Wednesday was a great day on the practice field, with the last big contact day of practice before Saturday's closing Cardinal and White Scrimmage. Friday is expected to be a light day of contact, and shorter in duration. Wednesday had a series of drills for the position units once again, though a good length scrimmage for the latter half of the duration.
I tried to give a little more attention to the play in the trenches on this afternoon, as I too easily find my eyes wandering to the receivers and the defensive backs on most days. I came away very impressed with the consistent job that Greg Schindler at right guard. He engages in battles with Matt Leonard - a chore all by itself - as well as defensive ends. He stands a lot of guys up, and doesn't lapse in technique hardly at all. I did see him get off balance on one pass protection, which sent him to the ground, but that was an exception to the rule. As to be expected, Kirk Chambers and Kwame Harris continue to dominate at the tackles, both earning a lot of 'atta boy's from line coach Steve Morton. Morton is a very good teach who tightly engages his linemen, though I note without tearing guys apart in the fashion that one recent OL coach on the Farm was infamous for. The strength of this line still looks like run blocking - one standout play had "Captain" Kirk race downfield and just destroy OJ Atogwe at about the 7-yardline to pave the way for a JR Lemon touchdown run. Tom Kolich played steady, and get a few good words from Coach Morton.
On the subject of line play, I watched the defensive guys as well. Amon Gordon went up against Kwame Harris several times in the scrimmage, which varying results. On one play, Kwame pretty well handled Amon and kept him a good four to five yards from Chris Lewis' shadow. Though on one of the very next plays, I saw probably the most standout play I've seen from Amon in his time on the Farm. He exploded off the snap and levied the loudest hit I've heard on the line this spring. I kid you not - it sent Kwame flat on his back in a hurry. Players and coaches alike were a-buzz after that demonstration. Will Svitek made a nice play later in the scrimmage, when he got his arm out for a saving ankle tackle on a reverse by Grant Mason.
In the interior, some of the younger guys had to step up with Craig Albrecht in a yellow jersey after getting banged up on Monday. That meant more work for OJ Oshinowo, who had both parents in attendance. Ian Shelswell is getting more integrated in the rotation as well, though I don't see him jumping ahead of anybody right now. I did watch Ian, who is a brick wall by the way, move awfully well with his feet with the defensive tackles ran the ladder in practice. Matt Leonard chipped in a sack in a bull-rush that put him in the backfield before Chris Lewis could even react. Another standout play actually came further away from the line of scrimmage, when a pass deflected nicely by Jake Covault (he reached up to punch it away from the receiver) was grabbed by a flying Casey Carroll for several yards. Both players received a wave of high fives and hugs after the play.
Speaking of linebackers, a couple of the younger guys made some plays Wednesday. Kris Bonifas twice burst into the offensive backfield in the span of three plays. The first of which landed him a tackle for loss against Kenny Tolon. Jared Newberry also caused a lot of problems in the backfield when he blitzed.
Leigh Torrence and Stanley Wilson both had solid days, and Calvin Armstrong saw a lot of snaps in the scrimmage as a 3rd corner. He was up and down, making a bad play on a long throw from Chris Lewis to Greg Camarillo but then bouncing back to make a truly excellent pass breakup on the sideline later. As a representative moment of this coaching staff's focus this spring, Coach Mark Banker barked at his boys as they gathered around Calvin to "hustle up and get in and out of the huddle." There is no mistaking this staff's discontent on both sides of the ball with setting and breaking the huddle - just too slow.
I thought the receivers had a really strong day, with many of their best displays on crossing routes. A lot of great snags with very few drops. Kudos on a few great grabs I saw go to Caleb Bowman (three in a row), Justin McCullum, Greg Camarillo and Teyo Johnson. Nick Sebes and Gerren Crochet were both absent, presumably for track obligations.
Darin Naatjes was hurling with the baseball team, which left just Brett Pierce and Alex Smith to tight end duties, but they both were in rare form. Brett had one of the smoothest grabs you could ever imagine from a tight end, reaching up to get a ball with a little too much air on it, but not breaking his stride in the slightest and rumbling downfield. Alex Smith made a great grab of his own later with Jon Alston and Jim Johnson draped on him, but he carried them five yards downfield before he went down. Alex still lags behind Brett as a blocking tight end.
Casey Moore is an absolute load and is tough to handle when the backs practice their hitting and stripping drills. He's the guy who sets you back a couple feet just on first contact. Later in the scrimmage, he showed a nice catch and run across the middle. By the way, Cooper Blackhurst has been wearing #27 for the last few practices, as opposed to the #41 he donned when he initially made the switch to fullback.
Michael Sgroi showed great length and consistency on his field goals early in practice. Our #2 kicker from the soccer team, Travis James, is improving his form and could be serviceable for PATs, but he doesn't have the length to reliably kick a FG beyond the 20-yardline, I'd guess. Not at this time. We also saw some work on punt returns, where Leigh Torrence got good reps and showed well. The job may still be Luke Powell's, though, when he's back in action in August.