Two players that graduated last season graced the practice field yesterday. I was pleased to see the return of Ray Blake and Fred Wright. Fred is set to try out for about 10 NFL teams that want to look at him as a Defensive End. Congratulations to Ray Blake too. He tells us that he has a deal to play in the CFL. Ray will be reporting to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in another month or two.
Practice was a rainy, dreary mess. Nevertheless our boys strapped on the pads for the first time this spring and really went at it. Practice still has a serious, down-to-business mood about it. Coach Chan Gailey appears to be very focused and other coaches are quick to correct any mistakes that are made on the spot. My overall impression (and that of some of the coaches too) is that our first practice was a little sloppy with a mix of some nice individual play.
There was a refereed scrimmage at the end of practice following 7-on-7 drills, Oklahoma drills and other individual position instructing. In the scrimmage there were several offsides called. Tony Hargrove and Eric Henderson were culprits multiple times and ran for it after practice. I would like to see those mistakes cleaned up but certainly I am not too upset this early about the defensive ends being overly aggressive.
The QB play was not great today but the running backs looked very good. I hate to get so excited about our running game this early on but Michael Sampson is easily the biggest surprise of spring so far and is making runs like Tony Hollings did last spring. The biggest difference with Michael is that he is running with so much more confidence that he did last season. We knew he had good speed but his decision-making and elusiveness has had me in awe several times already. He turned a one or two yard gain into a 9-yard gain for a first down for example. Also he broke another long run and fought hard for an extra yard or two to get the team inside the 10-yard line. And he is not the only back playing well. Ajenavi Eziemefe has been solid too but P.J. Daniels has really made some waves with the second team. He had one of the best runs of the day on a play that looked to have been snuffed out. He cut back against the grain, made the weak side Defensive End miss then sprinted through the secondary for a 40-yard touchdown, the only offensive touchdown of the day.
As I said about the QB play was less than perfect but I don't think it is entirely their fault. The OL is way behind the DL right now and that is not a surprise due to all of the injuries to the OL. The Defensive Ends especially are getting into the backfield regularly. On top of that, some of the receivers have not helped the QBs out when some of their passes have been off. We need to do a better job of running back to the ball or occasionally making the difficult catch to bail out the QB. Damarius Bilbo is throwing the ball with nice velocity but still needs to be more decisive with his decisions. A.J. Suggs threw a nice pass (best pass of the day) for about a 35-yard gain but has had issues throwing behind receivers or throwing low. His decision-making though has been probably better than the others and I think that is his experience showing through. Brian Camp is throwing the ball a little flat which does not seem to help the receivers gain an advantage on the defensive backs. And Al Peña still looks a little overwhelmed at this time although he has looked good when he tucks the ball and runs plus he has improvised on occasion and it has worked for some nice gain even if it did look pretty ugly.
On defense, Reuben Houston picked his play up some in scrimmage. He covered very well and did not really give up any plays to his side. Venice Gilliam did get picked on a few times though. Chris Reis may not be 100% comfortable in pass coverage just yet but boy can he lay a lick when he comes up to make a play. He hits like a Linebacker. Dawan Landry is another that looks good supporting the run but is still getting comfortable in the passing game. Nathan Burton had the day's only interception and it was returned for a defensive touchdown.
I was happy to see the intensity and attitude pick up on the defensive side of the ball. Hargrove, Henderson and Houston have really put exclamation marks on some of their plays by letting the offensive know about it. I did not see that in the first half of practice and was commenting to others that I wanted to see some of that. Soon after scrimmage got going, the 'tude showed itself and I thought it raised the level of intensity.
Garren Findlay, I believe, played all three OL spots in practice: Guard, Tackle and Center. That is how banged up we are getting on the line.
Ather Brown, Gerris Wilkinson, & Kingi McNair all looked solid at LB. Gerris is really starting to come around and show the promise of being a 4-star recruit from a couple of years ago. Ather is really a strap-them-on blue-collar guy that will do the dirty work. And McNair is an excellent tackler in the open field.
For a more complete detailed discussion on practice and our injury situations please visit the Hiver Insider Message Board to discuss the Yellow Jackets amongst only Yellow Jackets.