- The first real signs of full-contact football this morning were in a drill with the LBs versus the RBs, one-on-one. Even though this is a veteran group of backs, including Kerry Carter, Casey Moore, Justin Faust and Kenny Tolon, the mostly younger linebackers won more than they lost. The drill simply gives the ball to the back and asks him to run/juke his way past as single linebacker, with about five yards between them. I saw a couple great moves from the runners, and a couple where they could run through or out of a tackle, but these LBs stuck a lot into the ground.
- More fun, though, was watching the one-on-one battles with full contact for the OL vs the DL. It's an old and familiar drill, with the simple goal of knocking down a standing punching bag for the DL, while the OL tries to flatten him in protection. Here were some of the battles: Jeff Edwards stands up Craig Albrecht; Ian Shellswell moves the immovable Jon Cochran backward to get the kill; Kirk Chambers stands up Drew Caylor and later Will Svitek; Svitek shocks the crowd by putting a quick swim move and blowing by Kwame Harris; Tom Kolich puts Casey Carroll on the ground; OJ Oshinowo muscles Paul Weinacht back and back until he knocks over the bag; Amon Gordon fights through Matt McClernan; Brian Head holds his ground and stuffs Shellswell; Svitek beats McClernan after a bad MM mistake, but they go at it right again, and Matt stands up Svitek to a big roar from his O-line teammates... and the shocker of the day, Mike Sullivan puts Julian Jenkins straight down on the ground.
- Some Booties have been clamoring for more info on the depth chart, and who is pushing to start where. Well, this isn't the place to dish out a full depth chart, but I will visit who looks like the starters and where they are being pushed. On offense, there are no surprises. Luke Powell is the one real missing piece right now, but he is still a presumed starting receiver with Teyo Johnson and Ryan Wells. The number of receivers you 'start' really has to do with the formation. That applies to the number of tight ends and backs as well. Brett Pierce, Casey Moore and Kerry Carter lead those three positions, and I do not see anyone really pushing the backs. JR Lemon is pretty special, but I think he needs some games to break through. I like Cooper Blackhurst as a big physical fullback, but nobody is going to touch Casey's starting spot. At tight end, I think Brett Pierce is a lock, but I do think Alex Smith is coming on and is not far behind. Brett is too good to be 'unseated,' but Alex is earning a lot more plays that will come his way. The starting five on the O-line are rock solid, as well. From right tackle to left tackle: Kwame Harris, Greg Schindler, Tom Kolich, Paul Weinacht and Kirk Chambers. Brian Head still looks easily like the most solid backup, and he could play any interior position. Chris Lewis is the clear QB, and nobody is close to pushing him at all.
- On defense, it gets more interesting. I think there is a reasonable battle for nose tackle between Craig Albrecht and Trey Freeman, though Craig leads right now. I see Amon Gordon pushing Drew Caylor on the strongside DE, but nobody right now pushing Will Svitek on the weakside. Matt Leonard is clearly the lock at defensive tackle. The starting three linebackers are still Michael Craven, David Bergeron and Brian Gaffney, but all three are being pushed pretty well by their #2's (Jon Alston, Jared Newberry and Jake Covault) respectively. Covault is someone who gets zero discussion on the message boards, but Tom Williams likes him quite a bit. There is a real drop-off between these top six and the rest of the LBs, though. The safeties are solid with OJ Atogwe and Colin Branch, though Kevin Schimmelmann is making a lot of plays and provides a great third safety option. Leigh Torrence and Stanley Wilson have locked down the corners, though T.J. Rushing is likely the #3 corner on this team right now.
- It gets a little more interesting for the back seven in the nickel. You read above that Rushing looks like the up-and-coming corner, but that does didly for him in the nickel. The nickelback is required to be able to stuff the run, on top of stopping the pass. Right now, Tom Williams sees OJ Atogwe as the clear leader for that role. Thus you see a Jason White or Garry Cobb come into the game roam back at safety, while OJ slides up to the nickelback. The other twist is that Jon Alston does indeed look like the starting second linebacker for a nickel package alongside Michael Craven. That has to have Booties frothing, based on speed alone. The dime package is a little less clear, but is probably where Rushing has his first shot to get on the field with the #1 defense.
- Some big plays on the day: Schimmelmann absolutely crammed JR Lemon behind the line of scrimmage; Colin Branch had the hit of the day when he revved up and laid out a receiver on the sideline; a couple great Alston tackles; big runs from Justin Faust, Kenny Tolon and JR Lemon; defense again sniffing out some of the misdirection 'gadget' plays
- All around, this defense is impressing me with how they are picking up the schemes. They are hitting their assignments, including the LBs knowing when to pick up the WRs when the corners drop back. I really like the unit's learning curve demonstrated.
- In sharp contrast, the special teams work was unacceptable. The punt formations and punt returns were slow and imprecise. Granted, there is much more coaching and attention to detail in the past - the demands are greater - but the crispness you see in other parts of practice aren't transferring to special teams. That crap has to stop.
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