Pads pop at LaVell Edwards Stadium

On a warm day, Cougar fans gathered at LaVell Edwards Stadium to watch their team scrimmage in full pads for the first and only open practice of spring camp. Fans on Saturday got to see some of the younger talent in the program get a chance to perform on the football field for a day of fun in the sun.

The players were excited as they stood on the sidelines of LaVell Edwards Stadium, and it showed. The excitement gradually built until the offensive and defensive units gathered on each side of the field for a full-padded scrimmage.

"It's impossible to walk through that tunnel and out onto this grass and not feel like it's game day, and if they don't, they need to go back up on campus and do something else," said Coach Doman. "I'm not interested in guys who don't come out here and their blood doesn't boil. I think the guys came out today and walked into this stadium and it was on from the get go."

With all the injuries that occurred prior to and during spring camp, Coach Doman and the offensive staff focused on two key areas. First they sought to simplify the offense in order for the younger, less-experienced players to perform.

"Not only has the injuries forced us to be simple, but I've realized we shouldn't be any other way anyways," Doman said. "It's allowed us to get a ton of volume and reps we wouldn't have otherwise had."

With that simplicity, the staff has then focused on trying to produce a high volume of repetition.

"So the volume that we're getting and the simplicity that's occurred I think has enhanced our ability to execute at a higher level," said Coach Doman. "I think it's created an identity for us, where in the past I don't think we've created and had, and I think it's also may be enforced a culture that I think needs to improve here."

Coach Doman was right, and the results of Saturday's offensive performance – despite not reaching the end zone once – were pleasantly surprising. Over the past week, the offense struggled in a non-padded setting. However, what was a struggle over the past week turned out to be more successful on Saturday.

"I didn't think we were going to get any runs of the ground today, and we got quite a few runs off the ground today," said Coach Doman. "That's speaks volumes, and then we got several passes off today in that before we weren't getting off in a non-pad setting. We had guys really step up today in this setting that allowed the quarterbacks to make some plays that weren't happening before, and I was pleased with that."

A key focus for the offensive staff was to see how many of the younger players handled not only the stadium environment, but also how well they would be able to execute in a more realistic setting.

"[We looked for] their ability to learn and then manage the chaos, and some guys didn't do a very good job of that today, and others it didn't seem to faze them," said Coach Doman. "I wanted to see that because we're going to walk into some pretty big stadiums and some of these guys are going to be backups in position to now go and play."

The run game got some traction opening up the scrimmage. Josh Quezada and Adam Hine enjoyed some success between the tackles.

"Josh Quezada came in at the beginning of practice and I thought he did a very nice job, which he should have done," Coach Doman said. "It's nice to see that. It was nice to see some of these guys that we're thinking can add to the depth of this football team and see how they respond to that for today. Like I said, I thought maybe some guys emerged and some guys submerged a little bit today."

"Adam Hine, I thought, did a really nice job today. He was able to read the defense a little and find those holes and had a few good plays there for us."

"Adam Hine ran and had some nice runs today," said Coach Mendenhall.

However, Hine had to be helped off the field after a hard hit while running through a hole in between the guard and tackle.

"He was talking to me but his balance wasn't ready yet," said Coach Mendenhall. "But yeah, I don't know whether or not it's in the concussion category or just a bell-ringer category, but that was a hit tackle and it was up and physical."

Cougar fans got a chance to watch freshman quarterback Taysom Hill not only throw the ball, but show his athleticism outside the pocket as well.

"Offensively, Taysom Hill – besides being able to throw the football – and in most of the condition and even in some of our timed tests, he's one of our fastest players on the team. And so you got a chance to see him out of the pocket a little bit today, and when that happens he's hard to contain, and so I like that."

The offensive line – still not at full strength – was able to open up a few holes early on and protect long enough to help Coach Doman learn a few things about his big boys up front.

"The one plus is I think we've found a few offensive linemen that will be in our eight-deep this fall," Doman said. "They would not have been able to get as many reps and matured like they had if there had been starters here practicing. I think that is one positive that we can take away from this whole thing, is just finding out what we have now and what we can do."

Given the results of Saturday's offensive performance in a physical scrimmage in the stadium setting, Coach Doman was pleased.

"Well, how many touchdowns did we score?" kidded Coach Doman. "No, I'm really pleased where this team is in relation to the injuries that we have. You know, to be able to come out today in this setting of the fans and get some work done and find out if some young players have some moxie out there, some players showed they did and some players showed they didn't.

"It will be interesting to go back and watch the film and evaluate it. Coaches make great players and great players make plays in these settings. Here is where the great players emerge in this setting and I think a few guys showed they're capable of doing that today."

Defensive standouts

On the defensive side of the ball, there were a few players that turned in a very productive day. Defensive back Mike Hague had an interception, as well as a few pass breakups and tackles.

"From a defensive perspective, Mike Hague is showing a really nice command of the defense and leadership," said Coach Mendenhall said.

Defensive tackle Ezekiel Ansah was again an animal in the trenches and difficult to block. He sacked quarterback Alex Kuresa once, batted down a James Lark pass at the line of scrimmage and had a tackle for a loss.

"Ziggy Ansah is very hard to block and very, very active," Mendenhall said.

Linebacker Manoa Pikula was all over the field and very disruptive from the middle.

"Then Monoa Pikula, at the buck linebacker spot, is emerging as someone I'm impressed with," Mendenhall said.

Sideline notes

UCLA offensive lineman Xavier Su'a-filo was in attendance to watch the Cougars practice on Saturday. He mentioned he has been home from his mission for three months and will be heading down to UCLA in about a week or so.

Also, incoming Cougar wide receiver Dylan Collie was on the sidelines.

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