Spring Ball: Day Eight

The third week of spring practices kicked off Tuesday with a sunny and windy afternoon at the practice field. Players were mended and rested in their return after Saturday's extended full scrimmage. It was a full-pads practice Tuesday, which offered some subtle depth chart shuffles and several standout plays.

We are now past the halfway point in the spring, and this is when we would typically expect to see some significant movements in the depth chart.  The team concluded a lengthy scrimmage on Saturday that offered miles of "live" action film footage for the coaching staff to scour.  But when players paraded onto the practice field Tuesday, there were no dramatic surprises.  Other than swapping a few left and right offensive tackles in the first week, we have yet to see anybody make a true position switch.  The first team for both the offense and defense remains almost completely unchanged from the first day of practices, with the exception of the receivers and a couple positions (quarterback and free safety) that have continually rotated.

Injuries have come at a number of positions and made some changes in the depth chart, but those are based on available bodies and not necessarily based on merit.  I did notice a few small changes in the depth chart Tuesday, all found in the trenches:

  • On the defensive side of the ball, there has been a set top six players to fill the two-deep at the three defensive line positions.  Three rising seniors have been backed up by freshman Pannel Egboh, redshirt sophomore Matt McClernan and redshirt freshman Chris Horn.  On Tuesday, there was a notable promotion for freshman Gustav Rydstedt, who took Horn's place at defensive end on the second string, with Horn taking repetitions on the third team (with David Jackson and Alfred Johnson).
  • Over on the offensive line, there was a burp late in practice with redshirt sophomore Ismail Simpson taking some snaps with the first team offense at right guard, in place of redshirt freshman Mikal Brewer.  The timing and number of repetitions looked like an in-practice experiment rather than a straight promotion/demotion.  At least, not yet.
  • Also on the offensive line, the left guard depth is heating up with redshirt freshman Preston Clover sharing time at left guard on the second team, which has been occupied all spring by Bobby Dockter.
  • Not a depth chart change, but redshirt junior Gerren Crochet and sophomore Mark Bradford are still solid as the first team wide receivers.  They have held those spots for five straight practices now, which is remarkable given the competition at the position.

When the teams scrimmaged at the end of practice, with full contact "live" tackling, as has been the custom when the team is in full pads, there was some give and take on both sides of the ball.  The defense overall made life tough for the passing offense, providing a strong pass rush coupled with solid coverage.  There were numerous coverage sacks or balls thrown away by the quarterbacks.  There were a few instances when a wideout or tight end got free in the middle of the field, under some zone coverage.  The one great deep ball completed went from redshirt sophomore Trent Edwards to sophomore Evan Moore for a touchdown while redshirt sophomore free safety Trevor Hooper was demonstrably upset with himself for a coverage lapse on the play.  Another standout throw came from redshirt freshman T.C. Ostrander on a play where he rolled to his left and made a strong throw across his body to a receiver down the left sideline.  It was an impressive throw athletically, though equally remarkable was the accuracy.

The screen pass continues to be seen in spots in scrimmages, which is very refreshing for Cardinalmaniacs™ who have missed the play the last few years.  A new piece of the offense that began installation on Tuesday was the option.  Though neither Edwards nor Ostrander will be confused with the most lethal "dual-threat" quarterbacks like Vince Young, they both are mobile enough to do meaningful damage when running with the ball.

Over on defense, a pair of safeties made a pair of stellar interceptions on Tuesday.  Redshirt sophomore strong safety Bryan Bentrott hit a receiver as the football arrived, jarring the ball up into the air, when Bentrott snared the ball and took off up the field.  A little later, it was classmate and free safety David Lofton who put his hands on the ball.  He made a read and break on the ball that had him step in front of an intended receiver with perfect timing for the interception.  Lofton has shown obvious athleticism in this three years on The Farm, which should translate into playmaking ability at safety in 2005, though this was his best demonstration of that ability - put together - we have seen yet.  Lofton remains in tight competition with Hooper for the starting free safety position.

One great demonstration of athletic ability that did not quite make a play came on a running play, with redshirt junior J.R. Lemon bouncing the ball outside to the right.  He was chased from behind by junior Julian Jenkins.  Lemon is running harder and faster than we have ever seen, yet Jenkins nearly chased him down, with a diving effort that swiped at his legs but could not knock Lemon down.  Though Lemon made it to the corner on the run, it was an eye-opening exhibition of what Jenkins can do in his senior season.

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