Coach Dan Mullen resumes the 2016 spring session today. It is the first of three practices in the week (Tuesday, Thursday, Friday), prior to a Saturday late-morning scrimmage. All practices have been closed, a change in Mullen’s policy that was announced last week. In the previous seven springs all practices were open to public and media.
But the coach is not at all shutting his squad away from public view. Mullen is leaving the days that really matter, inform, and entertain most open. Those are the two scrimmage dates, one this Saturday April 2 and again next Saturday April 9.
This scrimmage is set for 11:00am at Scott Field, and should conclude around 1:30; or close enough for fans to get to Dudy Noble Field in time for a 2:04 first pitch.
*There have been four practices held up to now. One came before the campus spring break; and three last week. The latter two sessions were in full pads but not (yet) full contact. So the real hitting could begin this week per NCAA policies on spring football.
That also means injuries will occur, though since practices are closed the scrimmage sidelines will be scanned closely for Dogs either not dressed out or limited to rehab work. There haven’t been any big hurts seen in the early practices, though a couple of first-team Dogs did seem to have some minor dings last week. Neither case seemed reason for concern, and the rehab pit has been empty. So Mullen should have everyone available save only WR Fred Ross, who had surgery the first week of March to fix a groin problem.
*With just four working days done there have not been much in the way of major moves seen. The same lineups for first-team offense and defense observed March 9 has held up. Or at least it has where positions carry over.
That doesn’t include quarterback. Mullen, as noted before, sets his 1-2-3-4 order not by experience or age but GPAs. At least that’s how days begin. Once into 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 it’s a wide-open job for all four scholarship triggermen.
In the utterly-unofficial depth chart to follow, the listing of Nick Fitzgerald ahead of Damian Williams isn’t because we know their academics. It’s based only on who gets the earlier and most snaps with the #1 offense. Ditto the current listing of Elijah Staley over Nick Tiano, though those two are so equal in everything the order means nothing.
Saturday’s scrimmage will be a better way to check status. Probably. Maybe.
*The first offensive line hasn’t shifted a bit. Not during camp, that is. Before it began came the move worth talking about. Two-year starter right tackle Justin Senior was at and is still at left tackle, opened by graduation; and 2015 spring transfer Martinas Rankin moved from left tackle where he was a #2 and redshirt last fall to #1 right tackle ahead of three-game starter Elgton Jenkins.
It’s been a stable quintet so far. There hasn’t been much movement behind them either, though maybe the backup guard jobs are seeing some youth rising to the fore. Redshirt Darryl Williams has been #2 right guard for a while, and now classmate Michael Story—who has worked both guard jobs—was on the second offense at left guard.
*Contrary to suggestions by players, there was no sight of a four-man defensive line last week. The new-for-spring odd front got all the action. Maybe the even-front will resurface as full-contact work begins and more ground-game plays are run, but all indications are this spring is about getting everyone situated in a three-man line.
It certainly has allowed seniors Nick James and Nelson Adams to practice well as the nose tackles. And at the end of last week others took some turns lining up over the ball, such as veteran tackle Braxton Hoyette and redshirt Fletcher Adams. But, those two still played whole series at tackle as usual, so this seems to be a testing process for who can fit in best where.
And as good as he played in rotation last year, Cory Thomas is still unable to knock Torrey Dale out of #1 at tackle alongside James and DT A.J. Jefferson.
*The much-touted ‘viper’ linebacker job deserves the attention. It certainly has been a great fit for under-sized end Will Coleman with the first team, and redshirt Anfernee Mullins is picking it up fast too. But the one to watch now is Trevor Jung.
Redshirted as a juco linebacker, Jung has real pass-rush speed off the edge. But he might be even better in coverage, as one superb practice play showed last week. When another redshirt talent, TE Farrod Green swerved out on a sideline route Jung stayed stride-for-stride and used a long arm to deflect a really well-thrown pass. Athletic matchups don’t get much better in spring ball than those two.
*And while he’s gotten little attention given his huge recruiting reputation, redshirt LB Leo Lewis has grabbed the open outside linebacker job without fuss and held it without serious challenge. Which says something because classmate Tim Washington is no slouch as an outside ‘backer himself, though maybe a little lean for the job as of now.
*With Jamal Peters excused a day last week for family matters, the safety rotation also adjusted accordingly. Mark McLaurin shifted over to the left side more than usual putting him in #1 Brandon Bryant’s place instead of backing up Kivon Coman as usual. It also gave old hand Deontay Evans more turns with the second unit. Peters is back this week and the listed chart reflects more how he and McLaurin played during the 2015 season.
*The much more frequent defensive shuffling, both in order and side to side, has been the cornerbacks. Veterans Cedric Jiles and Tolando Cleveland remain the first pair every day. The fun has been who rotates in behind them and even sometimes with them. Jamoral Graham and juco Lashard Durr have both taken turns with the #1 defense in full-team periods. And, worked on both left and right corners, as have the redshirted #3s Chris Stamps and Maurice Smitherman.
So take this three-deep with a sack ‘o salt because not only does competition continue individually but the defensive staff keeps testing just about every possible combination of safeties and cornerbacks.
RIGHT TACKLE: Martinas Rankin, Elgton Jenkins, Evans Wilkerson
RIGHT GUARD: Devon Desper, Darryl Williams, Michael Story
CENTER: Jamaal Clayborn, Harrison Moon, Brett Armour
LEFT GUARD: Deion Calhoun, Michael Story, Ronald Cochran, Rodney Lacy
LEFT TACKLE: Justin Senior, Jocquell Johnson, Lawrence Brown
WIDE RECEIVER: Fred Brown, Jesse Jackson, #16
SLOT RECEIVER: Malik Dear, Deddrick Thomas, Keith Mixon
TIGHT END: Justin Johnson, Farrod Green, Dontea Jones, Christian Roberson
WIDE RECEIVER: Donald Gray, Gabe Myles, Jonnas Spivey
QUARTERBACK: Nick Fitzgerald or Damian Williams, Elijah Staley, Nick Tiano
RUNNING BACK: Brandon Holloway, Ashton Shumpert, Aeris Williams, Dontavian Lee, Alec Murphy, Nick Gibson
DEFENSIVE TACKLE: A.J. Jefferson, Jonathan Calvin, Grant Harris, Kendell Jones
NOSE TACKLE: Nick James, Nelson Adams, Tre Brown, Fletcher Adams
DEFENSIVE TACKLE: Torrey Dale, Cory Thomas, Braxton Hoyette, Fletcher Adams
OUTSIDE LINEBACKER: J.T. Gray, DeAndre Ward, Allen Perkins
MIDDLE LINEBACKER: Richie Brown, Gerri Green, Kelan Chairs
OUTSIDE LINEBACKER: Leo Lewis, Tim Washington, Josiah Phillips
VIPER: Will Coleman, Trevor Jung, Anfernee Mullins
SAFETY: Brandon Bryant, Jamal Peters, C.J. Morgan, Hayes Walker
SAFETY: Kivon Coman, Mark McLaurin, Deontay Evans, Zac Neary
LEFT CORNERBACK: Tolando Cleveland, Lashard Durr, Chris Stamps, Brandon Davis
RIGHT CORNERBACK: Cedric Jiles, Jamoral Graham, Maurice Smitherman, Chris Rayford