Getting Better

Spring training is always a work in progress, leaving the old behind and and bringing in the new. To this point in spring, about 2/3 of the way to the finish line, Coach Hugh Freeze is happy with the overall progress being made.

"Practice has been going really well. I think we are getting better at a lot of spots," noted Freeze. "I wish we were healthier, but that's not going to change much.

"In the last scrimmage, we did a lot of god things, on both sides of the ball. The offense was able to score some points and sustain some drives and the defense was physical. We are improving and a lot of it has to do with great competition at a lot of spots. Competition has made us better."

(Freeze mentioned TB Jordan Wilkins, WR Cody Core, TB Eugene Brazley and WR Markell Pack are returning to practice and MLB/DE C.J. Johnson will miss a couple of days with a minor ankle injury.)

Specifically, Hugh was asked about the progress of WR Derrick Jones, who seems to have finally found a home.

"I think Derick can be a very, very impactful player for us. He has shown great things - he's fast and he runs good routes, but he needs more consistency in catching the deep ball," Freeze noted. "He wins a lot of routes, but he needs to start going and getting the ball on deep throws, the catches the great ones make. The good thing is that he wants to be great and expects to be great. We can coach him hard and he practices hard. I think he will be one of the surprises in fall."

Rover Mike Hilton is out for the rest of spring with a broken thumb and subsequent surgery. In his place, a committee is at work.

"The most pleasant surprise of the spring, the most improved guy back there is C.J. Hampton. From the fall until now, it's like night and day," Hugh allowed. "The Moore brothers are back there and Chief (Brown) is getting back in the swing now. We have options back there, good options."

Prior to spring, QB/TE Jeremy Liggins was moved to left tackle.

"He's really athletic. Right now the game is moving fast for him. If the defense would stay in one look, he'd do great, but with the looks he's facing, plus our daily installs, he's spinning a bit. There's no question he can be good. We can always use him in others ways too - he's proven that," Freeze said. "His run blocking has surprised us in the zone game. His second step gets on the ground so fast and he's very athletic.

"He is a total team guy who will help this team any way he can. He just wants to play. We can play him in multiple positions and we know he will produce or us."

Staying with the OL theme, Freeze said the most improved is redshirt freshman Jordan Sims.

"Jordan has lost 60 pounds and it has helped him immensely. We always knew he had great feet, but now he has committed himself to the nutrition program and is now at a good weight. It has changed him for the better as a football player," added Hugh. "He feels good about himself and it's showing."

Nobody in the media ever asks about Husky Tony Conner. Why? Because he's quiet and steady and just does his job.

"He's one of the most consistent players we have had in this program. Tony does his job over and over and over and over and does it well. He's never in the limelight - he is just a football player," said Hugh. "He has gotten stronger, but we want him to lose about 6-8 pounds and change his body a little. He's also on a nutrition program. We want him around 215 and he's a little over 220 now."

Another player fans want to know about is RS frosh Sammie Epps.

"He just has to get more consistent. You see flashes of excellence and greatness, but he's still young and learning," Freeze added.

Freshman All-American DE Marquis Haynes has added some strength and that's helping his game.

"Marquis is so talented. We'd like him bigger, but he's quick twitched and hard to handle off the edge. His extra strength has allowed him to condense the gaps in the run game and that's helped his game," Freeze noted. "The most improved up front on defense is Fadol Brown - he's had a tremendous spring."

A newcomer who has impressed is DT D.J. Jones.

"There is a play in the last scrimmage where he turns and runs downfield to run down a running back," said Hugh. "He needs work on technique, but he's explosive and quick twitched. He can play nose or three technique. When Robert Nkemdiche and D.J. are on the field at the same time, we stay away from gap stuff - it's all zone. They are hard to handle. Then we go with Issac Gross and Woody Hamilton, who give you a different look. Breeland (Speaks) can be special as well."

"Terry Caldwell is also showing promise. Right now, we know he can help us on special teams. He's got a lot to learn, he can run and he is physical and he's getting better."

Kendrick Doss has been moved from QB to safety.

"We were honest with him. We just did not see him playing QB here," Freeze added. "He may want to play QB so badly he may transfer somewhere, but we understand that too. He's giving safety a shot for now though. We'll see."

In the last scrimmage, Freeze said Ryan Buchanan graded the best of the QBs, but all three graded well and did some good things.

Freeze is not naming a leader this spring.

OM Spirit Top Stories