.
The offensive line was working with the interior defensive line. Brandon Phillips stole the show. He dominated both young players and older players alike. He is so very explosive off the ball, and in the short time we watched him he never got beat.
He was doing a lot of talking, and after pancaking Cedric Cofer he egged the true freshman into shoving him. The coaches got on Cofer for losing his cool, but largely ignored Phillips. Welcome to the team Cedric.
Both Cofer and Cliff Stanford received a lot of attention. One of the two will likely see a lot of playing time and the coaches were riding the youngsters. Stanford was too high coming off the ball early on, but after a talking to by Marty Long he quickly corrected the problem. Stanford may have a slight edge over Cofer at this point, but both have a long ways to go.
Mike Deal, the offensive line coach was emphasizing exploding off the ball and got onto a few of the linemen for being too slow when the ball was snapped. The line worked a lot on pulls, getting guards around the opposite ends to blast linebackers.
My initial impression is that Phillips, Kili Lefotu and John Parada are going to be very good. The coaches seem to like JC transfer Tom Robinson a lot as well. Keith Jackson has lost some weight, which pleased the coaches. He took some reps with the first team but according to Mackovic, the team will rotate several players in those spots until they find their guy. Tanner Bell and Chris Johnson look like they may need to get into a little bit better shape. Bell needs to work on explosiveness, while Johnson is a little heavy.
On the defensive side of the ball, Carl Tuitavuki is looking good. The big senior has trimmed down. He's listed at 325 after being over 360 at times last season. The Cats will need him to be a factor inside. Tuitavuki, Paul Phillip and Carlos Williams are currently the starting defensive line.
Jason Parker was listed as a linebacker, but the freshman has been working at defensive end. It is not set in stone where he will play.
Dane Krogstad is staying at inside linebacker, but it looks like he may need to add weight to be a factor. He's quickly learning that his natural abilities will not be enough at this level. His first instinct is to take a step to the inside and if the play goes outside use his quickness to get to the outside. The coaches want him to read the play before committing one way or another.
Kirk Johnson had several nice hits. He gave the much bigger Johnson a nice pop in one drill.
Next the team broke up into receivers vs. defensive backs and line vs. line running drills. We stuck around to see how the big boys were faring and to get our first real look at the running backs who ran against the defensive line and linebackers.
Early on the offensive line was getting a very nice push against their defensive counterparts. The starting offensive line was getting a nice jump and clearing the way for the backs.
Mike Bell, now wearing No. 11, looks very good. His speed and quickness has always been impressive. He's got great instincts and he could be devastating in the open field. The Cats would be wise to use him as a receiver in an effort to get him running in space. Expect to see him get some screens and swing passes. It's clear that his injured toe hampered him last season and he'll be a guy to keep an eye on this year.
Clarence Farmer is cutting well on his surgically repaired knee, but seems to be lacking some of the explosiveness that makes him so deadly. It will be interesting to see how that comes along as he gets used to playing on it again.
Freshmen Brenton Bolden and Chris Henry only got a few carries and really did not show what they could do. Bolden had one very nice run up the middle and showed that he has some nice moves.
In the same drill Gary Shepherd had two strips. On the first one, against Henry, he popped the young runner and as he delivered the blow he came away with the ball. The second happened as the coaches were blowing the whistles to end the play, so it is not clear if he would have been able to pry the ball away in an actual game situation.
Next up came the 7-on-7 "skellies" and the dropped passes began. Costa got the first reps and was just 2-9 for 10 yards, but had at least two passes dropped and two more broken up at the last moment. Most of Costa's passes were short and he seems to be much more comfortable throwing quick outs and short crossing patterns.
Ryan O'Hara did not fare much better. The redshirt freshman was just 2-6 but did complete a 12-yard pass to Steve Flemming. Like Costa, O'Hara had a few passes dropped. He looked deep for Mike Jefferson, but floated the ball just a bit too much and Luis Nunez recovered and batted it away.
Actually Nunez was the story of the session. He had too batted balls and made a diving interception on an O'Hara pass where the intended receiver fell down.
Flemming was the lone bright spot amongst the tight ends. He had a pair of catches for 15 yards. Both Matt Padron and Clarence McRae had bad drops.
Practice ended with full 11-on-11 drills that combined both passing and running. O'Hara got the reps with the first team and was 2-4 for 21 yards. He found Ricky Williams over the middle for a 20-yard strike and also got to show off his speed when he scrambled to avoid a sack and turned it into a nice gain.
Costa, who was erratic all night, almost had the play of the night. The 5-11 passer took a 7-step drop and rocketed a long bomb over the middle, which hit a streaking Williams, but the receiver dropped the sure touchdown. Costa was 3-7 for just six yards.
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