I'll be posting about my trip to Ruidoso over the course of the
next couple days, leading into the last scrimmage of fall camp,
back in Albuquerque, this coming weekend. I spent the weekend up
there and took notes about the experience itself in and out of
practice while visiting.
Note: Whenever possible, I've kept descriptions intentionally
vague when related to possible scouting information. Utterly
crucial scheme info isn't mulled over in fall camp 24/7 (or really
ever) but when afforded the opportunity context has been broadened
or removed. Performance notes, development progress and onlooker
events are included and I took notes on as many people as I
could. Thankfully in this case they're all fairly
subjective and less useful for the same purpose of
scheme...especially when the source is a fan.
Besides, it's just freakin' practice...
I should have all three out by Tuesday (Aug. 11th) evening. I've
included places I frequented for people that have never been. If
they don't have an internet site, you can definitely find them on
Google if you end up visiting.
Day 1: Friday, 08/08/2014: 5am
"It's that time already?!"
The question that football fans say so joyously at the beginning of each season was never said this early in the morning. Having taken stock the night before, I punched an alarm clock and got my semi-graceful, semi-joyous ass out the door....without the approval of the sun or any other vehicle on the road to stop me. Sometimes it's nice to have things to yourself. An empty freeway is quaint when the summer isn't there to remind you that it's there. Leaving the Rio Grande boundary at ABQ city limits (and crossing it again closer to Ruidoso) didn't make me picture the utter fog cloud I ran into on the way out town.
At it's worst, the soggy weather gave me three median strips of highway lines to see in front of me; and thankfully nothing else to introduce the front end of my vehicle to. Two and a half hours was all it took. Even now I realized I would have never, ever seen the view while at my work desk and I was twenty minutes in. We're already on a roll.
8:30am: Ruidoso still looks the way it did when I left it and everything is that much more plush and green. It just has a side of damp to go with it.
Whenever I run into someone from west Texas in town there's no way they can get around the color. The plain white Texas license plates are surprisingly prominent and outnumber the random Zia symbols on tourist savvy businesses. The entire summertime town surge is rubbing the two cultures up against each other in a quiet, understated hum. New Mexican and Texan alike, everyone is happy to be there...maybe a little less so from TRUE locals, victims of another tourist turf breach in another economic phase, but even they keep the ball turning quietly enough without ruffling feathers.
The plain white Texas license plates are surprisingly prominent
I made excellent time - mission accomplished - so I got
coffee at one of the local shops. Sacred Grounds Coffee had a line
in their morning rush and I quickly realized I wasn't in
Albuquerque, "Kansas" anymore. Everything is "slower": the line, the
conversations, the internet connection completely baffling the
poor young counter clerk and her visibly frustrated, just slightly
more high school aged mentor. Probably the only person in
town qualified to wear hipster rimmed glasses was periodically
saving the day with one hand and tending to something else with
There's still a weaving flurry of clerks behind the counter but everyone inside is either slowly sipping something, reading/staring or finding another spot on the menu to glare at while they pray for their turn to come up. It beats the back of someone's head and I was surprised at the number of Texas Tech logos I saw around when my own pair wandered back to the line. Everyone has a card of some kind and not all of them are taking in the register.
I can't complain. Hell, I'm traveling, which was the only thing keeping me from checking my cell phone clock more than once before getting an iced coffee, lemon scone and leaping towards the first practice....door hinge swinging violently behind.
9:20am: I reintroduced myself to my small town landmarks and found out I'm the first car to arrive at the fields that's not walking a dog of some kind. There's people out golfing and managers are setting up the cherry (and sliver) pickers for filming. The film crew hop in and use a few drawstring bags to get little stuff they forgot as they check the cameras up in the air. It's still pretty humid. Across the field the music is kicked in for the first time while I unpack way too much "gear" in the back of my truck's cab. Spanish samba and Merle Haggard? That's...different.
I'm over prepared maybe but I brought plenty of stuff to read to pass the time....all of which is abandoned almost immediately. A mixture of excitement and scenic staring make it impossible to read football stuff and hope to retain stats. How the hell can you focus on reading here? As coaches start to speckle in, the newer additions can't ignore the backdrop no matter how much back beat is bumping onto the field (eventually) and equipment is set up for business.
There's a few smiles around this early in the morning
surprisingly. It's still camp. If you're quick enough, you can
catch a player or two EVER so slightly catching the rhythm of the
practice music while they get settled in. Hey, that's what it's
for. Spirits are doing pretty well and I'm glad to see it.
I watched the specialists warm up and was impressed by their practice range. With a manager ball hawking, Saunders, the scholarship kicker, seemed to have met the standard for scholie spent. At least initially. It's just warmups...but most of them look good and are clearing the small chain link fence behind the goal post itself as he continues backwards.
Players began to emerge in bunches and they slowly sorted themselves to their position coaches.
Friday practice was an assortment of drills and scrimmage-like 7 on 7 in phases. Everyone is going through drills in their respective position areas.
You can hear the most vocal coaches going through the rough patches of installing what could be, and sometimes should be, second nature for upperclassmen. Throw in the freshman along for the ride and you can hear a lot of blunt, direct teaching with high standards.
FYI: If you haven't seen it, there's literally seven to eight stations going on around the field at the same time. It's very efficient and designed to squeeze as much time out (of what's allowed) as possible. Eventually squads were just short of scrimmaging while walking through plays. There was blocking and close quarters work.
Either way, when one half of a "rehearsal" came up against another (which you've seen previously in halves on two separate sides of a field) it started to get interesting. I took some notes.
I couldn't get to everyone as I was limited by my position outside the field. Everyone was also going at once. I gathered as much as I could but the backers and the running backs were on the opposite side of the facility.
WR's: Watching this unit in route running, I noticed how sound all of them were and how they made it count when it went their direction. No drops today during drills. Not one. If it was in the area they brought it in. Some of the freshman are adjusting to the size of the ball/speed of the game and keeping your balance while executing. I'm happy with having the weapons close by.
No drops today during drills. Not one.
O-Line: Lots of combos. The number of people being introduced to the unit have a three fold set of challenges mixed into each other. You have the literal cohesion of the group simply operating around each other, while picking up steps and assignments at the same time, with upperclassmen abruptly adjusting to leadership roles point blank. Even inside your own class that's not as smooth as you think. There's no instruction booklet on how to jump into leadership and doing anything for the first time has a learning curve.
All of it was prep tinkering and smoothing out edges. It's not always pretty, but necessary. That's why they call them drills. That being said, I can't really worry about the line aside from the tinkering. Lenz is constantly grooming leadership out of the unit. If it were easily instant there would be no need to insist on it.
D-Line: The amount of mud the D-line is bringing to the middle stands out. It's physics: there's just that much more mass to fill the middle. That being said the 1's for both the O-line and the D-line were canceling each other out for penetration but this lingering helped win some plays. The O were having a time keeping them at bay. The offense succeeded for the most part.
(Coach) Lenz is constantly grooming leadership out of the unit
At some point the D-line 1's were flat out crushing some of the O's 2's...literally throwing some out of position to get by. Some of the "developmental" players on the D-line showed improvement, sometimes surprisingly so. When coaches use the word "raw" to describe some of the athletes they brought in the past two years, "raw" looked like it was in the rear view mirror for some when I watched them. They are still not out of the woods entirely but I wouldn't be surprised to see one get some significant time...even this year.
QB's: Throws are increasing their zip and pitches have improved - not perfect - but they're up a notch or two. The timing and placement with receivers was worked on and it's arguably the hardest thing to refine. The number of balls thrown in traffic and off-balanced messed with follow through: some bit the dust from defensive hurries.
TE's: The new additions look pretty useful and look pretty close
to plug and play. Returners have better route running.
Not a lot of people were held out on Friday. There were a lot of reps to go with the players that maybe were a little sick. Something had been going around and the close quarters was spreading it a bit.
Ryan Langford, Isaiah Brown, and Chris Davis are good products out of their respective recruiting areas. Their techniques are ahead of the curve in detail and polish. There's more on this list but these guys stick out with having good habits built in places that the coaching staff don't have to touch. Langford and IB both had dropped interceptions that day from good position.
Ryan Langford Bio
Watching the JUCO's adjust to FBS caliber speed is always a theme. Extra coaching on the option and cleaning up either rust or bad habits does show in the transition. They're not powerful enough to sway, just visible enough to be identified. The coaching staff are very emphatic teachers and thorough in touching up most of these cases. Secondary, O-line and D-line JUCO's are all running into that transition with extra attention. These guys can still learn.
After practice several units continued to work and improve. QB's and WR's (mostly freshman) worked on pitch and catch (you can see it captured in this post-practice interview footage previously posted) and the DB's, which had had a rough day, where going over mechanics. You can see the O-line running punishment in the background and DB's backtracking from the other side of the field towards the end of the video.
I tried to get as much together with so much going on. There's just so much to look at.