Note: Shea Dixon covered the offense and Jeremy Kenny focused on the defense.
The first day in full pads kicked off with a good mix of the quarterbacks and wide receivers at a bit more of “real-time” speed.
The groups were split up, sending the offensive line and running backs to separate end zones, while the quarterbacks and receivers worked on the field.
While we got a chance to catch up with the offensive line yesterday, I wanted to get a look at the quarterbacks and receivers a bit closer.
Coach McCarthy had the receivers working on strip drills again today, urging them to keep the ball high and tight at all times.
Moving onto the passing drills, coach Crowton had the quarterbacks and receivers start off by running some short routes.
Things got off to somewhat of a sluggish start, which was expressed vocally by Demetrius Byrd after running one of his opening routes. “I’m not even warm yet,” Byrd said with a laugh after catching a pass from Jarrett Lee.
Focusing in on the quarterbacks first, Lee once again looked a bit more impressive than Andrew Hatch. Like it has been said, if it were a beauty contest, Lee would have buried Hatch by the now.
However, all things considered, both quarterbacks looked fairly smooth especially given the first day in full pads.
Lee had a good rhythm going. His drops and release were on time, and nothing look forced. His balls were typically pretty well placed, and he was hitting full stride as the morning moved on.
Hatch puts a lot more behind his ball. Everything over 30 yards looks uncomfortably forced, though it still gets there with decent accuracy.
When they worked on the pump and go, Lee really outshined Hatch.
Lee looked really smooth, and he was hitting his receivers 30 to 40 yards down the field in stride.
Hatch, on the other hand, looked like he really had to put a lot behind the ball to get it down field. There were a couple of times where his receiver would slow up to make the catch, making it pretty evident that Hatch really wasn’t able to hit them in their normal stride.
Running the spread offense, it seems the staff sees Hatch as the more efficient tool. He does have better legs, and he has shown some good vision in running situations, such as the spring game and Middle Tennessee last year, even though we don’t get to see it in practice. He manages the short game well, throwing some good routes in the ten-yard range today.
Also to note, as the media was leaving, the team joined together for the first time to run plays on offense, and Hatch took the first snaps with the first team but then Lee took the next rep with the 1’s. So, it looks like the plan has not changed much. Just a point now to develop both for the season, because it seems clear that each of them will get their action at some point, for the gap in where they are at this point looks rather minimal.
Moving on to the wide receivers, Brandon LaFell and Byrd led the way for the starters. Byrd looks every bit as impressive as the reports tell you. He is extremely toned, and his speed is remarkable given his size. He was making all the catches look routine. He was also being very vocal with his teammates, getting on them about hustling and giving them some kind words when they made a nice play.
LaFell was working on the far side of the field, so I did not get a good chance to see what he really looked like. He looked to be running well, and I didn’t catch any drops on his part.
Ricky Dixon looked impressive yet again, missing day one of camp but showing strides of improvement each morning since according to staff reports.
He made one grab along the sideline that was overthrown by Lee that was extremely impressive.
As for coaching, coach Mac was as vocal with the guys as coach Crowton gets.
He was all over the wide receivers, urging the players to “keep their heads up” and “not give away the route” when running the shorter out routes.
John Williams was running with the wide receivers, and he fell victim to a couple of the morning drops. Most were balls across the middle, and coach Crowton let him hear about it.
The running backs worked on the sleds a majority of the time, and then moved to some blocking drills from the I-formation.
When the groups joined up, the quarterbacks ran out of both the shotgun and under center.
From the spread, coach Crowton had the backs running an option-choice.
When Williams and Scott took the ball, they hit the hole and made it downfield with some good speed and I’d hate to be the defender in their path.
Though much less of a downfield force in terms of size, Richard Murphy showed off his wheels in the drill with some impressive cuts through the inside of the line followed by a quick speed burst up the field. He should prove to be an integral tool this season when we need a change of pace.
From under center, the group ran toss plays to the left and right. Things were pretty routine aside from one near-fumble by Murphy, which landed a quick “catch it first” response from coach Crowton.
Quinn Johnson led the way in blocking duties, and looks to be in great shape for a solid season.
Jordan Jefferson and T.C. McCartney also took snaps with the first team this morning.
Jefferson showed some promise, but his inexperience and youth is still pretty evident.
When working in the shotgun, Jefferson did receive some praise from coach Crowton.
On the defensive side, Charles Alexander was once again absent during today’s practice. Chancey Aghayere and Kellen Theriot were both in green non-contact jerseys, but both went through drills normally.
There was definitely a quicker pace and a higher energy level around practice today in the first day of full pads. It was obvious the guys were excited about finally getting to knock some people around.
A fitting drill to begin the first day of pads would be a tackling form drill, which is exactly what the defense started out with this morning.
The defensive line, linebackers, and defensive backs all split into groups and worked on wrapping up a ball carrier and driving through him, without taking him to the ground. Once again the defensive backs seemed to be providing the hardest hits as a solid popping sound could be heard on each one. And once again, you could tell a difference between the veterans and the freshmen just by listening to the hits being made.
After the defensive backs finished the tackling drills, the cornerbacks and safeties split up again, with the cornerbacks working with Coach Raymond on controlling the receivers off the line and the safeties working with Coach Mallory on nickel packages.
On the left side Harry Coleman lined up at safety with Chad Jones in the nickel position. On the right side Curtis Taylor was the safety with Danny McCray at the nickel position. After they finished these drills the two groups came back together to work on communications in nickel coverages. The formations were the same as were just described, with Jai Eugene joining Taylor and McCray on the right side at cornerback and Chris Hawkins teaming up with Coleman and Jones as the left cornerback. This was the only group that lined up in these drills during the time the media was allowed in practice, so we did not get to see the second string or the freshmen lineup in these formations.
After the linebackers finished their tackling drills, they went through footwork drills with Coach Peveto and hit the blocking sleds for a little while before lining up in formations to work on reading the directions and recognizing the holes on running plays.
In the first group, Darry Beckwith was back in his familiar spot in the middle, with Perry Riley on the strong side and Kelvin Sheppard on the weak side. In the second group, Jacob Cutrera lined up as the middle linebacker with Shomari Clemons on the strong side and Kellen Theriot on the weak side. And in the third group, walk-on David Impastato was in the middle with Kyle Prater on the strong side and Ryan Baker on the weak side.
Along the defensive line, this was the group with probably the biggest physical distinction between the freshmen and the older players, especially Chase Clement and Chancey Aghayere.
After the linemen finished their tackling drills, they were split up to work on getting off the ball quickly and focusing on the actual snap of the ball instead of the quarterback’s cadence.
Coach Lane took the ends while Coach Robinson worked with the tackles. During these drills, Lavar Edwards, Chase Clement, and Chancey Aghayere were sent over to hit the blocking sleds. The rest of the linemen joined them a short time later after finishing their drills.
The coaches spent a lot of time working with Clement on his technique during this portion of practice. The players were pretty much going through hitting the sled in whatever order they lined up in so it was hard to get an idea of what the depth may look like along the line right now. If it’s anything like last year there will be eight or nine guys that all see significant playing time in all of the games, so the establishing the depth chart at each position is not terribly important.
That’s all for this morning’s practice. The players and coaches will hold Media Day later this afternoon, so check back with TSD later this evening to see what everyone had to say.