Drill 6 is a 7-on-7 set from which passing drills are conducted. "There's no real pass rush, so the quarterback is working with a pretty easy situation," another observer said. "He only has to deliver the ball around the cornerback." Drill 6 has been the primary passing drill aside from some "general pitch and catch reps" that the passing game sees during the winter. "They'll run some hand and route drills, but those have no coverage."
Given this observers tend to show hesitation or advise caution about the progress the players are showing prior to spring practice drills, where pressure and contact are engaged.
Anthony Morelli is clearly the starter heading into spring practice and some observers feel it would take a "miracle" to unseat him given how he closed out the 2006 season. As one observer put it, "Tony has a great bowl game -- no doubt about it -- but the question is consistency. Was that the exception or is it the rule going forward?"
Morelli has been described as "more vocal," "in command" and "confident" since the Outback Bowl. "I think he got the monkey off his back." one obsever opined. "All eyes were on him after he made comments about his [high school] coach, and he delivered in that game. It's done a lot for his confidence."
In winter drills he has been focused on snap delivery with A.Q. Shipley and getting it to be "second nature." He is "working to get the ball from the center to his passing stance a bit more quickly."
One major area of focus is "developing patience with his reads." He has been working on making multiple reads before the pass is delivered. One observer compared it to "when a basketball team has a set amount of passes before a shot can go up. They want him to work reading the routes more and anticipating when windows open and close."
Morelli has also been working on using different "pass velocities for different situations." The consensus is that he improved last season at knowing when to "take something off his ball delivery," but there were still several situations where he "would force the ball by rocketing it in a small space." This resulted at times in ricochets resulting in interception opportunities for the opposing team.
"He did much better with this in Tampa, because he worked on it a lot, but he needs to keep on top of it," one observer shared.
In terms of the rest of the unit, aside from Morelli, both Daryll Clark and Pat Devlin have had the opportunity to take reps with the first-team wideouts. Clark's physique and overall physical shape get the bulk of his comments. "He's is in great shape -- he has great endurance," one observer explained. Clark's arm strength is "impressive," and he has shown he can deliver passes consistently in low-pressure drills, but one observer went on to say, "I need to see him with an end in his face -- what he did against Youngstown and Temple is a lot different compared to his performance against Notre Dame and Michigan."
Continuing that comparison, Clark had a 44-percent completion rate for 52 yards against Notre Dame and Michigan. Conversely, he had a 66-percent completion rate for 57 yards against Temple and Youngstown. Interestingly enough his completion rate against the Irish and Wolverines was 22 percent lower, but yieled only five fewer yards than his combined performance against Youngstown and Temple.
On the season Clark saw action in five games with a 51.9-percent completion rate and 116 yards through the air. "He's pushing himself hard, but he has some stiff competition."
That competition is coming from redshirt freshman Pat Devlin. Devlin has added some size to his frame and is over 205 pounds now. He is "confident in the pocket" and "delivers the ball with conviction." Observers point to his time on the scout team facing the first-team defense as a major benefit to his development. "The defensive guys gave him a lot of credit in preparing them for Erik Ainge (Tennessee's QB). You're either pretty good or you're on your back against Jay Alford, Jared Odrick and Maurice Evans."
Devlin has shown a "strong drop-back and good footwork" in Drill 6 sets this winter. "He runs through his progression pretty consistently," an observer explained. "He hesitates at times -- almost like he over-reads things, but he getting comfortable with the scheme and timing."
The early winter drills have seen a wideout rotation of Jordan Norwood, Deon Butler, Derrick Williams, Chris Bell and Terrell Golden. "There's a lot of talk about the drop-off in overall production from '05 to '06 with the unit," according to one observer. "They are talking about a need to step up and contribute more to this offense. Williams has been very vocal around the [receiver] talent not playing to its abilities, including himself."
Norwood has missed some drills due to his commitment to basketball, but he, Butler and Williams have all been working with Bell on how to get him "more involved as a weapon."
"They have been running what I guess you would call speed sets, size sets and hybrid sets," another observer shared. Speed sets are 3-wide and 4-wide Drill 6 sets with Norwood, Butler, Williams and Bell primarily focused on longer out routes and "bigger pickup potential." As the observer explained, "You sacrifice size, but it's that pick play set to keep the defense out and create a spark."
The size sets will bring in Mark Rubin, James McDonald, Terrell Golden, Kevin Cousins, Brett Brackett and Graham Zug (all 6-2 or taller) and "are looked at more as a red-zone or third-down pickup set."
The hybrid set mixes up the lineup with a multitude of player combinations. "You'll see Norwood and Williams shift out to the wings and maybe Rubin shift in the slot or up inside on the line, and then McDonald on the inner-wing. It gives them a lot of options. The challenge will be getting enough time with the right setups so that they work consistently," one observer explained.
The staff is also looking for inside receivers who can adequately block.
As an observer said, "There is a lot of depth in this group, but it has to be used the right way. If they look to use every possible combo it will be paralysis by analysis and it'll be right back to square one where the unit is not making an impact."