Practice Report: Day 9

The defense came out strong during Tuesday's practice session, a definite change from Saturday's scrimmage which saw the offense dominate the course of play. Head coach Bronco Mendenhall is using Saturday's scrimmage as a point of reference as the defense makes strides in maintaining assignments and leverage in preparation for the coming season.

"It wasn't a matter of intensity, it was a matter of execution," said Mendenhall regarding the defensive struggles this past Saturday. "It was interesting that [of] the number of plays that worked against us, few were at the point of attack where they were designed to go. The majority of them came as a result of the players being undisciplined."

The first week of practice saw a quick whistle, keeping the offensive players from making plays beyond the initial contact. Conversely, defensive players may have grown content knowing that the whistle would be blown when they made the first initial contact during drills.

"It was a example of a running back having nice vision, but us having quickly whistled every running play, trying to keep players healthy until their first live action," said Mendenhall. "With the players somewhat assuming that whistle was going to happen and not taking angles appropriately, [that] made it a great lesson to self-correct into playing football rather than practicing."

Lesson Learned

If Tuesday's practice was any indication, the defense is learning and progressing from what transpired this past Saturday, as defensive players completed their assignments. That lead to multiple incompletions and a couple of interceptions during the practice-ending 11-on-11 drills.

"Coverage was good today, but I think a lot of it may have been a result of the offense trying a new script," said safety Quinn Gooch. "We always practice well during the week. It's just about getting ourselves mentally prepared for the scrimmage and a live situation which doesn't have a quick whistle, and where if we don't complete our assignments until the end, the offense will beat us."

The defense came out raring to go during practice, forcing the first six out of seven passes to either fall incomplete or get picked off. Safety Kellen Fowler and linebacker Austen Jorgensen both came away with interceptions. Fowler's came as a result of a pass from Hall, while James Lark was on the other end of Jorgensen's pick.

"I don't think the offense may have been on their game today and came out a bit slow," said Gooch. "But we took advantage of it, forcing some incompletions and intercepting a few passes here and there."

Hall did manage to get the offense into the endzone once on a 24-yard pass to receiver Tyler Kozlowski. Kozlowski saw his reps increased today, as both Austin Collie and Matt Allen were held out of 11-on-11s due to minor nicks and cuts.

"Yeah, it for sure makes a difference for the offense when they don't have their regular guys out there," noted Gooch. "It's the same for us and yeah, that may have been one of the reasons they struggled coming out."

Hall's combined stats for the day had him going 7-for-13 for 55 yards and two interceptions. In addition to the aforementioned interception by Fowler, the other interception was made by safety Blake Morgan.

In the backfield

Showing well once again this fall is outside linebacker Chris Bolden. Bolden is again showing up in the backfield frequently during drills, as he's shown to be just about un-blockable against the second-team defensive unit.

"I don't think those guys are used to me," said Bolden. "I have a real quick first step and I think I'm catching a lot of those guys off-guard."

Bolden's play included two sacks to go with a tackle-for-a-loss and multiple quarterback hurries. Bolden is making plays and is hopeful that his practice play will translate to play on the field during games.

"I know I'm going to play this year," said Bolden. "So it's all about making plays and getting it done when I'm in there. I have to show well every time I'm in and that's the focus now."

Defensive Replacements

One of the defensive focuses now is compensating for the loss of nose tackle Russell Tialavea, while also looking for a new starting Kat to replace Dustin Gabriel. So far Mendenhall is encouraged in what he's seen in both regards.

"I think they're playing well," said Mendenhall when asked about the two players vying for the starting Kat position. "David [Tafuna] is gaining confidence in his assignments daily. He already had a solid understanding and that carried over to execution in all circumstances is what he's improving on the most."

Competing with Tafuna for the spot is Corby Hodgkiss, who has also warranted praise from his head coach.

"Corby has a more natural feel for the position right now," said Mendenhall. "David might be a slightly better athlete, but Hodgkiss has a better feel for the position right now."

Meanwhile, a watchful eye has been placed on Garrett Reden, as he has an accelerated learning process to learn the new nose tackle position. The plan to finish Reden's evaluation by Wednesday is still in place.

"[Reden is] our sixth offensive lineman right now, so his role as a defensive lineman would have to be substantial to keep him there," said Mendenhall. "He's done a great job and the assessment will be a difficult one, but extending his evaluation longer wouldn't be fair to him."

Mendenhall mentioned that the coaching staff has not ruled out the option of trying other offensive linemen at nose tackle after Reden's evaluation.

Newbie Watch

True freshmen G Pittman and Tyler Beck both saw extended reps with the 2s on defense today, with each having some good moments. Pittman enabled Morgan's interception, as he provided very good coverage. Meanwhile, it was Beck who enabled Fowler's interception, as he provided great coverage on Manase Tonga across the middle.

"I was able to get in because some guys were out today and I felt I did well," said Beck. "Whenever I get the chance to get in there I have to make plays if I want to play this year. So far I'm trying to do that and I feel I've done alright, but I have a long way to go."

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