Spring Practice Report: Day Nine

Any practice session features emotions that often turns into little scuffles, as the very nature of the game of football calls for it. Most of the time it involves players but sometimes even includes coaches, as it did during Tuesday's session. In other news, two of the three competing quarterbacks have slightly moved ahead after assessments by the coaching staff.

"Any time a coach is involved there can be pluses or minuses," commented head coach Bronco Mendenhall on the scuffle that broke out between one of the assistant coaches and a player during a goal line set. "The pluses are that the coach wants his unit to do good and sometimes they're trying to stand up for a player that they think was mishandled. With the great programs there's usually some energy and some yelling and then you go back and do your work and that's what happened here."

The ruckus started as a pile-up occurred with running back Harvey Unga trying to punch it into the end zone. Coaches tried to pull players off of one another to avoid injuries. A lot of cheap shots can occur under or around a pile-up, and during the heated and aggressive incident a coach and player had to be separated from each other.

"I think we handled it well and that it's already over from my perspective," concluded Mendenhall about the scuffle.

Two Emerging

The other big news was that for the first time this spring, Mendenhall acknowledged some movement on the depth chart at quarterback with the three that are battling for the position. After further review of the film over the first two weeks, he mentioned that two of the three are separating themselves.

"On Monday, heading into this week, we saw Riley [Nelson] and Jake [Heaps] pull slightly ahead of where James [Lark] is," said Mendenhall. "So James didn't get as many reps today and yesterday, and then you saw it about even between Riley and Jake. We'll probably continue that for the rest of this week and then reevaluate where they're at from there."

Lark may have made up some ground Tuesday by getting the team into the end zone. He went 3-of-5 for 46 yards, including a big 30-yard pass to tight end Mike Muehlmann that got the team into scoring range. Heaps meanwhile orchestrated a touchdown drive of his own, going 3-of-9 for 46 yards, while Nelson completed his lone pass attempt for 2 yards.

"Ultimately the goal of getting the ball into the end zone has to be acknowledged," said Mendenhall about what may be the biggest determining factor of the quarterback race. "I think Jake did a nice job of that today."

Nelson is playing with a certain amount of grit and determination according to Mendenhall, and his strengths are somewhat unique from those of Heaps and Lark.

"It's too early to call who is the leader at this point, although there is a slight separation where Riley and Jake have separated themselves from James, although it is slight," he reemphasized.

This is the second spring where the team has not had an established starter since Mendenhall became head coach. It has created an interesting dynamic in regards to leadership and how practices are being run in large part due to another position being without an established starter.

"This spring we also don't have an established center, and those two positions control so much of the play," explained Mendenhall. "It's more uncertainty than I'd like during spring, and it's also unique that it won't be settled by the end of spring, but may go until the end of fall camp. We can't totally assess who is going to move a team best until we play a football game, which adds to the challenge."

A lot more of the attention has been turned to the experienced players such as Harvey Unga, Matt Reynolds and Terence Brown as a result, according to Bronco.

Zed Mendenhall is establishing himself more and more as the primary fullback option with every practice session. While he'll be joined by others competing for the spot this fall, Mendenhall will likely be the primary blocking back, although one of the tight ends may be called on to fill the lead blocking position on occasion.

Practice Notes

-Outside linebacker Jameson Frazier hauled in an interception Tuesday that was almost identical to the one he had Monday, dropping deep into coverage to snag a would-be long pass to the outside of the field. Frazier also accounted for a sack on the day.

-Jray Galea'i accounted for the best hit of spring practice so far by laying out receiver Rhen Brown across the middle and dislodging a pass that would have gone for about a 10-yard gain. To Brown's credit, he came back and withstood another hit on a similar pass a few plays later.

-Connell Hess had a good day in accounting for a sack and a fumble recovery, while walk-on defensive end Garrett Eskelsen accounted for a sack of his own.

-Timpview recruit Bryson McKenzie was in attendance, along with signee Bryan Sampson and former players Max Hall and Dennis Pitta.

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