First things first - the injury update. A few of the banged up bodies are returning to action, which is good news. Freshmen Matt Buchanan and Mike Macellari are both out of the yellow jerseys and in full contact drills. Kris Bonifas could be back very soon, as well. Emeka Nnoli is still going through tests and awaiting word from the doctors and specialists on his high blood pressure. We hope to know more on him soon.
But the dearth at the fullback position was accentuated Monday morning when fifth-year senior Cooper Blackhurst had back spasms early in the workout. He spent the remainder of the practice flat on his back on the training table, and was not anywhere to be found Monday afternoon. With just fifth-year senior walk-on Pat Jacobs as a healthy and active fullback, Buddy Teevens was forced to make a move. So he brought Capp Culver over from the linebacker corps and moved him to fullback in the afternoon. Culver is donning a yellow jersey, himself, but should be back in action any day. He played some fullback in high school, so he has a chance to help there soon.
The biggest news of Monday was the afternoon arrival of redshirt sophomore linebacker Michael Craven. He ran onto the field midway through practice, for the first time this camp. He had just gotten favorable word on his summer quarter final exams, which concluded on Saturday. The bad news is that Craven not only missed the first week of practice, but he will lose out on much of the benefit of this week. NCAA rules say that all players must go through a fixed acclimatization period, which includes no two-a-days until the sixth day and no full pads until the fifth day. Craven was wearing only the soft "shock pads" Monday, which he will have again Tuesday. Wednesday and Thursday he will have upper body pads, and then Friday he'll join the full-pad party.
The other academic situation to be cleared up is that of redshirt junior cornerback Stanley Wilson. He is expected to be back at practice Tuesday or Wednesday. He will face the same challenges of Craven with the NCAA practice rules. Both will start at the bottom of the respective depth charts and have to work their way back to the top.
Special teams again received a lot of work Monday, in both practices. It was interesting to note that in Blackhurst's absence, the first team wedge was manned by Taualai Fonoti. The punting and kicking was good, with Eric Johnson leading the way again with both hangtime and placement in the former. Johnson also took some kickoffs, but both freshmen really impressed. Derek Belch knocked balls repeatedly in the endzone, with good hangtime and depth. Jay Ottovegio drives the ball a little bit more, with less hangtime, but he often put the ball in the endzone. Michael Sgroi is only taking a few kicking duties, as he slowly works his way back. If I had to pick a freshman kicker for placekicking duties today, Belch would have the advantage. Though one note on Ottovegio's punting, which is not appreciated by hardly any observers at practice: he gets the ball off quickly. For a freshman, he has a quick step and mechanics. Just needs to work on consistency and confidence as he adjusts to the college rush.
The quarterback battle was a big story coming into this camp, and starting Monday the quintet was separated into two groups. Chris Lewis, Trent Edwards and Kyle Matter are working as a trio with more of the passing drills, while Ryan Eklund and T.C. Ostrander are starting to assume duties that include helping with the run drills. Within that first group, Lewis is pulling away in my estimation. He is throwing balls away when he needs to, or tucking the ball away and running. His interceptions are way down, even as compared to practices in the spring. His throws are the most consistent, as well. Edwards has been a firm #2, but he had a tough day Monday. His biggest problem in my estimation is how quickly he is making his decisions. In a normal offense with five and seven step drops, Edwards would be able to better survey the field, but in this offense with so many three-step drops, and the need to get the ball off quickly, Edwards is a little too slow. The camp is not yet even half over, so much remains, but I have to give props to a great job so far by Chris Lewis.
All the QBs are having a tough time getting throws off when this blitzing defense is crashing through the young offensive line. Monday morning was a striking example of that, with sacks galore. Chalk up some nice slashes to the quarterback from Michael Okwo, Julian Jenkins, David Bergeron, Jared Newberry and more. The defense had a great Monday.
In the defensive backfield, more heroics came from the spot of sophomore T.J. Rushing. He has such incredible quickness when he breaks on the ball that he can sit back five or six yards and still make a play for a deflection or INT. Also kudos to freshman Brandon Harrison, who made a few really nice plays in the afternoon practice, both against the pass and the run. Classmate Nick Sanchez has taken a little bit of a step back and is having a tougher time defending the veteran WRs, who are getting their legs under them.
Leading the way in the receiving corps is still fifth-year senior Luke Powell. He is coming up with big plays every practice, and going deep on many of them. Even if the offense isn't fixed in other areas, Powell alone may stretch the field and score from 50 or 60 yards out on any given play. The next fastest receiving threat may be Gerren Crochet, who showed me some nice moves and bursts off the line of scrimmage.
In the running game, Jason Evans again showed several great flashes. But he is doing his damage in the open field, almost like what we have seen from Kenneth Tolon in his early career. I have serious doubts about his ability to run through traffic at his current size and strength, though he looks fantastic for a frosh when he has space. Classmate David Marrero is a stronger runner right now, if you can believe it, and he is showing greater lateral breaks when running lanes get clogged. Please excuse the comparison, but he runs so close to the ground and moves this legs so quickly, that there is a little bit of Barry Sanders going on. Not to say that Marrero is or ever will be that level of player, but he is explosive and finds his own lanes with some great cuts.
Also in the freshman class, Michael Horgan and Patrick Danahy are starting to put things together. The drops they had a week ago are largely gone, and they are getting the hang of things. Tough to evaluate their blocking right now, but the surprise blocking talent of the class is Amir Malayery. He has better feet than anyone expected, and he's doing a great job sealing things off on the left side at OT.
Also on the offensive line, Ismail Simpson is still out, which has pushed Brian Head over to left guard and promoted Drew Caylor to center. Getting Caylor those reps is a very good thing and a silver lining to the unfortunate Simpson injury. In turn, that is forcing Tim Mattran to play center now on both the #2 and #3 offensive line - giving him a lot of work. Mattran's biggest problem right now is shotgun snaps, which he is sending over the heads of QBs far too often. He needs to bring those down or find himself back at guard.
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