Carlisle bolted through the practice field doors and made his way across the near end zone, stopping to feign a block attempt as one of the punter warmed up his leg.
The Trojan coaching staff might be a collection of some of the best minds in college football, but where they've really excelled both on and off the field is in their ability to make the game both fun and challenging for each and every one of their players. No matter whom it is, every player can relate to every coach and that fact is patently obvious in watching these practices.
The coaches have also developed a great rapport with each other, highlighted by the faux-feud between Ken Norton and Brennan Carroll. With their respective units going against each other every practice, the trash talk between those two coaches has become one of the highlights of each session.
The Early Bird Makes the Tackle: As the first day of full-pad-practice neared its start, it was no surprise that the linebackers were the first group assembled on the field. Kaluka Maiava was the first non-special teamer through the gates and it was obvious from the start that the linebackers were ready for contact.
With just six of them at Monday's afternoon practice – Keith Rivers, Dallas Sartz, Oscar Lua, Brian Cushing, Rey Maualuga, and Kaluka Maiava – they each received plenty of repetitions during each drill. But, seriously, did you read those names? Any one of those guys would be a top-3 player on any other Pac-10 defense. And that's not even including guys like Thomas Williams, Luthur Brown and Clay Matthews Jr.
Pink: While the linebackers may have been ready for contact, the biggest hit of the day came courtesy of safety, Josh Pinkard. As Michael Coleman got outside and turned the corner, Pinkard came up to meet him at the sideline, lowered his shoulder and popped him to the ground.
Most people were quick to point out the hit applied by Pinkard, but few remembered how Michael Coleman got to that point along the sideline. After bouncing outside the tackle, Coleman outraced Rey Maualuga to the corner and left the linebacker grasping at air. Coleman has been primarily referred to as a between-the-tackles runner, but if he's going to be outracing guys like Maualuga to the corner, he's definitely capable of surprising a lot of people with his speed this year.
But getting back to more important matters, after the hit, Pinkard curled around and jogged back up the sideline, hands up by his shoulders, pleased with his hit and receiving congratulations from teammates. I'd give the celebration a seven out of ten. It definitely had the "been-there-done-that" feel to it that you want from a nice hit, but I really think that we could develop something spectacular from Josh. I'm thinking something along the lines of standing over a downed ball carrier, pulling a pink piece of paper out of his sock and tossing it to the ground, stating matter-of-factly, "Here's your pink slip; get off the field." Of course, "You're fired," would be the more direct approach, but the kid they call "Pink" shouldn't be forced to hand over his monthly stipend to The Donald.
Maybe it needs a little work, but it's just a suggestion.
A Coach in Every Aspect: I wasn't at the morning practice yesterday, but I heard that Coach Carroll stayed well after practice in order to work with a walk-on wide receiver on hand placement when receiving a pass. The player had dropped a few passes during the session, and Carroll, unwilling to pass up a chance to coach or talk football, stayed until he got it right.
I was able to see something like that firsthand after the afternoon practice. With reporters and cameramen waiting for the coach in order to get their quotes and face time, Carroll took some time to let the field clear by playing catch with a few youngsters who brought a ball to practice. Of course, he maybe he just needed to get his quota of football throwing in after he was seen perfecting his baseball pitching motion with another coach during practice.
I am just more and more impressed with Pete Carroll as his time here goes on. Every day he's able to show that he has such a complete and comprehensive understanding of the college football world. His innate sense of the correct balance of work and play and his determination to help his players improve is, I believe, unrivaled by every coach in the nation, high school, college or professional.
All's Well That Tight Ends Well: One of the best sights thus far during fall practice is the prominence of the tight end position. Trojan fans who were concerned with the lack of production from that spot last year should be pleasantly surprised during this coming season. With guys like Fred Davis, Dale Thompson and Jimmy Miller, the tight end position is in good hands.
After practice, Dale Thompson shared some of his thoughts on the role of the tight end as well as how practice is going. "Right now, we're just trying to do everything right with blocking and receiving. We have an older group now at the tight end position, so I think we know everything. But we're just trying to do things right."
This fall, Thompson has been a productive piece of the tight end puzzle. "It's going really well," he said. "I can fly around and just play how I can because I know the playbook real well. I don't have to worry about that anymore."
Comparing that to last year, Thompson said, "Last fall camp I played all right. I didn't know the playbook as well, but now I think I know it a lot more. Now I can play both the ‘Y' and ‘F' positions. I'm just trying to do the right things on the field and make plays."
With a new quarterback in the fold, the tight end position will often become a position of necessity rather than one of leisure. The dump-off pass or quick throw enables a quarterback to develop a rhythm and confidence. Thompson spoke about his new quarterbacks. "All the quarterbacks are doing really well. They're picking everything up well."
As for his fellow tight ends, Thompson spoke glowingly of the new additions. "(Anthony) McCoy looks real good. He used to play receiver in high school, so he can definitely catch the ball. Gerald (Washington) is doing a real good job too. They're both playing well."
Thompson has high hopes for his tight end group as well as the offense in general. "I think we have great depth this year," he said. "The guys who have been playing behind everyone who left will be able to step up and make plays just like the guys from last year did."
This season, Thompson has his goals set. "I just want to contribute to the team. I want to get on the field and help the team any way I can."
And as a team, "We want to get to the National Championship."
This team definitely has lofty goals, and from the first few days of practice, it appears they have the talent to justify them.