Defensive Coordinator Robb Akey likes the perception that his defensive line – which doesn't return a single starter -- is young and inexperienced. Combined, they have a grand total of one career start. But they've been rotating in over the past two seasons and have seen considerable playing time.
Akey said he has been most surprised at the development of 6-5, 250-pound sophomore end Mkristo Bruce who is starting to take on a leadership role after attending an NCAA-sponsored conference this summer in Florida for youngsters with high-potential leadership skills.
Bruce's emotion and high energy are reminiscent of senior safety Hamza Abdullah, and his agility -- not surprising given that he was a high school quarterback -- is outstanding.
As for the actual playing of football, one highlight of the morning was watching the defensive backs shadow the receivers during one-on-one drills. They made the wideouts work hard for every reception.
The quarterbacks, meanwhile, look like they're settling in comfortably. Despite the stinginess of the secondary, there was only one interception -- Abdullah picking off second-year freshman Alex Brink.
His hands and technique have improved considerably since last spring after coming off a medical redshirt year. The Oxnard, Calif., native got plenty of looks from the QBs and nabbed nearly every ball thrown his way. The running backs also saw a lot of aerial action because of tight coverage in the secondary and added pressure from the defensive line.
Coupled with the hugely successful debuts of freshman Michael Bumpus and JC transfer Greg Prator and the health of veterans who were sidelined in the spring, the receiver position now looks to be a strength for the 2004 Cougars.
Murray, by the way, is also penciled in as the Cougars' No. 1 kick returner. But it looks like he'll have some good depth behind him in junior Marty Martin and Bumpus. Both returned a couple of Kyle Basler's booming punts today.
Basler was not alone in showing off his leg strength. Junior Graham Siderius booted both of his kickoffs into the end zone. Freshman Loren Langley did not appear to have the leg on his first kickoff when it was fielded at the 10-yard-line. The 5-7, 146-pound Puyallup native, who teammates have dubbed "Peanut," shook his head in disgust and then launched his next offering into the middle of the end zone.
JC transfer Jerome Harrison has been cleared to practice after waiting on a grade from one class in order to complete his AA degree. The 5-11, 190 pound running back was at practice Thursday but did not have shoulder pads on so didn't participate in all the drills.
Freshman OL Andy Roof, cleared Wednesday by the NCAA, was reported to be one big hoss. In person, he looks even bigger. A fiend in the weight room, he is believed to be the strongest Cougar recruit ever. Time will tell how he learns the system, but from a purely physical standpoint he looks like he could step into an NFL camp tomorrow.
The coaching staff has instituted a new policy at practice that after players make a play they will immediately give the football to the "referee" (a student assistant in a striped jersey). This is because the Pac-10 will be cracking down even more on "excessive" celebrations.
The Cougars will practice in full pads starting Friday.