It's hard to argue with what is happening under the revamped football staff at spring practice - players are flying around like it's the last play of their careers.
DC Wesley McGriff and his staff are demanding swarming the ball and the players are giving it to them. OC Phil Longo is accelerating things up to warp speed on the other side of the ball. Those mentalities are leading to plays being made by both sides of the ball, plays that satisfy even the casual observer.
But it comes at a price sometimes.
"Our injuries are starting to mount a little," said Coach Hugh Freeze, "but thankfully nothing that will cost anyone any time next August that we are aware of. And thankfully we are coming to the end of spring training this week."
So here's the latest "list." You already know about DE Markell Winters (labrum tear, surgery last Friday) and of course CB Jalen Julius (broken forearm), but you can add a few to that now.
DE Shawn Curtis is out with a sprained ankle. LB Willie Hibbler, who was just starting to make some strides, injured his knee (meniscus). JUCO transfer CB Javien Hamilton is out with a hamstring pull and today (Tuesday) WR DaMarkus Lodge pulled his hamstring after having a very good spring to this point. TE Ty Quick is out with a shoulder sprain but should be back for the Grove Bowl Saturday.
* In depth chart news, senior Safety C.J. Hampton has made a big jump in the last week and is currently working with the number one defense along with safety mate Zedrick Woods. You will recall that Deontay Anderson started out spring as number one and was then replaced by C.J. Moore who has recently been replaced by Hampton. Where will this merry-go-round end? Nobody knows, but for now, Hampton is kind of the hill at one safety slot.
* The defense has been, and will remain, somewhat vanilla during spring training, but don't look for that out of McGriff's Marauders in fall. They will be an attacking defense. Make no mistake when you watch the Grove Bowl Saturday - what you are seeing then is not what you will be seeing in the fall in terms of pressure, etc.
* The Rebel run game is starting to show some needed improvement, particularly with outside zone plays, which, in turn, helps the inside zone stuff click. The Rebs will still run some power and some pulling, but the zone stuff will be the bread-and-butter of the run game. The difference under Longo? At times, the OL will have wider splits to help create bigger run lanes. At times, only one side of the formation will have wider splits. At times, normal splits. Defenses will have to adjust on the fly. Also, wider splits do not indicate anything that can be honed in on. Interesting concepts, if we understand them correctly.
* So who is standing out on defense? It varies from day to day, but some constant are these numbers 3 (DeMarquis Gates), 95 (Benito Jones), 9 (Breeland Speaks), 10 (Marquis Haynes), 15 Myles Hartsfield, 36 (Zedrick Woods). Detric Bing-Dukes has also shown flashes and both Qaadir Sheppard and Victor Evans, battling it out for supremacy at the strong DE slot, are doing quality work. Given time, CB Jaylon Jones has a chance to be very good as well. As DL Coach Freddie Roach said in his initial interview with The Spirit, "there is enough talent here to win now." Spring is proving him right if they can piece it all together and keep going in a positive direction.
* Converted RB to Safety Jarrion Street is starting to catch on and is moving up the good chain. He is currently backing Woods and doing some good things while still in the learning phase of safety play.
* When Quincy Adeboyejo had a vertical jump of 37.5 inches on Pro Day, he improved his combine jump by 2.5 inches - a big improvement. "At the combine, we ran the 40 and did position drills and then did the vertical," he explained. "I knew is could get more than 35"." And he did.
* The move to DT from DE for Garrald McDowell seems to be one that suits his skills and suits his personality. He is a bit on the smallish side, but he can help this DL in spot play. He was very average at DE from a speed perspective, but he is a relatively quick/fast DT and that has helped him gain traction at that position.
* There was some wait-and-see prior to spring as to how physical TE Dawson Knox would be in the run game. he has proven he can handle it. Today, he took an inside angle on Bing-Dukes and solidly blocked him out of a play that sprung Jordan Wilkins for a 12-yard gain. Bing-Dukes isn't like blocking a CB or safety. He's a big man who was going downhill at the time. Knox got the job done.
* Speaking of tight ends, with Quick out, redshirt freshman Gabe Angel got more chances today and showed he can certainly handle the receiving end of things, catching one TD pass from Shea Patterson on a 10-yard crossing route and picking up 20 yards on another throw over the middle. He showed good hands and good enough movement. He's still a "pup," but he's making progress.
* We've said it before, but it's so exciting it needs repeating. The 2015 Breeland Speak is back! There's a smile on his face and a swagger in his walk. And he is backing up the swagger by making plays every day. Good to have you back, big fella.
* Some youngster from The Palmer Home visited practice today and coaches and players alike all greeted them with high fives and encouragement. Freeze spent 15 minutes talking to the group and they looked to be in awe. Having a heart and sharing that heart with others less fortunate is a big part of this program.
* A walk-on had an exciting day today. RB Keyshawn Wells, a walk-on from Moss Point who looks to be about 5-7, 150 pounds, ran for two scores and put on some Dexter McCluster-ish quick moves to "break the ankles" of some defenders. On one play, he reversed field, made two defenders miss and skirted into the end zone. A mob of offensive players swarmed him as he was coming off the field. Cool deal.
* The left side of the number two OL is young at LT with Royce Newman and LG Jack DeFoor, but the right side is salty and gritty with RG Daronte Bouldin and RT Alex Givens. They can fit out move some people around.
* A.J. Moore is hanging on to the number one Star slot, but true freshman Breon Dixon, who came here mid-semester, is a football player with natural instincts and a knack for the game. he is pushing Moore hard and will play in the fall. As Mike Hilton said as he observed, "23 is just a football player." Hilton should be able to spot one, he is one himself.