When you are a third-string player, getting repetitions can be difficult. Some days there might be a handful while other days, particularly during the season, where you don’t see the field except as a scout team player trying to help the first and second teams stronger.
So in fall camp, when third-team players get a few extra opportunities, it is important to make the most of each play on the field. Gardena (Calif.) Serra redshirt freshman walk-on Jalen Jones did exactly that on Wednesday. The diminutive 5-foot-8, 155-pound cornerback played bigger than his size, coming away with back-to-back interceptions.
“You don’t get a lot of plays, especially being a three, you don’t get a bunch of plays coming at you,” Jones said. “For two to come back-to-back is just…you’ve got to step up, got to be ready for them.”
Jones picked off freshman quarterback Ricky Town on a deep ball down the right sideline intended for a walk-on receiver, turning his head early, jumping up and wrestling the ball away from the receiver.
“The first one, coach always talks about technique. I had to make sure I was looking at his hip and stayed on his hip,” Jones said. “I heard ‘Ball’ from the other side, somehow. I turned around the ball was in the air, so I had to go get it. The playmaker came out of me on that play.”
Then the very next play, Jones nabbed another, jumping in front of a deep post route and returning the ball 15 yards before the coaches blew the play dead despite there not being a tackler near him.
“The second play, same thing, bail technique, got out of there, eyes on the quarterback. He threw it, went for the ball, got another one.”
It’s rare for a walk-on cornerback to get two interceptions in an entire camp. Jones did it on back-to-back plays. In comparison, starting cornerbacks Adoree Jackson and Kevon Seymour have yet to record an interception during fall camp.
- Top Skill Player Wednesday: Steven Mitchell Jr.
In the spring, Steven Mitchell was the biggest breakout star. Since he added the “Jr.” to his name, he seemed to have been anchored down in fall camp, but he finally broke out with an impressive practice on Wednesday. He was able to beat his man one-on-one, found holes in zones and when he got the ball in his hands, he was elusive, slipping tackles and turning defenders around with his quick-cut ability (as he did in this photo).
“It’s just it comes and goes,” Mitchell Jr. said. “Today was a good practice though. We were all on the same page. Cody with the receivers, the o-line, the running backs.”
Even though he doesn’t like taking a lot of hits (what receiver does?), Mitchell Jr. was happy to be back in full pads.
“It definitely feels good to get your anger out on somebody.”
- Top Lineman Wednesday: Chris Brown
With Viane Talamaivao nursing a hamstring injury and Chad Wheeler being progressively brought back in the full 11-on-11 team sessions, offensive line coach Bob Connelly has had a chance to mix up the offensive line groupings. Chris Brown, Nico Falah and Chuma Edoga have all seen some time with the first-team unit.
“It’s really good work getting in with the ones, being in the rotation with Max Tuerk, Chad [Wheeler], Toa [Lobendahn], Zach [Banner]. It’s really improved my game to work with them,” Brown said. “It just feels good coming in with the ones and twos and knowing that I have a shot to step up in a game when they need me.”
Brown has seen reps at a couple of different positions bouncing around between both guard positions and also getting some tackle reps as well. On Wednesday, he ran with the first team at right guard during the final team sessions.
“It’s not too difficult for me,” Brown said of playing multiple positions. “I played right guard and right tackle last year when I redshirted. I played left guard and left tackle last year. Coach [Tim] Drevno liked to move us around a lot, but I don’t find it that challenging.”
Brown also had a couple of dominant reps in one-on-ones with the defensive linemen. During one two-rep set against Kevin Scott, Brown, playing left guard, stonewalled the big freshman twice in a row and sent him all the way out of bounds on the second.
- Top Newcomer Wednesday: Aca’Cedric Ware
Tre Madden was held out of all the contact drills on Wednesday to give him a break after two intensive practices in a row. With Justin Davis also out with a hamstring injury, that left a number of carries for the freshmen running backs. Each has showed potential, but Ware was the most impressive of the group. He’s the type of player that constantly falls forward for extra yards and plays bigger with the pads on than he might look in a t-shirt and shorts setting.
“All of a sudden you put that guy…he’s a physical runner in full pads. You see why he was the player that he was in Texas,” Sarkisian said. “He falls forward. He gets that extra yard or two. Sometimes you don’t appreciate that all the time and then you look at the stat sheet and you look at second-and-5 and that’s a lot more appetizing as a playcaller than second-and-7 and I think Ced gives us some of that.”
Ware shows patience when running in between the tackles and doesn’t always want to try to break outside like Ronald Jones II and Dominic Davis have done a little too much of early. Running backs coach Johnny Nansen told Scout that Ware is ahead of the rest of the freshmen in learning the playbook as well.
But don't think Ware can't make defenders miss. In the pictured play, he left three defensive players on the ground -- one diving without touching him and two others that he broke through tackles on.
- Top Backup Wednesday: Michael Hutchings
Michael Hutchings appears to be one of the guys in danger of being stuck in the purgatory of a consistent backup role that comes with every new coaching staff. There’s always a handful of guys that are backups when a new coaching staff enters, but instead of ascending to the role of starter when guys like Hayes Pullard, Anthony Sarao and Lamar Dawson leave, they get jumped by new recruits the staff brings in that they feel fit their style of play better.
But that won’t be the case if Hutchings continues to have practices like he did on Wednesday. He was flying around and making plays on both sides of the field. He read Max Browne’s eyes and came across the formation to steal the first interception of the day on a crossing route.
Browne never saw Hutchings as he snuck across from the opposite side. Later, he had one of the biggest hits of the first day of pads when he leveled Ronald Jones II. Hutchings came out of his shoes to pop the freshman, literally. He lost a shoe on the big hit.