The team had a little difficulty at the conclusion of the night practice with the team cheer. What's really bad is the fact that the cheer has just four words. Somehow coordinating 104 players into saying, "Red, blue, Cats, fight" was more difficult than expected.
"I guess we have to get a team cheer that is idiot proof," John Mackovic chuckled as the team successfully completed the cheer on the second try.
Fortunately the cheering difficulties seemed to be the biggest mistakes of the first day of practice. While things were nowhere near perfect, there was a lot to be pleased about.
The day began with the mile run. Last year the coaches were disappointed with the performances, but this year the team responded with better results due in large part to a very successful off season training regimen. Only two players failed to reach their goals, and one of those missed by a few seconds.
"The players did a great job running this morning, and it was great to see the way the players attacked the (mile) run," said Mackovic. "We are light years ahead of where we were a year ago. The players did great work during the summer, and it showed today."
Coaches instructs the offense
The quarterbacks were one of the stories of camp. Jason Johnson and Nic Costa had a solid day, while true freshman Ryan O'Hara learned that the jump to Division I football was not the easiest one.
In the morning's 7-on-7 "skeleton" drills, Johnson completed 5-of-10 passes for 42 yards, Costa was 4-of-7 for 28 yards, while O'Hara was just 1-of-3 for five yards. Johnson completed 4-of-4 passes for 79 yards in the 11-on-11 drills.
Johnson and Costa may have been even better in the evening session. In the 7-on-7 drills Johnson was 7-of-11 for 72 yards and Costa was a stellar 7-of-8 for 61 yards. In the 11-on-11 drills both players were on their game. Johnson connected on 5-of-6 for 39 yards and Costa was 2-3 for just seven yards. O'Hara was 3-8 for 17 yards in the "skelly" and 1-2 for 20 yards in the full team drills. A positive for O'Hara was that his timing continued to improve throughout the drills.
A number of players have made themselves known. Freshman DE Marcus Smith continues to show his athleticism and speed. He has a chance to see the field this year, especially in pass rush situations. He is still on the thin side and needs to bulk up to be an all-around contributor. At 220 pounds he will have some difficulty against big tackles, especially on running plays.
Spencer Larsen has not been able to reel himself in. In both practices the freshman linebacker has leveled players in "non-contact" drills. Defensive coordinator Larry Mac Duff warned him that this wasn't the time to be that aggressive.
The battle for spots on the offensive line continues. Reggie Sampay practiced without shoulder pads and that allowed Darren Safranek, Aaron Higginbotham and Brandon Phillips to work with the first team. All three seem to have made great strides. Safranek is healthy, while Phillips and Higginbotham have both gotten into great shape. Phillips has added a lot of muscle, while Higginbotham has bulked up after losing too much weight a year ago and having to move to tight end.
"Our first five or six offensive linemen are showing the form we are looking for," Mackovic said.
On defense a few players are moving around. Clay Hardt is splitting time between both safety spots. Hardt is a serious candidate for the vacant strong safety spot, but with injuries and youth he is also spending time at free safety where he was the back up last season.
Redshirt freshman Copeland Bryan was spending time at Whip linebacker after mostly playing defensive end the last year and a half.
Mackovic was quite pleased with the play of the defensive backs and the linebackers, but was concerned with the pursuit angles of the defense on running plays.
The team is back in action Sunday night at 7:00.