Spring Practice: Day Six

I expected Friday to be a tune-up practice for the big Saturday scrimmage, but a few surprises were instead in store. The biggest mid-spring move of the year was unveiled on defense, and it's not what you think. Also surprising was a standout day from a defensive lineman who rarely earns a second glance from the rail...

Unquestionably, the news of the day was the surprise position switch of redshirt freshman Kevin Schimmelmann.  He had played his first two years at strong safety, though it was questioned how he would get on the field soon with Oshiomogho Atogwe in front of him.  Atogwe was the Card's best player on the defense last year, and still has two more years of eligibility remaining.  Nevertheless, Schimmelmann is a hard-hitting talent who moves around the field so well that he was being considered as a candidate for the free safety competition right up until the start of spring ball.  Today he was moved to outside linebacker, though if you weren't careful watching practice you might have mistaken him for a nickel back in some special formation.  But from the very start of the practice Friday, he worked out with the linebackers as they ran one-on-one against the running backs in a drill.  Schimmelmann immediately impressed his new position mates with some big wrap-ups.

Some other changes and notes: Ryan Eklund threw for the first time this spring, and showed a surprisingly good day for someone who just two days ago had a brace on his throwing thumb.  Saturday is a big day for the quarterbacks (and all positions), as they will be showing off their stuff to the coaches in an important scrimmage.  Eklund is returning to action just in time, but has no grace period before the important day of evaluation.  Fortunately, he has been taking a lot of mental repetitions with the QBs in the prior practices, and taken part in the drops and footwork drills...  Michael Craven removed the yellow jersey Friday, but did not participate in the practice-ending 11-on-11 scrimmage work.  Freshman Mike Silva continues to get the reps at the strongside "Sam" linebacker position while Craven is on the sideline... Capp Culver removed the yellow jersey and completely returned to action at LB... Calvin Armstrong, Brandon Royster and Gerren Crochet have all added yellow caution jerseys.  Crochet did remove his, though, during several passing drills.

The offense continues to significantly lag the defense, which not only is dominating in 11-on-11 action, but in some instances is taunting the offense.  Linebacker David Bergeron at one point feigned a blitz by darting up to the line of scrimmage as the offense rehearsed playcalls from its own two-yardline.  With freshman quarterback Trent Edwards under center, Bergeron jumped back and forth.  No play was run and Bergeron yelled out, "You don't even have a play!"  Some standout tackles by the defense included Schimmelman and Jon Alston.  One notable interception was also recorded by Schimmelman, who snagged an errant pass well over his head thrown just ten yards away - a very impressive catch.

I'm trying to watch the line play as much as I can, particularly to see how the younger players are stepping up.  Frankly, there are a lot of inconsistencies among the freshmen offensive linemen, and position coach Steve Morton is letting them hear it when the lapse.  In one-on-one drills against the DL, nobody could even approach the protection that Kirk Chambers is providing, though I did see Tim Mattran and Jeff Edwards hold up well on a couple plays.  Drew Caylor, who granted is adjusting to snapping the ball and in the process moving it around a little too much, is surprisingly good in action.  He moves his feet well and has a good sense of balance in pass protection.  On the defensive line, I want to heap a load of kudos on nose tackle Ian Shelswell.  The Canadian double-wide had unquestionably his best practice of his football career, getting into the offensive backfield on several plays.  Saturday will be a good test, but things appear to be clicking for the pigskin novice.

Great grabs once again by Luke Powell and Justin McCullum in passing drills, with Powell showing good separation from DBs and pulling down the long balls.  McCullum is showing his proficiency snagging those high throws that can't be defended at the sideline.  Brett Pierce and Alex Smith are looking like the money men in the redzone, though, as the offense repeatedly threw to the tight end in goalline scrimmage situations.

The running game still appears to be M.I.A., unfortunately.  Nobody can run through tacklers or move the pile, though I did catch some nice movements by J.R. Lemon.  Unlike Kenneth Tolon, who attempts to quickly find open space (often outside), Lemon shows the patience to run behind his blockers and wait for the seems to develop.  It's a tough question which running style will succeed in 2003, though, given that the run-blocking by this young OL is such an unknown.

Up and down day for the quarterbacks, though David Lofton had perhaps his best outing of the spring.  He was more decisive in his footwork and throws, and showed improved accuracy.

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