This comes on the heels of the end of yesterday's practice when Coach Zook and staff walked the players to the nearby pool outside of the O'Connell Center and allowed them a refresher dip in uniform after practice yesterday. Our exclusive photos sent in from a family member of the team, shows the good time and appreciation the players had for this gesture.
Because of this morning's practice change, the schedule for the rest of the practices the public can view has changed as well. This afternoon's practice will be held at 4 pm instead of the scheduled 6:30 pm. Also tomorrow's scrimmage is moved up to 9 am instead of the scheduled 3:45 pm. Make your plans accordingly, as these may be the last two practices open to the public for the season. I will post this again at the bottom of the page.
Some may ask why the staff would do this. I can think of only two reasons. First, there a are more than a few players on the mend. This isn't to scare anyone, because there are only 2 significant injuries this year resulting from Fall practice. Tight end Darrell Carpenter will be out 4-5 weeks with a broken foot and linebacker Richard Brown will be out for the season with a torn ACL. Other than that, everyone else is due back to playing speed at any time. A little extra rest will help this process.
The team has also been practicing very well. I believe there was only one day out here in all the heat that the staff was not happy with the effort overall. That was in the middle of the first week and since then the effort has been lights out. More than that, they are seeing things they really want to see. Last week, and into the start of this week, the offense seemed to be dramatically ahead of the defense. That usually isn't the case but maybe should have been expected with this group. The offensive line is a veteran group of players that have spent three years in the system now. The freshmen linemen are improving rapidly and three of them inhabit the second team line almost every practice. The top 8 receivers on the squad have been around and have had a lot of practice time now for at least 2 and most for 3 off-seasons. The top 2 running backs have had 3 falls and 2 springs of practice to get the offense down. So the practice experience has showed on the offensive side of the ball.
The defense has been a little different. In the scrimmage last week, the starting defense played pretty good. On about 10 possessions, they did allow 3 touchdowns against the second team offense, but all of those came from drives starting in the red zone and inside the 20 yard line. Other than that, it was all turnovers and a punt for the second team offense. A day later Coach Zook announced to the press the defense installed a lot more of the full package than the offense and that the younger guys heads were swimming with all of the information they were taking in. He said now that the entire installation was in, they would slow down and simplify. On queue, at the very next practice, the defense went in shut down mode. The inexperienced defensive backfield, which had been burnt for the previous 10 days by post patterns and deep corners, started playing together. The safeties have been rotating over and helping the corners in the deep zones. They started protecting the middle of the field that was getting split by post patterns. Walk-on Zepherine Augustine has stepped up and played so well, he was awarded a scholarship yesterday. The linebackers started flooding the flats quick and allowing minimal gains on the flair and flat routes. It has been a very quick turnaround.
All of this, and the freshmen class has played really well too. On offense Mike McIntosh is as smooth as any receiver out on the same field with him right now. He seems to always corral the ball and runs good routes. He needs help with knowing which route to run in the plays, but that is normal for a freshman, especially at this stage. Markus Manson ran 22 times in the scrimmage the other day. He never had that breakaway run against the first defense, but he played hard and ran hard all night. Eric Rutledge is pushing starter Billy Latsko at the fullback spot. In short yardage formations he is the third back on the field. He also plays a lot of special teams. Tight end Dane Guthrie, still sidelined with an ankle injury, was pushing his way up the depth chart and knocking a6t the door of the starting position in less than a week. Fellow tight end Tate Casey has come on strong since the injuries to Guthrie and Carpenter and looks like a legitimate pass threat out there. As mentioned above, 3 of the 4 freshmen offensive linemen usually find their way on the second team, for a deep position coming in, that is impressive. Jason Watkins, Drew Miller and Phillip Trautwein, have at times been very impressive. Jim Tartt is practicing but recovering from off-season shoulder surgery. Tartt and quarterback Cornelius Ingram, may be the only freshmen offensive players to red-shirt this year.
On defense, Derrick Harvey has been impressive enough to help mitigate the move of Jarvis Moss to the linebacker position. Harvey has been inserted in some of the first team special team units and is a definite sign that he may not red shirt. Mike Brown has played great at times, but the jury is out on whether he plays this year or not. They expect good things from him in the future. The linebacker corps seemed to have gotten a boost from the return of freshman Mike Mangold to the fold. His eligibility was up in the air, but on Wednesday Mangold received word that he is eligible to play this fall. We have yet to see whet he can do. Linebackers Javier Estopinan and Brandon Siler have been second team since their arrival. Both have made plays at times and both will see the playing field early and often. Kyle Jackson leads the team in interceptions in the preseason and has played well, he will play this year and push the people ahead of him on the depth chart. Tony Joiner has been less spectacular, but solid, he will also push for time and will play this year. Dawayne Grace may be the most improved freshman as time goes by in the preseason. He has been a staple on the second team too and we expect him to play this year.
As noted above, the coaches have plenty of reasons to be happy about the way the team is playing right now. The injuries, because almost all are not serious, should subside shortly and the team appears in overall good health. It has been a productive pre-season so far.
Just one more reference to the practice schedule changes, and these may be the last 2 practices the public can see this fall.
Friday PM practice will start at 4 pm and last till around 6 pm
Saturday scrimmage will start at 9 AM and last for 2 hours or so.