As the warm-up drills came to a close Thursday, Leach had his players gather in a circle and implored them that the day’s theme would be “Execute, execute, execute,” and considering how disappointed Leach was with practice Tuesday, it seemed that his message had an effect.
Quarterbacks Anthony Gordon, a 6-foot-3, 189-pound sophomore, and Casey Brink (redshirt freshman, 6-2, 201) threw passes to receivers before outside receivers coach Dave Nichol took over and led the drill. All the receivers seemed to be moving well, but junior T.J. Martin (6-1, 183) and senior C.J. Dimry (6-5, 213) looked especially quick.
When the outside receivers joined the rest of the offense in a tackle-free 11-on-11 route-running drill, Dimry continued to shine, running routes well and escaping coverage to catch passes from starting senior quarterback Luke Falk (6-4, 225).
The route-running drill included plenty of screen passes from Falk, and later from backup sophomore Tyler Hilinski (6-3, 217), to senior running back Jamal Morrow (5-9, 200), who looked solid despite continuing to wear a yellow “no hit” jersey over his normal red No. 25.
When Hilinski came into the drill, he spent a lot time connecting with James Williams (5-11, 192) on screens coming out of the backfield. Sophomore receiver Isaiah Johnson-Mack (6-3, 218) also got compliments from the coaching staff for his after-the-catch running against the secondary.
Kickers sophomore Brett Schafer (5-9, 174), senior Mitchell Cox (6-0, 193) and redshirt freshman Jack Crane (6-2, 190) spent the early part of practice kicking from between 25 and 45 yards out, first booting the ball from within kicking stands and then later with a full 11-on-11 special teams lineup. Crane especially showed some nice range.
Long snappers junior Kyle Celli (6-1, 240) and redshirt Jack Haney (6-0, 226) practiced snapping to each other and holding the ball for kicks.
Freshman Tommy Park (5-10, 182) got a lot of punts off, generally showing both good distance and hang time.
In seven-on-seven drills once the offense moved from Rogers Field to Martin Stadium, Gordon took snaps from senior center B.J. Salmonson (6-4, 300). When sophomore Trey Tinsley (6-3, 201) replaced Gordon at quarterback, the offense seemed to do a little better, again running handoffs to Keith Harrington (5-8, 194), who had an easier time getting through holes in the defense.
But the star of the seven-on-seven drills with the backup quarterbacks probably was (potentially undersized) junior running back Alijah Lee (5-6, 205). On handoffs from Brink, Lee kept breaking into the open field for large gains. Brink himself looked agile on consecutive keeper plays, causing a defensive coach to curse out his linemen for the lapse.
As the first portion of 11-on-11 drills began, Hilinski lined up under sophomore center Frederick (6-3, 305) with Morrow in the backfield. On the first play, the sophomore quarterback hit redshirt freshman receiver Renard Bell (5-8, 155) on a great quick slant route up the middle of the field.
Morrow also had some great runs, breaking tackles to get into the secondary on multiple plays, whereas Harrington had trouble getting past the line of scrimmage behind blocking from Salmonson and Mauigoa.
Despite the defense’s solid play, Falk did end his turn running the full offense with three consecutive touchdowns — and a marked improvement from drills Tuesday.
First, Williams ran in from 15 yards out behind a great Andre Dillard (6-5, 310) block. Later, Morrow caught a Falk pass in the end zone with a nice extra block from sophomore wideout Kainoa Wilson (5-11, 170) to free him up.
Finally, senior receiver Robert Lewis (5-9, 170) ended Falk’s turn by catching a short pass and bursting into the end zone.
Lewis also made a great play later on when, after Hilinski’s pass intended for the senior was already midair, he fell down and got back up quickly enough to haul in the pass and gain a few yards.