Last year, Khaliel Rodgers was slated to the be the starting right guard for the season opener. But a knee injury derailed that possibility and Rodgers didn’t regain a starting role until the second half of the season.
Expected starting right guard Viane Talamaivao knows Rodgers’ struggle as he returned for the first time on Wednesday after he missed a week and a half with a hamstring injury. Talamaivao has spent practice exercising his healthy muscles on “rehab island” while the rest of his teammates have been mixing it up on the field.
“It’s real tough because you just want to be out there helping the team any way that you can,” Talamaivao said. “Being on rehab island is a little lonely out there, but like I said, I’m just happy to be back.”
But coming back from injury doesn’t mean Talamaivao has earned his starting role back. Instead, he spent Wednesday working almost exclusively with the second-team offense beside Rodgers, whose primary position is now as the backup center to All-American candidate Max Tuerk. It’s a step in the progression of returning from injury and something Talamaivao did not seem concerned about.
“Today was all about me throwing on the pads again and playing football. I was just out there having fun. Ones, twos, threes, it doesn’t even matter to me. Obviously, I’m going to be working hard to get back to full strength and being able to help our team this fall.”
The 6-foot-2 sophomore listed at 320 pounds picked a good day to return as the offense thoroughly dominated the defense. Part of that could be credited to Adoree’ Jackson not being available at cornerback along with a couple of injuries to projected defensive starters.
“It’s fun. It’s real good, especially for our defense,” Talamaivao said. “We challenge ourselves every day. Obviously, this morning was a good period for our offense. The good thing about that is defense can go in and make adjustments tonight. It’s really just making each other better on both sides of the ball.”
And the offense might have something to say to the defense about their lackluster performance Wednesday morning:
“If it takes a little bragging to motivate the other side of the ball then that’s what it’s going to take. We’re going to push each other and get better.”
- Top Skill Player Wednesday: Adoree Jackson
Adoree’ Jackson’s Twitter handle is @AdoreeKnows. After his first practice on offense, it is apparent Adoree’ knows offense and that Adoree’ knows touchdowns. He produced what we’ll call four and a half touchdowns on the day in perhaps the best practice I’ve ever witnessed a player have.
On the very first passing play of the initial team session, Jackson caught a post pass for 30+ yards and likely would have been off to the races with a safety barely touching his rib cage area with an extended arm.
“He’s a ridiculous athlete,” Talamaivao said of Jackson. “He’s a playmaker all the way around. In my opinion, you throw him anywhere and he’s going to make something happen. The kid’s a freak.
Then there was his jaw-dropping possible score on a screen pass. Jackson was dead to rights in the backfield with an offensive lineman late to get out to throw a block, but he used his fancy footwork to put the cornerback on ice and jetted up the sideline where he may or may not have got the ball over the end line before John Houston could shove him out of bounds. Since the offense was working on a set play script, the ball wasn’t spotted, but instead placed on the 8-yard line for the next play as prescribed on the practice script.
One play later, the ball was on the 6-yard line and Jackson got the chance to carry the ball. He showed his toughness, choosing to go up the middle and squirting through for another score. He added a leaping catch between two defenders in the end zone and another pass in the flats that saw him spring between a group of defenders near the goal line.
“I know that he’s going to make something happen, every time,” Talamaivao said. “I have no doubt. I’d be surprised if he didn’t. That’s what kind of athlete and type of player he is.”
Jackson also added a nice non-touchdown catch on a long grab on a post route. The ball might have been tipped by the defensive back (who had good coverage), but Jackson showed his concentration and hand-eye coordination by snagging the ball after an initial bobble. His momentum from chasing the bobbled ball sent him into an acrobatic front flip. The entire Adoree’ Knows Production was fun to watch as he showed just how elusive, explosive and entertaining he is with the ball in his hands.
- Top Lineman Wednesday: Noah Jefferson
The defensive line was down starter Claude Pelon and camp surprise Jordan Simmons due to knee issues, but did get back the big body of freshman Noah Jefferson. The 6-foot-6, 330-pounder was wearing a large brace on his left elbow after hyperextending it last week, but was back in the trenches and going to work.
At one point, Jefferson was in on three consecutive defensive stops. He swallowed up a running back in the middle of the line for a tackle for loss on the initial play and aggressively attacked the ball, trying to get the strip. The next two plays featured runs that Jefferson did a nice job of holding up his offensive lineman and shedding in the direction the running back headed. It was against the third-team offensive line, but it was definitely good to see him back on the field making some plays.
- Top Newcomer Wednesday: Ronald Jones II
Ronald Jones II created a number of strong runs, showing great vision when he had the ball in his hands. He was able to make guys miss with his quick feet and ability to cut back against the grain without hesitation. He had success early in the practice by being a one- or two-cut running back rather than trying to dance around or always trying to bounce it outside as he did early in training camp.
Jones II had a 10-yard touchdown run and two more nice carries almost immediately after in the first red zone period. He also learned a valuable lesson when he tried to make a high school reverse-of-playing-field run. Jones II found nothing on the right side, so he tried to reverse his course and head to the left side. Instead, he was met by a pair of defenders awaiting him reversing field and was swallowed up for a loss.
- Top Play Wednesday: Offensive Onslaught
Wednesday’s morning practice was an offensive slaughter. I counted at least 16 touchdowns along with two other plays that had the potential to go the distance if the whistle wasn’t blown early to stop the play. There very well could have been a couple more plays that I didn’t have time to write in my notes because of how quickly the offense was scoring.
Some of the touchdown volume can be attributed to the team working on red zone scenarios, giving the offense several more opportunities at plays from inside the 10-yard line than they normally would have. But many times it didn’t matter. The offense scored through the air, on the ground and at will.
While Adoree’ had a large part in the offensive production, he was far from the only one. Justin Davis had multiple scores. Tre Madden scored the clincher in the “Final Five” period. Ronald Jones II was able to get into the end zone at least twice. Juju Smith-Schuster, Steven Mitchell and Darreus Rogers of course found their way to pay dirt while junior college transfers De’Quan Hampton and Isaac Whitney getting in on the action as well. Jalen Greene had one of the possible touchdowns after getting behind his man near the sideline.
And possibly the most demonstrative play of the practice was a nice back shoulder pass to Robby Kolanz. The walk-on leapt up and made the catch while senior starting cornerback Kevon Seymour couldn’t get his hands on the ball, falling down and allowing Kolanz to walk into the end zone.