Since it was my first day back for fall camp, I figured it would be best to just give a position-by-position view as I saw it, with my standout players at each spot. Lots of players are trying new things all the time in order to give Jonathan Smith and Pete Kwiatkowski the most flexibility possible, so if you read it today - like Coach Pete said, it doesn’t mean that’s where they are going to play.
Quarterback: Today was Jake Browning’s day to shine. The true frosh from Folsom really out-did himself with the finest work so far of any of the quarterbacks since last season. The 6-foot-2, 206-pound Browning was on target all day long, especially on the deep balls. I can’t remember one receiver he didn’t connect with from range at least once during practice. The highlight was a 50-yard perfectly thrown bomb to Max Richmond down the north sideline.
Running Back: Until the full pads are on and they can get to cracking, there’s no real change in a leader here. Dwayne Washington still maintains control, followed by Lavon Coleman. Deontae Cooper is out finishing up his graduate degree, so he should be back by the weekend at the earliest. Jomon Dotson showed flashes, while it was nice to see Myles Gaskin get in there and definitely show he’s got the pass pro skills to keep him in mind for playing time this fall.
Receiver: The guy that stood out to me today - other than the one that happened to be catching a pass from Jake Browning at the time - was Dante Pettis. He’s switched from 87 to 8, and he’s got that Kevin Smith look about him. I don’t remember him dropping a pass all day, and he just looks a little quicker than last year, although the 6-foot, 185-pound Pettis still have a very smooth way of running his routes and gaining separation.
I also have to make note of all the taller receivers Brent Pease has found to supplement the receiving corps. He’s got some tall timber out there now! Junior college transfer Nik Little is 6-foot-5; another junior college player, Forrest Dunivin is 6-foot-4. Two walk-ons, Jamon Jones and John Gardner, are both listed at 6-foot-2 but look big. And all those guys follow the lead of 6-foot-5 Brayden Lenius, the only scholarship returner from last year in that group. Like Jake Browning told me today after practice, it’s like Christmas having all these new faces.
Tight End: I’m starting to take the tight end group for granted, and that’s probably not a good thing. But they are so balanced and skills from senior Josh Perkins all the way down to true frosh Mike Neal that it’s hard not to. Perkins, Darrell Daniels, David Ajamu, and Drew Sample all had at least a couple solid catches apiece, and that’s not even counting the newest walk-on Connor Griffin - who has already been getting raves. A solid group continues their solid play.
Offensive Line: The biggest movement here is at the tackle spots. Jake Eldrenkamp continues to work at left tackle, with Andrew Kirkland, Devin Burleson, and Trey Adams behind him. At left guard, senior Dexter Charles has been getting his work in. Interestingly, Henry Roberts has been working there as well, partnering up with Adams in what could be a nice pairing down the road. At center it’s been Sifa Tufunga, Michael Kneip, and John Turner. Kneip had a rare ground ball during one of Jake Browning’s series that killed a drive, but other than that snafu all three have looked very solid.
At right guard, Shane Brostek completely owns that spot. He rolled Scotty Lawyer on one run period, and I can’t think of a play or series where the junior from Hawaii has taken a step wrong since the beginning of spring. He’s a 305 pounds, his strength is back, and he’s right on track. Boomer Sosebee has been his capable backup since spring, and he’s also progressing very nicely.
I think the biggest battle along the OL this fall will be at right tackle, where Coleman Shelton and Matt James have been getting all the reps at number one. At this point it’s hard to say who has the edge; Shelton started a number of games last year, but missed spring. James really came from nowhere to be one of the real standouts in April. Either way, the position is in great shape. And don’t forget about Big Country, Kaleb McGary. He’s waiting in the wings, ready to step up and be counted.
Defensive Line: This group is pretty consistent. Elijah Qualls is in the Danny Shelton role now, and we’ll see how he progresses during fall. Will Dissly is the man of all positions, capable of playing anywhere along the line, including BUCK. Tani Tupou is also one of those interior linemen that Kwiatkowski will be counting on for valuable reps, and Vita Vea continues to show up on a few plays to really bust things up on the inside. It’s hard to say how many turns he could get in a game situation, but it’s not many right now. But if he can get his fitness up, he could be a factor in a few weeks.
Outside, Jojo Mathis has the one defensive end spot on lock, while guys like Shane Bowman and Jaylen Johnson continue to get plenty of work. Bowman is listed at 6-foot-3 and 273 pounds, and he’s all of that.
Linebacker: BUCK is becoming the catch-all position; I thought I saw at least eight guys that were playing it at one time or another at practice: Travis Feeney, Cory Littleton, Will Dissly, Psalm Wooching, Benning Potoae, Jusstis Warren, Bryce Sterk, Tevis Bartlett. There could have been more. Feeney is fun to watch at the line of scrimmage. Sure he’s only 226 pounds, but he wreaks havoc. I was also impressed with the turns Bartlett took Monday. He plays longer than the 6-foot-2 he’s listed at suggests; he got his hands on a few passes from a couple of different quarterbacks on the day.
Defensive Back: Budda Baker is a little under the weather right now, but he still did all the non-thud tempo drills. Also, like Deontae Cooper, Brian Clay is also in the process of finishing up a graduate degree, so he’s out until the weekend at the earliest. In his absence, Brandon Beaver and Jojo McIntosh were the safeties. They seemed to pair up well for the most part, but they did let a couple guys get past them when Browning was able to connect on some bombs.
Cornerback is looking a strength, even with the dismissal of Naijiel Hale. Sidney Jones has one of the corner spots on lockdown, with Darren Gardenhire and Kevin King also getting a lot of work. Not sure why I would be surprised, but the two true frosh - Austin Joyner and Jordan Miller - got a ton of work with the first and second teams as well.
Joyner is a joy to watch. At 5-foot-10 and 186 pounds, he plays a lot bigger than that. On one pass from Browning to Marvin Hall, Joyner tried to duck in and snag the ball away from Hall, just missing the catch by inches. It would have been one of the more spectacular interceptions I’ve seen in camp in years. I’ve always been sold on Austin being a running back at heart, but with how fluid his hips are and how quick he is in short bursts, I have no doubts now that Joyner will do very well at corner.