Cody covered the passing game in general for both sides of the ball and I will be covering the running game, but more or less talking about the backs, backers, and linemen on both sides of the ball. We were able to get a pretty good feel for who the staff liked coming into Thursday when they lined up at first on Thursday.
The starting offensive line was pretty much what we imagined, with left tackle D.J. Humphries, center Max Garcia, right guard Tyler Moore and right tackle Chaz Green. The one battle that seems to still be remaining is at left guard and Trip Thurman held that spot down for the day with Trenton Brown playing second team and some second team at left tackle as well.
I think it was good to see the offensive line win some battles and lose some battles with the starting defense. Those starters on the other side of the ball are going to be real good. For the most part, the defense probably won more, but there were strong battles for what we could consider battles without full pads on. I think the guy they just could not handle the most was Dante Fowler, but we will talk about him in a bit.
It was the second unit offensive line that I was most pleased to see on Thursday.
I will be the first to admit that I just didn’t think David Sharpe would see the field this year. I have seen him in person and know how massive he is and how athletic he is because of his basketball background. I have seen him play live a couple of times in high school and thought he looked a little oafish even with is athleticism that he has. But, he has evidently stood out in preseason drills and weight room stuff because the other players have talked him up. On Thursday he really showed up big and was a stalwart at left tackle. Kind of like Trenton Brown, if he gets his mitts on you, it is over because of his massive size and strength. Unlike brown, Sharpe has tremendous quickness to actually reach defenders and get them. He has so much to learn, but man I believe this kid can be a really good one and maybe a lot sooner than we / I expected.
I also saw some good things up front from true freshman Andrew Mike. Mike got some serious time at the second tackle position as well. He has had a really good pre-season leading up to camp and that has shown in the first work we have seen from him since camp started.
Probably the guy I am anticipating the most and could make a move early this year is redshirt freshman Roderick Johnson. He has kind of bounced back and forth from guard to tackle, but that was out of necessity. I think he is a terrific long armed tackle and will be a force when he actually gets in the games. He is likely the 7th lineman right now, right behind Brown and I see him having a serious future.
At running back, Kelvin Taylor got the start and Matt Jones did some nice things as the number two guy, but Brandon Powell was the guy that showed the most flash and dash on the day. He did drop an easy flare pass and there is no doubt that he is the most lost of the group. But, he is by far the guy that can get to the outside for the bog run more than any other on the roster. He took one inside hand off and quickly cut outside to the right, ran around the end and raced for a 25 yard touchdown on one play.
Jones probably had the next best night, but it is so hard to judge the backs when they aren’t allowed to get tackled.
On defense, the linebackers are going to be quiet when they aren’t allowed to tackle. That was the case. Any news comes in the form of Michael Taylor starting at the MIKE over Jarrad Davis. That will remain a battle, but Taylor has shown excellent leadership this fall as one of only two seniors at linebacker.
The defensive line was a different story.
Dante Fowler showed why he had to sit most of the spring, because he is just too much to handle most of the time on the field. He is so strong and quick it is just about unfair. There was one run with Kelvin Taylor where he took the ball and ran to his left. Fowler came from the opposite side, blew up the opposite side of the line and got to Taylor before he gained an inch of ground forward. It is the kind of thing I expect to see a ton of from Fowler this year.
Anyone worried about Jonathan Bullard lacking the strength to play inside, one play ought to cure those worries. He lined up on one down at defensive tackle and against massive 340 pound Trenton Brown. Bullard engaged Brown straight up, which usually means the end because Brown smothers guys. Then he ripped his arms and literally threw Brown behind him to scream into the backfield. It caught the crowd off guard and the big “oooohhh” from the audience ensued.
While Darious Cummings was pretty quiet, Leon Orr had a similar rip move he made on Cam Dillard. Orr looks pretty good out there and he and Cummings were the starting interior guys on the defensive line.
The second unit was pretty impressive too.
Cody caught a three play series from Gerald Willis where he owned the line of scrimmage and the play on each play. Willis had a steady practice like that and really looks the part. It is surprising how compact he looks, but he is a big ball of fast muscle on the field.
Willis and Taven Bryan got to line up as ends with the second unit early. That is no doubt a reward for good play leading up to today. I didn’t notice a lot from Bryan though.
A couple of young interior linemen that really did some things were freshmen Caleb Brantley and Khairi Clark. Clark was another that got to line up on the second unit early in practice, again likely being rewarded there. But, he continued some good stuff throughout practice constantly taking on double teams well and also winning a few one on one’s with older more experienced guys.
Brantley was as quick as I have seen him which has been his biggest issue since he arrived on campus. He has added strength as well, but I watched him blow by offensive linemen during the one on one’s.
No doubt Clark has a lot to learn still, but it looked to me like Brantley is ready to contribute and maybe in a big way.
MY SURPRISE: I would have to go with Sharpe. Again, he is able to handle some college guys like I didn’t see him do in high school. That is not a knock on the defense, he just really looks better.
BEST ON DEFENSIVE FRONT: Without a doubt I think it is / was Dante Fowler. With all due respect to Mr. Hargreaves, I think Fowler is THE best player on the team.
BEST ON OFFENSIVE FRONT / BACK: The best performance probably came from freshman Brandon Powell. Again, he has way too much to learn to play too much early, but he does some things that just sys he needs to be on that field and the ball in his hands.
NEED TO SEE MORE ON DEFENSE: Bryan Cox is the guy to me. He has to step up because they are relying on the ability to move Bullard inside sometimes and create more pressure. Cox has to take that spot voided by Bullard.
NEED TO SEE MORE ON OFFENSE: I will go with Kelvin Taylor. We all believe he will be the clear cut starter. The pads coming on will probably help him, but we got to see it.
NOT READY FOR PRIME TIME: I will give him credit, I saw him make some plays. But freshman BUCK Justus Reed has just 210 pounds on his 6-foot-3 frame. Too often he was completely manhandled when a lineman got his hands on him. I’m not willing to throw him out with the bath water, but it will take some time for Reed.