This morning out at Rincon the Cats took the field for their seventh practice of the 2006 Fall Camp and it was uneventful for the most part. A few players stood out as the Cats really had their ‘worst' practice of the camp so far. But this year, even their ‘worst' practice is comparable to their best from a year ago.
Even though it wasn't their best practice guys like Willie Tuitama, Syndric Steptoe and Mike Thomas continued to shine for the offense. So far this fall the three offensive leaders have been doing just that, leading. Tuitama has yet to have what can be described as a bad practice and Steptoe and Thomas have shown the consistency that everyone wants to see out of the wide receiving corps.
The morning session at Rincon may have been the most intense of the sessions so far this camp, which is evidenced by the coaching staff being the most vocal they have been to this point.
The evening session out at Rincon saw the fast pace continue and also saw the defensive line show some muscle. Red Zone offense was worked on for the most part in the night session.
Yaniv Barnett and Lionel Dotson showed why they are running with the ones consistently and why they should be considered the inside starters at this point. Both of the young Texan linemen have been very active against the run but they have both shown their pass rushing abilities.
Dotson, aside from JC walk on running back Chris Jennings and JC safety Nate Ness, has to be the most pleasant surprise so far. Through eight practice sessions Dotson is absolutely head and shoulders above where he was at this time a year ago. The converted defensive end is a natural at the three technique and now that he has experience and is a year bigger and stronger he is starting to become a force on the inside.
The Linebackers continue to impress as a unit. Spencer Larsen, Ronnie Palmer and Dane Krogstad have been everything that Coach Tim Kish has wanted, and then some. When all three of the young backers are on the field at the same time the entire defense changes. With their collective abilities, instincts and experience, if they can stay healthy, it is no wonder that some predict them to be as good as the vaunted Cal and USC linebacker units.
Aside from the top three, John McKinney, Adrian McCovy and Xavier Kelley continue to improve as the back ups. Freshman walk on Cole Graybill should start to push McCovy for the back up MIKE spot if he continues to progress. Graybill is not the most physically gifted player but he plays smart and has very good natural instincts for the position while McCovy has yet to develop great natural instincts for the MIKE, which would make him a very good fit for the SAM spot behind Krogstad.
Cam Nelson is working at cornerback for the time being but he is ultimately destined for a role in the safety corps. He, along with Devin Ross and Michael Turner, for the future of the Arizona secondary and the early returns are very good. Turner is still behind thanks to the NCAA Clearinghouse but there is no doubt at all about the abilities that he and Ross possess as pure cover corners.
Thanks in part to injuries the first team offensive line has largely been Eben Britton (LT), Bill Wacholz (LG), Blake Kerley (C), Joe Longacre (RG) and Daniel Borg (RT). While this unit is obviously young and experienced, they have looked very solid as a unit. But since the injuries to Graniello, Levitre and Hawes are not thought to be too serious, this lineup is not likely to last much longer.
One of the biggest battles that folks were looking forward to was the offensive line and that has been hampered by some minor dings to the unit. Erick Levitre has been slowed, which has allowed Blake Kerley to get a lot of work in the past few days, and the extra work is paying off for Kerley. He looks comfortable and a lot more confident in the offense.
So far the standouts on the offensive line have not been the guys that were early favorites to start. Eben Britton, Bill Wacholz and Daniel Borg have been solid and all should push for a lot of time this fall. Joe Longacre is steady at right guard and incoming freshman Colin Baxter looks like a natural at center but is still behind the senior Levitre and the red shirt freshman Kerley.
Freshman running back Xavier Smith is Mr. Consistent as he continues to progress in a very positive way. Smith is not the fastest or the sleekest back out there but he has the savvy needed to be successful. His change of motion and quick feet allow him to move very well inside the tackles and he may be starting to push Henry, even if it is a little bit.
Chris Jennings continues to show his drive. During one break in the action tonight after getting a sip of water he continued to work with running backs Coach Kasey Dunn on footwork and positioning. The JC walk on is also putting some heat on Henry for the starting spot.
With the added heat and his job on the line, Chris Henry has really done nothing but solidify his job as the starter. Every time one of the other backs seemingly is catching him, Henry has another burst that sets him apart from the others. Henry has shown extremely well in past camps but he has yet to put everything together on the field when it counts. This year he is having a good camp and is not doing anything to drop anybody's jaw but he is being a lot more consistent in his work and overall he appears to be a much better all around back at this point.
Tuitama was absolutely picking apart the Arizona secondary tonight and then the secondary decided to start picking on the young quarterback. On back to back passes Willie was picked off by Dominic Patrick and Antoine Cason.
Special Teams are starting to get more work. The kickoff units got some work in with Nick Folk looking better than he ever has. The battle for the punting duties has been very one sided so far. Kyle McQuown has been far and away the better punter as he has been very consistent throughout camp. Freshman walk on Keenyn Crier has an absolutely huge leg but you can tell that he is still very raw. His technique will continue to improve as Coach Joe Robinson gets to work more with him but so far, the job is clearly McQuown's to lose.
On Saturday the Cats will again have two practices and while the evening practice will be an open controlled scrimmage at 6 PM at Arizona Stadium, the morning practice will be closed to both the media and the public.