“Its hard to stop Hardman in the slot,” said one insider. “At least it has been the times I’ve been out there.”
Hardman has also been working some at kickoff return. Tyler Simmons, Hardman and Jeremiah Holloman were described to me as “not necessarily the best receivers out there, but the most intriguing” by one insider.
A consensus has formed that Terry Godwin has moved up to the receiver most likely to have a big year in 2017. “I think folks think he’s got the best hands out there, but he’s not got unreal top-end speed,” said one observer of Godwin. “I think its safe to say he’s got Eason’s trust. He’s really looked good in the slot out there. Put it this way - he's dependable if not spectacular.”
Perhaps two players being loved up for being in the slot means the Dawgs don’t have someone who can cover the slot very well… that’s something to keep in mind as well.
On Thursday, Eason met with the media for the first time since December, and used the word “comfortable” early and often. Insiders confirm that Eason has taken the arrival of Jake Fromm seriously, and that he’s been trying to better himself physically as well as in terms of overall skill development.
That was noticeable on day one of spring football. Eason had gained a large amount of weight fast this time last year. He looked like an over-sized version of the prospect I saw play in Lake Stevens a few months before that. Also, his throwing motion last year all too often involved what can be best described as a dropped elbow, or a motion that was far more sidearmed than what it should have been. That has been missing from open media periods this spring.
One insider said Eason is still progressing. That there are times he still looks like he did during the season last year (and that was not meant as a complement). That he has better command of what’s going on versus this time last year, but that he’s still working towards becoming the best version of himself.
“And that might take some time,” one said. “Remember that Jim Chaney isn’t considered a quarterback guru the same way Mike (Bobo) was.”
“Fromm does look very comfortable back there,” said another observer. “He seems to make a lot of plays. Then again, he’s pretty much going against the No. 2 defense the entire time. He’s on time with everything in terms of throws even if it isn’t spectacular.”
“Eason has some big-time throws out there,” one said. “But he’s still working on being more consistent.”
Another insider, continued to hard on how difficult a time Eason had at getting under center and learning how to function as a quarterback in a pro-style system.
“I think everyone knew that was going to be a difficult transition for him,” they said. “And it might still be something he works on over time. We will see. Defenses in this league aren’t getting easier.”
One trusted insider felt like the program was going to do its best to redshirt Jake Fromm this coming season, or at some point while Eason was on campus. “That’s the hope,” they said, “But that’s a hope - its not set in stone. I think everyone thinks that Fromm is probably a long-term kid, so there’s no reason to burn up two years while Eason is on campus.”
The palace intrigue that is the quarterbacks won’t change any time soon. But other players have caught the eyes of insiders, too. Elijah Holyfield was said to have “looked pretty good”. Hardman, Michel and Tyler Simmons have all been taking turns with kickoff return duties. Godwin has only been used on occasion. Hardman has been mentioned the most and then Isaac Nauta (more on him later).
Speaking of specialists, some time ago I asked around about Rodrigo Blankenship’s future as it relates to gaining a scholarship. Right now that seems unlikely. I asked why, and a well-connected insider said that the week before the bowl game, Blankenship was very wild with field goal attempts - missing many makable kicks - and that it was a representation of how he performed in practice often. Those performances made the staff nervous about spending a scholarship on a player who was so consistently inconsistent at such a critical spot.
As Dylan Webber wrote about at the start of spring, Isaiah Wynn has done a heck of a job nailing down the left tackle spot for the Bulldogs. He’s been the most consistent offensive lineman in silver britches this spring.
“Wynn is really leading, too,” said an insider. “Honestly, both lines look better than last year to me. Just the defense in general looks as good when the twos are in there as the ones. They are pretty deep on that side of the ball everywhere you look.”
If Wynn is the player likely sticking out the most on the offensive line, the skill player who is standing out most is tight end Isaac Nauta. “He’s bigger than he was this time last year,” one observer said. “He’s really out there killing people. But him being bigger makes him slower when he’s a receiver. I swear, they must be like eight deep at tight end. Three of them, off the top of my head, were unreal - Nauta, 88 (Jackson Harris) and (Jeb) Blazevich.”