"We have a lot of development that needs to happen during this spring session,” Riley said before the beginning of spring ball. “We have new starters in significant positions; we need players to feel comfortable in their roles at the conclusion of spring practice."
One of those significant positions is the quarterback where Matt Moore and Ryan Gunderson separated themselves from the pack. And while Riley has not named a starting quarterback each is preparing and comfortable with leading the Beaver offense.
The development and struggles of the offensive line was one of the most interesting stories to follow. New offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh’s impact was quickly seen as the big fellas practiced on technique over and over again often showing up an hour before the official start of practice. Perfection in footwork, perfection in run blocking, perfection in pass blocking, and perfection in the use of their hands is what the unit is shooting for.
Unfortunately, Josh Linehan injured his leg and missed the majority of spring ball. The good part is that most of the lineman learned how to play both guard and tackle. The starting five is set, but depth is not as an injury or two during the season could spell big time trouble.
On the other end of the depth spectrum is the wide receivers who are the deepest part of the team. Mike Hass, Marcel Love, Anthony Wheat-Brown, and Sammie Stroughter all looked to be in top shape. The starting receivers are set but the backups are pushing for playing time each snap.
Joe Newton worked his way back from his knee injury and was almost at one hundred percent. Jason Vandiver and Dan Haines skirmished over the second string spot, a contest that will last into fall. Dan Weis also looked good as he received time at the H-back spot.
The running backs are versatile with Jimtavis Walker and Yvenson Bernard competing for the starting spot. Charles Burnley was one of the most pleasant surprises as he displayed his speed and quickness. Olaniyi Sobomehin provides the beef to open up a hole or give the Beavers valuable yards in short yardage situations.
Defensively, the men in black are set once again at linebacker with seniors Trent Bray, Keith Ellison, and Chaz Scott. The backup linebackers, also known as triple “D,” (Darkins, Doggett, and Darlin) are solid, making the backers the deepest part on the defensive side of the ball.
“Spring will be about gaining experience working against a formidable receiving corps that we have,” Riley said. “I always want to build depth on the line, so that is a key point as well."
The two cornerback positions were some of the most scrutinized parts on the team. Bryan Payton, Rickey Herod, and Gerard Lawson traded time at right cornerback while Keenan Lewis set himself apart on the left side. Lewis will be pushed by the incoming junior college transfers, but don’t be surprised to see the redshirt freshman starting come September. Bottom line is the cornerbacks will be deep and talented when August rolls around.
Lamar Herron slid into the free safety position smoothly and compliments Sabby Piscitelli well in the backfield. Experience from the backups is a concern, but Daniel Drayton, Slade Norris and Matt Sieverson are developing nicely.
Building depth on the defensive line is the number one concern for this unit. The good thing is that, unlike the o-line, the d-line has the bodies to fill the voids. The left end is set with Joe Rudulph, who had one of the better springs of any player on the team, and the experienced Joe Lemma. The tackles are still up for grabs as Siegert and Frank and Smith and Coker battle on the left and right, respectively. Jeff Van Orsow has a lock on the right end, but there is a significant drop-off after him.
Special teams was a focus point as the team worked on kickoff coverage, kickoff blocking, punting, extra points, and field goals at least 45 minutes a practice. Kicker Alexis Serna looked confident as he hit field goals from 40 yards in consistently. Punter Sam Paulescu will be even better this year as he has improved his accuracy and height.
Riley always emphasizes playmakers and the team has plenty of them returning kicks and punts as Stroughter, Bernard, Walker, and a host of others got a shot at the return game.
Before drills Riley specifically set forth the following goals:
• To have the players feel comfortable in their roles
• Develop the players skill set
• Have the players gain confidence
• Build depth on the lines
The coaches and team accomplished three of the four goals. For the most part each player feels more comfortable or at least knows their role on the team. They also know it is just spring ball and if they work hard or don’t work hard their role on the team can change.
Each player that participated is better at one technique, one read, and/or one play than they were at the start. The amount of individual time the various coaches spent with players was very high and the players loved it.
Due to the players knowing their role and improving their football skills they are gaining confidence. All of the aforementioned aspects form a bond between players and coaches, coaches and players, and players and players. This helps team chemistry, team morale, and team confidence.
The one goal the Beavers did not meet was building depth on the lines. The offensive line is only two deep at one or two positions while the defensive line is still trying to see who fits where.
When fall camp rolls around the coaches will have an idea who all the starters will be. Most of the position conflicts will be resolved in the first week but building depth on the lines will be a constant chore and the number one priority in August.
During the next few weeks, BF.com will breakdown each unit. In the meantime, take a look at our post-spring depth chart on offense and defense and come visit us, ask questions, or just say "hi" on the message boards.