"We had a tough day starting out," commented linebacker David Nixon. "We then got together and determined to step it up and we worked real well as a unit from there on out. I feel we perhaps got the edge on the offense today."
After one side of the ball steps up and dominates a practice session, the advantage is oftentimes flipped the following practice as the other unit responds. While it was the defense with the advantage Monday, Nixon and his defensive cohorts will be doing everything possible to buck the standard practice trend.
"Oh, we'll be aiming for two days in a row," said Nixon. "We expect a lot out of ourselves. We're confident and we just need to keep it going."
The general thought heading into the fall practice session was that most offensive line positions would be manned by returning starters, with the exception of center, where Tom Sorensen would step in and assume the starting position. Two days into fall practices, that doesn't necessarily look to be set in stone.
Sorensen missed Monday's practice due to undisclosed personal reasons, but offensive line coach Mark Weber indicated that the staff wanted to try out different players anyway.
"We're trying to solidify the center position," said Coach Weber. "Tom isn't necessarily looked at as the number one guy at this point. We started Tom [Saturday], but today we had Dallas Reynolds work at center."
As with most positions, the main thought is to have the best players on the field at the same time. With Matt Reynolds stepping up and making strides at left tackle, Weber is looking to possibly switch up the center position.
"You always want your best five guys out there," said Weber. "Throughout this practice session we're going to work Tom in there, Dallas [Reynolds] in there, [and] R.J. [Willing] and even Garrett Reden will get a look until we feel we have the best combination of players on the field."
So could fans very well see Dallas Reynolds - who was the assumed starting left tackle - starting instead at center come the season opener?
"I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you," said Weber jokingly. "But in all seriousness, we're looking at getting our five best linemen out there and we'll try different combinations until we feel that we do have our top five guys playing."
Reynolds Stepping Up
With the coaches' confidence in Matt Reynolds growing, the options have indeed opened up for the Cougar offensive line.
"Little brother is getting it done," said Dallas Reynolds about his brother Matt. "It's fun playing the same position, so we're watching a lot of the same film together. Matt is a stud and he's really, really improved since he's been home."
Weber has noticed the improved play from Matt Reynolds as well, and has responded by giving him first-team reps early on.
"He's made great progress," said Weber. "He's obviously a big and talented young man. He's learning, but the best thing about Matt is that he rarely makes the same mistake twice. If he makes a mistake, you tell him what to do and he'll correct just like that. A lot of guys can't do that, but with Matt, he corrects mistakes and he's a very fast learner."
Strides of His Own
Meanwhile, Dallas Reynolds has made big strides this offseason as well. Teammates and coaches alike, as well as Dallas himself, have noted the improvements.
"I had a bit of a bum ankle I was playing through last year, and now that is gone," said Reynolds. "I feel lighter on my feet, having lost a bit of weight, but I also feel a lot stronger. I've worked hard and I feel it's been paying off so far in practices."
The return of Travis Bright has obviously been a lead story as fall camp has gotten underway. So how do his teammates feel about his return?
"Oh, man, it's so great to have Travis back out there" said Dallas Reynolds. "He's obviously a great player who adds a lot to our overall play when he's out there."
On Saturday Bright said that he didn't feel the same out there because his knee felt different, but Bright could have fooled his position coach with that sentiment.
"He doesn't look any different to me out there," said Weber. "He says his knee feels different, but he's pull blocking and moving just as well as he did last year before he got hurt, from what I've seen."
Bright's play is more than welcome, and according to Weber, the coaches were very much unsure of whether they'd see anything from Bright this year. They certainly didn't anticipate him coming back in such great form.
"A lot of guys never recover from the injury Travis had," said Weber. "But Travis, wow, he's doing everything, I mean everything that he did last year, and he's doing it right off the bat. I don't know if we expected that, but yeah, it's certainly a good thing."
Tempo, Tempo, Tempo
Because Terrance Brown is only one month removed from his mission, he is understandably struggling a bit. Brown isn't frustrated though, as he recognizes that it's going to take some time to get back into shape, and he knows it will come.
"It's tough out there for sure and I'm not used to it, but I'm getting used to it," said Brown. "I knew I'd get my butt kicked, so I'm not getting down or anything like that. But I'll tell you what, they do a lot of things different now than when I was here before my mission."
So what is the main change along the offensive front?
"The tempo is amazing," observed Brown. "The tempo in how we go in and out of reps is just a whole lot faster. It's tough to keep up since I‘m so out of shape, but I'll get there."
Tempo is the key component to Robert Anae's offensive system, and it starts along the offensive front, where Coach Weber stresses tempo every day.
"The whole offense is based off of tempo, so you have to practice at a high tempo," said Weber. "So, we keep the pressure on the defense and keep coming at them."
Groin Issues Gone
With his groin issues behind him, kicker Mitch Payne is making a strong bid to hold on to his place-kicking duties. Monday's practice saw Payne boot through all but one of his attempts. Payne is kicking more accurately this year now that he's totally healthy.
"I'm feeling great out there," said Payne. "The injury issues I had with my groin are gone, so I'm doing a lot better."
Justin Sorensen meanwhile struggled a bit, missing at least five attempts on the day. A lot of his kicks sailed left of the crossbar. Sorensen was able to finish strong, however, booting through his last three attempts from forty yards out.
-The offense's lone score of the day came on a 38-yard touchdown run by Harvey Unga.
-Both Shiloah Te'o and G Pittman picked off passes thrown by Max Hall as the defense stepped up its play. Hall's attempts were both to second- and third-team receivers that he wasn't on the same page with.
-Defensive stars Jan Jorgensen and David Nixon both took turns at interrupting plays in the backfield.
-Landon Fowler returned from his mission in India this past Wednesday and attended Monday's practice as well.