First Scrimmage Shows Progress

<p>Mike Leach, at the end of the seventh day of spring practice, had a lot to talk about Saturday afternoon. Seven days into spring ball, he has a new contract extension -- and his team's displaying progress. <p>"I think the University and the administration's done a tremendous job and I think everything's headed the right direction," Leach said as reporters gathered for an impromptu press conference. "Just as a University, and a program, I think all the athletics have had a great year.

"The starting point, I guess, was back when they decided to do the new facilities and the stadium. As a result, we sold more tickets than ever before, and I think our teams did a good job as far as coming together. We just need to continue to improve.

"The vision that Chancellor Smith and President Whitmore have got is kind of the cornerstone to it," he said. "Gerald (Myers) and that group in athletics has done a great job too."

Asked if he thought the team was where he wanted them after seven practices, he answered simply, "No. They never are, you know. That's not even possible.

"If you're better, you still work to improve," Leach said. "That never really happens, but I thought today was a good starting point. You always learn a lot from a first scrimmage."

"I think we hesitate out there too much," he said. Parts of this team do look better than he expected, he said Saturday "But I think that from an execution standpoint, there are a lot of good things there."

"There's quite a few guys that do some good things," Leach continued. "You know, we'd like to have more (offensive) lineman, but the second level guys do a good job. They may be farther along than the guys we've had in the past. I see a little more depth, once you get down to the two's, maybe, than there's been – you know, you always have twos, but I think we may have a little bit better twos, now."

A particular bright spot was Robert Johnson. "He did really good. It's kind of indicative of the spring he's had so far – he actually has practiced even better than that (performance Saturday). He's got some bumps, and bruises, so we held him (out) yesterday. But I thought he's really had a good spring. As good as he looked today, it was kind of an average day, for him. The level that he can improve is significant, but he's doing some good things."

Asked about Johnson's performance compared to that of L.A. Reed, who had the best day of all receivers 76 yards on his four catches, Leach said both receivers are, now, "a work in progress.

"They've both done some real good things," he said. "They're both relatively big, by receiver standards. They both run well. The other thing that's been impressive about both of ‘em is how tough they are. They go into those linebackers and get their licks in, and take a couple, and still make some things happen."

At quarterback, both Cody Hodges and Graham Harrell earned the coach's praise. Harrell opened the day with four completions in a row; he made six of eight during the 10-play opening series for 98 yards, including 76 to Reed. In the second series, Hodges went six-for-six, amassing 72 yards.

"They've both done some good things this spring and I think they're both going to continue to improve," Leach said. "Cody (Hodges) had a lot of poise out there today, adapted to situations well. Graham (Harrell), when he got into a rhythm, did really well – you know, that's part of the challenge, to get in the rhythm right away. But when you consider the number of college practices where he's gotten a lot of reps, Graham has really done well."

"Ask me during the fall," he added, when questioned about whether the two-man race for the starting job would stay tight. "None of ‘em are going to stay the same. Between today, and when we start camp, there's going to be development. Improvement, I hope, and definitely changes. So you try to assess those, once you get to that point."

Queried regarding the overall squad's performance and the potential for immediate impact among incoming freshmen this fall, Coach Leach said he expected most of the recruits' contributions to enhance the team's depth.

"I don't have anything specific. I think definitely the freshmen'll provide depth. There's no question about that, and that's always the case, because you know in spring you're always struggling, as far as enough bodies to get some things done. On a rare, rare, rare occasion, with your third group, you can go out and scrimmage. I think I've been able to do that about once every third or fourth year. Being balanced is the biggest thing – you're always short a few bodies somewhere, whether it's injuries, or just how many you've got in your program, stuff like that.

"They'll definitely provide depth. There's not just a position that I'm disappointed with who we have out there," Leach said. "But, you know, if some freshman can come in and take it away from somebody – that's always something we're looking at, too."

Looking ahead: Coach Leach's comments about the first full-contact scrimmage continue tomorrow.


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