Spring practice report: defense day 1

The Cougar defense will be more experienced this season overall. So, how did that experience help them during the first day of being back in action? It aided them well overall, but it was some new faces that got some time to shine as Coach Mendenhall's defense focused more on allowing many to give it their all rather than making sure they got it all right.

There were a few standouts worth noting during Monday's practice. The practice periods always start off with position drills, and here is what was scouted out on the first day.

Position drills

Under the watchful eye of Green Bay Packer linebacker Vic So'oto, the linebackers ran in rapid pace through footwork drills in and around oblong bags, after which they had to catch a football. While Kyle Van Noy was out with his arm in a sling, linebackers such as Zac Stout were back in the fold.

The scouting report on Stout is that there was no visible sign of a lingering or nagging result of his former injury. He ran smooth through the footwork drills and looked comfortable with day-one activities. Coach Mendenhall singled him out in one specific drill as an example of how to take a good pursuit angle.

The newcomer eye-catcher of the day's position development drills was Manoa Pikula. Pikula runs fluid with lean mass and looks light on his feet at 230 pounds. He also plastered receivers well in coverage drills with the reps he received.

Alani Fua is nimble-footed and still a lean Tongan, but the good thing is he's been moved to the field side linebacker position, where he'll be able to use more of his athleticism. Fua had the only interception among defenders – at least from what I saw – during one-on-one coverage drills. Fua stepped in front of a cutting receiver to get the pick of the day.

Among the defensive backs, Jray Galea'i, Joe Sampson, DeQuan Everett, Robbie Buckner, Jordan Johnson, Daniel Sorensen and Cameron Comer looked the most polished in Monday's cone drills where footwork and speed were emphasized.

In the call-out drills, where safeties are to call out coverages to the secondary, Mike Hague was the most vocal and animated.

Scouting report and scrimmage performance

The team practiced without pads, but that didn't stop players from taking a shot at someone on occasion or playing physical. The chippy defensive attitude, coupled with greater experience and expected Mendenhall effort, raised the overall tension level on the field.

Defensive line

The first unit to take the field consisted of Ian Dulan, Romney Fuga and Eathyn Manumaleuna. The first unit gave the less experienced, but just as hungry, Blair Tushaus, Manaaki Vaitai, Brock Stringham, Michael Yeck and Solomone Kafu some good battles up front. The play in the trenches was physical and at times cause for concern given the lack of pads and protection.

Standing on the sidelines watching a group of guys he used to play with was Russell Tialavea, still nursing a foot injury he suffered while on his mission. Tialavea was in a boot and had a cart to aid him around the practice field.

The newcomer who won the eye-catching award of the day goes to Mosese Kaumatule, who ran at the right defensive tackle position against the second-team offensive unit. Kaumatule faced 6-foot-8-inch, 240-pound Corbin Kaufusi.

Linebackers

Starting in the middle were Brandon Ogletree and Uona Kaveinga. Both are seniors and played every rep with an attitude. Much like last year, Ogletree played with a nasty attitude, and receivers and running backs were often on the receiving end of that despite being teammates. Joshua Quezada was the recipient of a hard Ogletree arm swipe as he attempted to dislodge the ball from the running back's arms after a catch.

Kaveinga brought the same nasty mentality and physical play on day one, and when he barely missed deflecting a pass over the middle, he was visibly frustrated and angry.

Defensive backs

Daniel Sorensen and Joe Sampson ran with the first-team, with Mike Hague rotating with Sampson. The chemistry between the secondary was decent – there were some late breaks on the ball in shallow play on day one – and will improve with more time. Overall the safeties did well in communicating and directing the secondary in coverage. There was at least one coverage sacks on the day against the first-team.

Chase Pendley got some reps at the safety position and did a decent job in coverage. He read well in passing plays and did a good job in the cover-two defense.

The newcomer eye-catcher of the day was Cameron Comer at field corner. Comer blanketed a receiver downfield as the receiver cut inside towards the free safety, and then knocked the ball down.

Also on the field side was Jordan Johnson, who rotated out with Comer for most of the reps. At the boundary side, Robbie Buckner – who has some of the best feet among the defensive backs – played very well rotating in and out with DeQuan Everett. The boundary position seems suited for Everett, who is a big-bodied cornerback who plays physical. Buckner is more the finesse cornerback with very good technique and footwork.

Overall it was a very good day for the defense.


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