Practice Report: Gaskins Meets the Challenge

Quarterback Brenden Gaskins was the assumed backup to starter Max Hall as spring practices commenced, but a battle for the backup spot was opened up as Kurt McEuen challenged Gaskins for the spot. With the backup spot still open in fall camp, Gaskins immediately rose to the occasion, serving notice immediately about the hard work he'd put in during the offseason.

While the second-team offense struggled mightily this past spring, Brenden Gaskins came in the fall and immediately in his first series of reps marched the second-teamers 70 yards down the field and into the end zone. For the embattled Gaskins, it was exactly how he envisioned opening fall practice.

"You always want to get in into the end zone, you always want to score," said Gaskins. "No matter what happens or how you do it, you have to get it in the end zone, so yeah, it was very gratifying for me to show that I could get them in there."

Gaskins' play immediately caught the notice of both head coach Bronco Mendenhall and quarterback coach Brandon Doman. For Gaskins, his improvement was all about hard work and putting in extra time.

"You never want to lose your spot," said Gaskins. "That's like the worst thing ever for a player, and it happened to me in the spring. I took it hard, but recognized that yeah, I needed to improve. I needed to get better, so instead of pouting I just decided to do whatever I could, so when fall started I could convince coaches that I was still worthy of the backup role."

When coaches challenge players or move them down the depth chart, the desire is that said player will respond and recognize that they're not there yet. With Coach Doman opening the backup role at quarterback in the spring, he was looking for Gaskins to respond and meet the challenge, something Gaskins apparently has done four practices into the fall.

"I'm really pleased with Brenden," said Coach Doman. "He's had as good of an offseason as anyone. When we finished spring it was a dead heat between him and Kurt, and so far Brenden has come out, and right now Brenden has more plays - even though we're still rotating them - because he's been able to keep the offense moving, and ultimately the guy who keeps the offense moving will win the backup job."

The progress Gaskins has made is apparent, as he's showing a quicker release and better movement with his feet. However, according to Coach Doman, Gaskins is simply more confident, which makes everything function better.

"Brenden is ready to play," said Doman. "He's doing everything better, but it's his confidence more than anything that has improved. Confidence is extremely important for a quarterback to succeed. If you're not confident in your reads or your own play, there is no way you can succeed at this position. What Brenden has shown is increased confidence, and that more than anything is why he's playing better."

Others Meeting the Challenge

Both Coach Doman and Gaskins are ready to credit Gaskins' - and Kurt McEuen's - early success during fall camp to the improved play of the entire second unit on offense.

"I can't say enough about the second unit and how much better they're playing so far this fall," said Gaskins. "We're growing together and we're able to do a lot more than what we did in the spring. You saw that with the very first drive we had, and we aim to continue to get even better."

Doman gave credit for the improvement of the second-team offense to one unit in particular.

"The offensive line is so much better than it was in the spring," said Doman. "That makes all the difference for a quarterback. While in spring, Brenden and Kurt weren't even allowed to think before someone was in their face, but this fall the o-line is giving them good time back there to recognize coverages and then makes plays, so a lot of the credit goes to them."

Still a Battle

Gaskins may have the advantage now but he hasn't won the backup battle, as Coach Doman has yet to name who Hall's backup will be. While Gaskins has improved his play mightily, McEuen is still humming along well as he aims to make the final decision difficult for his position coach.

"It's great for me as a coach to see both guys improve with every day," said Doman. "Yeah, Brenden has improved, but Kurt isn't going down without a fight, that's for sure. He's a very competitive guy and lately he's shown very well. Ultimately it will be decided by which of the two can get the offense into the end zone most and keep the offense out on the field the longest."

Practice Notes

-Timpview recruit Xavier Su'afilo was in attendance Wednesday during practice. Su'afilo spoke with offensive line coach Mark Weber following practice and also took time to talk with former Timpview player Matt Reynolds.

-Wednesday's practice got a little heated due to some late hits put on by the defense. Coach Mendenhall addressed this in his post-practice comments, mentioning that coaches always try to find a good balance between intensity and simply being smart about avoiding injuries out on the practice field. While Mendenhall was pleased with the intensity, he didn't approve of the chippiness during this particular practice session.

-Coach Reynolds met with J.J. DiLuigi briefly after practice to go over blocking techniques. DiLuigi mentioned that he always takes time to meet with Reynolds after practice to get specific feedback of what he needs to do better.

-Coach Reynolds meanwhile raved about the progress DiLuigi has made so far this fall, terming the progress he's made as being "a massive jump." Reynolds said that DiLuigi is quicker off his breaks and is a lot more confident overall in everything he does.

-Reynolds mentioned that Kelly Bills and Kaneakua Friel are both ahead of Bryan Kariya on the depth chart at FB currently. Reynolds said that Kariya isn't so much an I-formation fullback, but more of a tailback-type.

-Brandon Howard had the defensive play of the day when he picked off a pass by jumping an out pattern and then took it all the way back for what would have been an easy touchdown.

-Max Hall didn't miss a single pass during 11-on-11 drills. Tight end Dennis Pitta and receiver Michael Reed both caught two of Hall's six consecutive completed passes.

-Dan Van Sweden ended Hall's reps with a sack.

-Following Hall's reps, the second team took the field on both sides of the ball, and four straight sacks were recorded. Both Brock Richardson and Kyle Luekenga converged for the first one, followed up by sacks from Vic So'oto, Michael Alisa and Jeff Bell.

-Hobbled receiver Austin Collie spent the practice session catching tennis balls shot out from a tennis-serving machine.

-Mendenhall mentioned that they're working on cross-training Vic So'oto a bit at strong side linebacker should something unforeseen happen to David Nixon.


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