"I tell you what: they're flying around; they want to play," Co-Defensive Coordinator Greg Robinson said. "That's real important."
The full practice gear allowed the team to go live in every aspect other than full tackling. But that only made the defensive performance all the more impressive. The defense got things started early when MLB Aaron Harris grabbed a tipped pass from QB Vince Young intended for TE David Thomas. Young came right back and hit FL Tony Jeffery on a quick slant, good for about six yards. Then, operating out of the shotgun, Young darted for about 25 yards (again, no tackling) on a quarterback draw. On the next play, FS Phillip Geiggar and SS Michael Huff came strong on a safety blitz and sacked Young behind the line. The safeties blitzed again on the next play, forcing Young to dump off to RB Cedric Benson who was met for little or no gain. Huff then batted down a ball intended for TE Bo Scaife in the flat. At this point, the O's best play was Young's keeper, until the sophomore QB hit WR Billy Pittman who found a seam near the right hashmark and took it in from 50 yards out.
Backup QB Matt Nordgren came in for 7-on-7 drills and threw the ball directly into the mitts of backup SS Michael Griffin's -- who dropped it. Nordgren then overthrew wide-open WR Tyrell Gatewood. (CB Brandon Foster immediately received from secondary coach Duane Akina what my grandmother used to call a 'Come home to Jesus' talk.) On the next play, Foster and backup MLB Rashad Bobino came up strong and thumped freshman FL Jordan Shipley for no gain at the line of scrimmage. A few plays later, during red zone drills, CB Cedric Griffin tipped a Young pass intended for Benson that Geiggar grabbed and raced toward the south end zone. Practice ended with QB Eric Foreman's well-placed strike to Shipley but, overall, the first day in pads belonged to the defense.
"I didn't think we played as well as we needed to on defense last year," Brown said. "That was obvious. It's been an emphasis that we need to chase the ball better, be tougher and tackle better. In the spring, and during the first five days, we've seen that."
SE Brian Carter and Jeffery would be your starters if the season began today, Brown said. RS-freshman Limas Sweed is Carter's primary backup while RS-sophomore Eric Enard is listed No. 2 behind Jeffery. That decision is based simply on Jeffery's and Carter's (relative) experience, Brown said.
"Those guys would be the starting four right now and the others are fighting for spots," Brown added.
Otherwise, there has been no separation among other wide receivers.
"Right now, we've just got a group we're looking at," Brown said. "For a guy to play right now in our program, (ranked) in the Top 10, the day he walks onto campus would mean that we're depleted at that position."
Meanwhile, the energetic and intensive Robinson (who still has his game-face on during post-practice interviews) is stoked about the progress he has seen in some of his backups and bristles at the mention of depth problems at DE.
"Aurmon Satchell and Kaelen Jakes have had an outstanding camp," Robinson said. "They're working their tails off. Those two are the backup guys right now. The two young freshmen (Brian Orakpo, Nic Redwine) are working and getting a feel for things. But, right now, there is no way we look at our guys as thin (depthwise). They're performing just fine. They really are. Time will tell, but I really don't think that we've even blinked."
The team's first two-a-day is scheduled for Sunday at Denius Field. The morning session (7:30 a.m.) is closed to the public but fans can attend the evening practice (7:30 p.m.). The NCAA now permits just four two-a-days during the preseason.