Sidelined and working the exercise bikes as usual were senior nose guard Sean Cwynar – still recovering from off-season foot surgery and out for the duration of the spring – and fellow defensive lineman, Tyler Stockton, who continued to operate gingerly with a brace on his left knee.
Sophomore wide receiver Daniel Smith was on hand, though in sweat pants and a jersey as he rests a strained hamstring that's plagued him for the last week (plus).
New to the first unit's early practice tempo drill: 5th-year senior guard Andrew Nuss, who lined up at left guard with returning starters Zack Martin (LT), Braxston Cave (C), Trevor Robinson (RG), and Taylor Dever (RT). Junior Chris Watt had manned the first unit's left guard spot in two previous media viewings, though OL coach Ed Warinner noted earlier this week that the pair had been alternating/battling for the line's vacated left guard role on a daily basis.
Tempo Drill Highlight – A split-backfield of Theo Riddick (left) and Cierre Wood (right) with the former receiving an option pitch from sophomore quarterback Andrew Hendrix near the goal line. Wood's inside motion allowed Riddick an outside lane to the far side – a goal line play with potential if the quarterback could stress the defense with a plausible keeper next fall.
Tempo machinations – The presence of Nuss at "starting" left guard caused a two-man switch along the second unit's line as Watt occupied the left guard spot, thus moving senior guard (and former tackle) Lane Clelland to the right side. Clelland would likely be the ninth/tenth OL in a game if the season started tomorrow. Versatility will be key to his development and potential playing time through the fall.
Converted quarterback Luke Massa again looked solid in our brief practice look, catching a tunnel screen and splitting his phalanx of blockers as designed. Massa will continue to receive tutoring from Alford and offensive coordinator Charley Molnar in an effort to become a viable backup option for a depleted receiving corps.
Catch of the Day – Backup slot receiver Robby Toma with a leaping, effortless one-handed (backhanded) stab of high heat from freshman quarterback Everett Golson. Toma, who maintained his feet and never broke stride after the snare, enters the spring sixth among active returning pass-catchers (16 career receptions), but there's only one person with better hands on campus than the junior slot target, and he won't join the Irish this month.
While senior John Goodman and sophomore Tai-ler Jones appear to have the inside track to starting receiver positions on the outside, it's Toma whose inside presence – even in a backup capacity to budding star Theo Riddick – could help a Floyd-free offense keep foes off balance next fall.
Turn, run, catch…and kickThe bulk of our 30-minute viewing period featured Irish defensive backs, receivers, and running backs working with proper technique on downfield passes. The half-speed drill was highlighted by a rocket throw from Andrew Hendrix to a slotted Theo Riddick who snared the ball at its highest point, and in (leaping) stride.
There's a different velocity when Hendrix throws the rock (there's an element of "catch it or eat it" on any intermediate inside route) – Irish fans will enjoy his time under center…but I still don't think he'll challenge the veteran pair of Dayne Crist and Tommy Rees this August.
Alternating rushers/receivers reeled in sideline routes from the collection of Irish QBs and under the watchful eye of wide receivers coach Tony Alford while in a separate drill, defensive backs were asked to backpedal, turn and run, then haul in an under-thrown pass from Safety's coach Chuck Martin, who admonished senior safety competitor for catching (dropping) an easy sideline interception with everything but his hands.
Finally – a quick foray to the opposite side of the field showed 5th-year senior David Ruffer absolutely drill a 45-yard field goal down the pipes despite an awful snap (great recovery by the holder, who I believe was Ryan Kavanagh, but that could be an assumption out of habit)…Ruffer's kick was later matched by early enrollee Kyle Brindza – who then narrowly missed a 53-yarder to conclude our kicker viewing period.
The Irish field goal, the nation's best in 2010, should again be in good hands.
Of note (somewhat): Football media relations director Brian Hardin showed off a 25-yard toss of an errant practice ball (actually it bounced to the sidelines through the hands of a student manager, who barely slowed an Andrew Hendrix pass). Hardin's throw showed good spiral action...but it hung in the air a bit, not unlike Mitch Mustain's final pass vs. the Irish last November.