***Photos Included***

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Opening Spring Practice Observations: Defense

<p>Today we recap our impressions from the defensive side of the ball on the opening day of spring drills. A number of players stood out. We take looks at <strong>Lamarr Woodley</strong>, <strong>Prescott Burgess</strong>, <strong>Shawn Crable</strong>, <strong>Ryan Mundy </strong>and many more.</p> <p><strong><font size="4">***Photos Included***</font></strong> </p>

For those that misses the update on the offense in the first spring practice, click here.

As was the case with the backs and interior lineman, it was really hard to evaluate the defensive tackles. All looked to have returned in good shape but we’ll be able to discern much more once they suit up. It was a little easier to get a read on the defensive ends though. Coach Carr’s glowing mention of Lamarr Woodley seemed well deserved, as the Saginaw native looked quite impressive. He played many of the snaps from the stand-up position and looked really comfortable doing so. At one point the offense ran a reverse and Lamarr penetrated up field. Rather than instinctually chasing the first ball carrier, he showed textbook technique by staying at him to stop the end coming back around. Lamarr wasn’t the only DE that looked comfortable playing upright. Rondell Biggs played form the stand-up position on occasion as well. Carr spoke of his versatility in his presser on Thursday and it certainly looks as if they will utilize it. Another end that was very noticeable was Jeremy Van Alstyne. They weren’t allowed to hit the quarterbacks, but the kid looks like he is going to be a heck of a pass rusher. He uses his hands well and won’t quit even if he is stopped on his first move. Many players I’ve spoken with have called JVA one of their favorites because of his on-field approach. He should become a fan favorite for the same reason.

Lamarr Woodley sniffs out the reverse!

Watching the linebackers was one of the most interesting parts of the day. The veterans (Scott McClintok, Lawrence Reid, Roy Manning, and Pierre Woods) were the steadying influence that one might expect. They never looked out of position. Though it was only the first practice, Pierre Woods looked like he was ready for prime time right now and he should have a huge season. He came off the edge quite a bit, but looked very relaxed in coverage as well. He just looks like a star. That said, the most exciting part had to be watching Prescott Burgess and Shawn Crable. Burgess’ defensive back days will certainly help him in coverage at linebacker. He opened his hips very well, displayed a good feel for zone coverage, and was absolutely stellar in man coverage. At one point he picked up Pierre Rembert in man coverage coming out of the backfield and trailed him on a crossing pattern. Just as the ball arrived Prescott accelerated to knock the ball away. If how he looked in practice was any indication, he’s improving at a very fast rate. Beside Burgess lined up Shawn Crable, and watching this kid run is not what one would expect. It had been a while since I’d seen Shawn in action, but I was reminded yesterday about what a skilled athlete he is. Though he didn’t look a whole lot bigger from when I last observed him, he still displayed the wiry strength that I saw when watching him play in high school. Those two youngsters looked like they will definitely see the field this year.

Prescott Burgess

With the pads off and the ball flying, the defensive backfield was where the most action took place. Marlin Jackson was beat at times by both Braylon Edwards and Steve Breaston, but he more frequently showed the coverage skills that had many describing him as a potential All-American a few years back. All of the DB’s were at a huge disadvantage because there were very few occasions where they were able to jam the receivers. However, at one point Edwards blew down the sideline on a fly pattern and Jackson (who was off about 7-yards) turned flawlessly out of his backpedal as Braylon got even, and then used a quick burst to get into the position to knock the ball away as it arrived. Marlin’s effort received cheers from his teammates on the sideline.

Marlin Jackson

One of the surprises of the day was seeing Leon Hall out there. Coach Carr later explained that the California native would be competing in only the non-contact drills. (To view Carr’s comments in their entirety, click here). With his shoulder heavily wrapped, Hall again showed why he was so successful last year. Though not a blazer, the kid is technically sound and rarely out of position. It seemed like if there was an errant throw, he was there to make a play on it (though he did drop one that was thrown right to him). He could have sat this one out but he was out there anyway, and that tells you something about that young mans heart. Newcomer Grant Mason was similar to Hall in size and in how smart he plays the game. He was very precise in his movements and he anticipated very well. He and his counterpart Darnell Hood made a few nice plays on the day. Hood’s performance was especially encouraging. He looked like a more confident player and that was reflected in his aggression. At one point Braylon Edwards ran at stop rout in front of Darnell, who was in a back pedal. When he recognized the rout, Hood attacked the play so ferociously that he batted the ball away and knocked the All-American candidate down with a loud helmet to helmet hit in the process. Braylon certainly didn’t appreciate the contact, but Darnell’s defensive teammates, as well as Coach English, applauded the 2nd year corner’s play.

Grant Mason

At safety Ernest Shazor was all over the place. He rushed the passer, he came up against the run, and he was excellent in coverage. He and Tyler Ecker waged a few very competitive battles with each walking away with a couple of wins. That said, when Ecker caught passes on Shazor, it was because he made terrific grabs. Ernest was always right with him on his patterns.

Ernest Shazor covers Tyler Ecker on an out rout

As we indicated earlier in the week, Ryan Mundy was at free safety and was the talk of many of his teammates on the sideline. He looked to have spent some serious time in the weight room and showed excellent range on the field. Coach Carr indicated he would still see time at corner for depth reasons, which is a testament to his versatility. Further evidence of that is with the upcoming arrival of Jamar Adams (who is a highly regarded safety prospect in his own right), Ryan just may be counted on to move up and become the strong safety once Ernest Shazor goes to the pros. The kid is just a gifted athlete. As we said earlier, Ryan is extremely confident at this point we wouldn’t be at all surprised if this young man were the opening day starter in the center of the field.

There will be much more content on spring practice in the following days and weeks. In the meantime, for further discussion on Ryan Mundy and Spring Practice, click here.

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