At this point the players are focusing on fundamental drills and conditioning sets working their footwork, agility, speed, reaction and overall technique. "There's not a lot of head-to-head action at this stage since the guys aren't even in pads," one observer said. "This is where the players' off-season results are evaluated and the coaches see what they have to work with heading into two-a-days."
Though the sessions are "light" (shorts and T-shirts), there is noticable intensity among players at a variety of positions veying for significant playing time out of the gate.
Though Robinson saw the bulk of first-team reps at defensive tackle (opposite Jay Alford) during spring practice, Johnson returned to the team this semester riding a wave of buzz. The coaches had him start off seeing third-team reps in drills, however. Robinson has "excellent technique and power" and is "among the best leverage lineman on either side of the ball."
Since the spring Johnson has shown he has great intensity, to the point the coaches had to remind him right from the start of preseason that no one had pads on in the drills. "Johnson comes hard and fast on every whistle. He's a natural tackle and a load for assignments on 1v1s," an observer explained.
Back in the spring we reported that McDonald was challenging Jordan Norwood for reps thanks to his size (6-foot-2 and 194 pounds) and consistent hands. In fact McDonald was said to have "the best overall consistent receiveing skills" in the spring.
Since then the tables have turned a bit with the arrival of freshman Chris Bell to campus. Bell has a slight size advantage over McDonald with his 6-3, 205-pound frame. He's a more fluid runner than McDoanld, but McDonald "runs crisp routes and is good at dropping a shoulder and cutting to get his assignment off of him." As one observer said about this matchup, "These guys add another dimension to the passing game with their size. When you consider that (Derek) Williams, Norwood and (Deon) Butler are all 6-foot or shorter, 6-2 or 6-3 adds a lot."
Gerald Cadogan vs. Rich Ohrnberger
The left guard position is expected to see two inexperienced, but talented linemen square off this preseason. Cadogan has held the starting position through the off-season thanks to his footwork and hands. However, Ohrnberger has shown he has come to play.
Ohrnberger "has been all go since drills started — he looks hungry." Cadogan has a size advantage at 6-5, 300 pounds to Ohrnberger's 6-2, 290 pounds, but observers feel that intensity and drive will play a major role in determining the victor in this battle.
With Levi Brown back at the left tackle position after allowing Auletta to man the spot most of the spring, Auletta is now expected to head back to the right tackle spot. Both Auletta and Shaw are strong and have shown they can handle pocket pressure. However, Shaw has been consistently named among the "strongest players" on the team. Where Shaw's strength is his power, Auletta depends on his footwork to get the upperhand on assignments.
"This is going to be a tough one to call. Shaw is the senior and his power off the blocks is mindblowing at times. He doesn't have the refined technique of Auletta, though, so which approach works better will be interesting to see," an observer explained.
The term "battles" may be a bit too generous when it comes to the linebackers, given that the starting line up is locked up — so we'll call them skirmishes. The backups for the linebackers are getting strong praise in their "no-quit, all-out" attitude through the start of preseason.
Sean Lee, Jerome Hayes and Dontey Brown have all received strong words for their aggression in drills and their attention to detail. As one observer put it, "These guys are learning from the best [linebacker unit] in the country, they know if they quit they're dead. They're trying to keep up with the vets and it is paying off for them."
Hayes in particular has received significant praise for his conditioning and the refinement of his technique. "He's a better, smarter player. His reads are better and he's up on those toes."
Stay tuned to FightOnState.com for more practice reports and player updates.