Spring Football Practice Notebook

To begin this fourth week of spring camp, the rehab pit added one member and lost one. WR Gabe Myles is now recovering from hurting the right ankle early in Saturday’s scrimmage. Meanwhile QB Damian Williams moved out at last, reporting for full-practice work.

So for now the rehab residents are Myles, CB Taveze Calhoun, S Kendrick Market, LB Dezmond Harris; and at least for the initial few periods QB Elijah Staley. But as usual Staley would do just a couple of periods there before reporting to the offense for quarterback position drills, passing drills, 1-on-1 period, and so on. Staley continues to watch any 11-on-11 work that might require moving around which he isn’t supposed to until summer.

There may be another member Thursday. WR Joe Morrow went to the side after a 11-on-11 period in pain from what appeared the left arm or hand.

*After the lengthy layoff with a pectoral muscle issue, Williams didn’t immediately join the varsity or even second offense though. He ‘debuted’ on the third team in two-minute offense to begin the day. As practice wound on Williams did take some turns with the twos. Mostly though that was QB Nick Fitzgerald’s team as it has been for the past three weeks.

*WR De’Runnya Wilson has had a slow spring himself after the combination of fall groin issues and a winter knee clean-up. The pace picked up for Wilson last week to the point Coach Dan Mullen said he should be full-speed by now.

Tuesday, he was, if full-speed means running with the first team. Which Wilson was, as the split end on the slot receiver side. WR Fred Brown was split end on the tight end (TE Gus Walley in this case) side.

Wilson’s reward for return to full-speed status? On a fine jumping, turning catch between two defenders on the far side of a QB Dak Prescott, Wilson was knocked out of bounds by an annoyed S Deontay Evans. Or maybe Evans and CB Cedric Jiles weren’t annoyed at the receiver, but how Prescott floated the 25-yard throw perfectly through coverage?

The second receiver rotation had WR Jesse Jackson backing Brown, Morrow behind Wilson until his injury, and WR Malik Dear promoted to #2 slot receiver behind #1 Fred Ross. Sure, Myles’ injury opened the door for Dear, but the true freshman has been making an impressive push too.

In the two-minute offense the third rotation were Donald Gray and Kareem Vance the split ends. By the end of the day Gray was running with the first offense though, as he’s often done so far this transfer-spring.

*Speaking of Gray, he might still be learning a lot about routes and technique and such stuff. But the juco had to impress his coach on one play without even touching the ball. With RB Lee sweeping to the left side, Gray got out on CB Cedric Jiles for a perfect—and perfectly legal—maintained block to open up the alley and spring Lee long. Blocking like that can earn a job faster even than scrimmage catches in State’s system.

*The slot receiver ranks lost a member, or more actually gave him to the other slot. Redshirt soph Shelby Christy was practicing with the tight ends today. That chart had plenty of depth already with Walley, Darrion Hutcherson, B.J. Hammond, and Rashun Dixon, et.al. But Christy, who has missed two entire seasons with injuries, looks much in the mold of a Malcolm Johnson. He is listed at 210 pounds now and much of the new muscle is in his shoulders and chest, too.

*For two-minute offense and in a few 11-man periods RB Brandon Holloway ran first with the first team. Otherwise it was RB Ashton Shumpert taking the first turns in most drills and periods. At one point redshirt RB Dontavian Lee was given plays with the first unit, too; while RB Aeris Williams got more snaps than before with the second offense.

*For someone who just crossed to the other side of the squad-room, former wideout Jamoral Graham sure seems to be finding his footing on defense. He began the day with the #2 unit at left cornerback, opposite right CB Chris Rayford.

As noted every week, figuring what ‘side’ belongs to who is a day-to-day guessing game. Tuesday it was Redmond going first-team on the right corner…until another 1s-on-1s series when it was Jiles’ turn. Meanwhile CB Tolando Cleveland had first-team left corner to himself. This time, at least.

*How thoroughly do State coaches evaluate personnel for special teams? Well, every Dog who was not A) a quarterback, or B) a down-lineman crowded the one field where punting practice was held. They were either covering, rushing, whatever the staff could find for them to do on-camera.

This day only WR Ross and CB Redmond fielded punts. In the scrimmage CB Graham got some chances, but Tuesday he had another job. He and WR Gray were the first two ‘missiles’ in downfield coverage.

K Devon Bell took first turn punting, though that’s not necessarily a show where either kicker stands. K Logan Cooke did all the other punting and had better distance on the whole but maybe not Bell’s hang time. It was hard to tell a couple of times as a side-to-size breeze pushed the ball around. That wasn’t fun for the fielders either, and Ross had the poor timing to drop one punt (he recovered it) immediately after Mullen had come to that end of the field to watch.

Also, TE Christy showed he wants to play. He shot in clean from the punter’s left side to two-hand deflect a Cooke kick.

*With OT Damien Robinson not always practicing in 11-on-11 periods, juco transfer OT Martinas Ray got something of a promotion Tuesday. He took all the observed snaps at #2 right tackle. He also did so with a hefty club of tape on his right hand, probably a result of the scrimmage?

Over at left tackle, where OT Rufus Warren has held the #1 spot all camp, competition behind him has intensified it seems. Tuesday it was OT Elgton Jenkins running with the second offense, and veteran OT Cole Carter with the third unit.

*As the posted interview with coordinator Manny Diaz explained, the Bulldog defense did not get good grades from the scrimmage. To say the least, because Diaz referred to a “strong butt kicking”. He seemed to get the message across in pre-practice instruction because the defense was sharper today.

There weren’t many big breakaway plays by the offense, and the defense did force a few turnovers. In 2s on 2s OLB J.T. Gray swooped around from the back-side to swat the ball out of Fitzgerald’s grip, though in a real game it would have been a sack. Prescott himself had an over-the-middle toss deflected, with S Kivon Coman flying over to catch the carom.

LB Gerri Green showed off his athleticism. On a short Fitzgerald throw to Christy, the linebacker was able to race in from behind, leap and with both hands reach around the receiver for a clean break-up…without interfering in any way. A series later redshirt DE Will Coleman pushed redshirt OT Elgton Jenkins back off the line of scrimmage and got an arm up to deflect another Fitzgerald throw.

*Fitzgerald can certainly ‘sell’ a play. What looked like a throw to TE Christy, wasn’t. Instead as both defensive backs swarmed Christy on Fitzgerald’s look, WR Jesse Jackson slid downfield along the same plane to catch the throw. A low throw, admittedly, and at a sharp downward angle given Fitzgerald’s height, but that made Jackson’s dive and grab even more impressive.

If it sounds as though Christy had a tough day, don’t worry. He broke off the line and across for a catch and sharp cut down the hashes for a big gainer.

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