While the running backs and tight ends for the most part yesterday had a good practice catching the ball, it didn't translate over to today. Whether it was the slick conditions or lack of concentration, the passes out of the backfield today were not being hauled down with effective regularity. One exception was a beautiful screen pass to Rich Alexis with his blocks in place. Rich is looking much leaner and quicker this spring and it showed as he galloped down the sidelines for a sizeable gain.
Also looking nice and quick was Jelani Harrison, but that's nothing new for the senior from Compton, California. He ran a 4.39 during pro-testing day, the best of all the current running backs.
Perhaps the group that had the best day collectively was the receivers. All four of the scholarshipped wideouts (Reggie Williams, Wil Hooks, Paul Arnold and Charles 'ET' Frederick) had their way with their respective DB's during a spirited 7-on-7 session. On one sideline route, Arnold completely turned around Derrick Johnson, leaving number 20 with nothing but green field turf between him and the end zone. Paul was an equal opportunity abuser today, also taking Sam Cunningham to task on a pretty stop and go over the middle that had Sam flat footed as Arnold took the rock to the house. ET caught a pretty go route in the end zone with James Sims draped all over him.
It's easy to see why Rick Neuheisel likes Bobby Kennedy. The former running backs coach is having a field day coaching the receivers. He looks enthused and genuinely pschyed about his charges.
The offensive line looked the same as yesterday, with Dan Dicks getting the nod at center, Nick Newton and Elliott Zajac at the guards and Khalif Barnes and Andre Reeves at the tackles. Francisco Tipoti also got to see some action at tackle with Robin Meadow and spelling Newt and Zajac at guard was Aaron Butler and Jason Simonson.
It was great to see Todd Bachert out and working hard. The junior from Mission Viejo can't do much, but he did participate where he could and did agility drills with the trainer when he needed to be held out. There's no question he'll be one-hundred percent in the fall."
Defensively, the ones also looked almost identical to yesterday, with Graham Lasee, Josh Miller and Jerome Stevens with their hands down. Terry Johnson and Tui Alailefaleula both switched out to play in the interior.
The linebackers were a little different, due to the loss of Marquis Cooper. Outside were Kai Ellis and Jafar Williams with Ben Mahdavi and Tyler Krambrink. Anthony Kelley is backing Ellis up, while Will Conwell backed up Williams.
The secondary consisted of Sam Cunningham and Derrick Johnson at defensive back and Jimmy Newell and Evan Benjamin. It's encouraging to see Newell out of red again today, but expect that to change tomorrow when the pads are put on. In fact, a lot of the personnel that played today are going to see either limited or no action when the pads are officially put on for the first time tomorrow.
Rick Neuheisel quotes:
On the weather - "It was another productive day. I was encouraged, despite the inclement conditions that the players were still focused on what the coaches were teaching and still eager to do well instead of trying to stay warm. That's always a good sign and we'll know more as we go into our first day of pads tomorrow."
On Cody Pickett - "He's still probably a week away. I'm expecting to see the more traditional Cody Pickett in the last two weeks. He's going to miss Monday, so hopefully by the end of the week he'll start feeling like his old self again."
On long snapping - "We're trying to develop some depth. When Ben (Mahdavi) hurt his shoulder during the season, the velocity of our long snaps fell off. And we just didn't feel like we had anybody. John Hart was our backup. We're trying to develop some depth at that position and really emphasize our punt game."
On tomorrow's schedule - "Not too much. We're going to just try to get used to carrying our pads again and we'll do a lot of what we call 'co-op' drills, like 3-on-3. In fact we will finish the practice with a 3-on-3 drill to mix it up. We call it the 'Husky drill'."
On Tui Alailefaleula and Terry Johnson - "Both were playing inside today and we might have Terry go outside next week. We are just working with some various combinations inside."
On Kevin Ware and Joe Toledo - "It's exciting, Both are physical specimens. Both are tremendous blockers. We haven't been able to witness that with Joe in a game yet, but given his size and demeanor you expect that he'll be fine. I think we've got a nice little twosome there. It may not be the same type of tight end that Jerramy Stevens gave us but certainly an effective tight end, both of them."
On Derrick Johnson - "I'm really encouraged. He's done really well. And he seems real excited right now, so there's no dilemma there. I think he's going to get better and better. He's full go."
On standout players - "You never say that anybody is standing out in shorts. The game isn't played in shorts. But we are on track. The NCAA mandates that you take the first two days off. And it's probably a good rule, get everybody acclimated. Tomorrow we'll start playing a little ball. We'll know a little more about ourselves a week from now."
On playing in Dempsey - "There was a famous general that said, 'If you fight in the North Atlantic, you train in the North Atlantic'. And while the Dempsey indoor is a tremendous place when we are going to play at someplace warm, we'd like to be outside as much as possible. I don't want to be stupid and go out there just for the sake of being out there and not getting much done. If it's like this tomorrow and since it's the first day in pads, we just might go indoors. But we'll wait and see. We want to be out here as much as possible."
Special teams - are they special? - On the plus side with special teams today, placekicker John Anderson went 6-7 from 37 yards, including 2-2 from the dreaded right hash. On the minus side, punter Derek McLaughlin ran very hot and cold today, booming some punts and then shanking some others. One shank was bad enough to earn some cat-calls from players watching Derek kick.
Deep Depth - With Ben Mahdavi not able to long-snap, Will Conwell and Andy Heater have emerged as the two guys the coaches are trying in an attempt to build depth. As with any new deep snappers, their results varied from excellent to dismal. Expect them to gain confidence and consistency as they continue to snap during the spring.
The Continuing Education of Francisco Tipoti - Francisco is earning his stripes backing up Khalif Barnes, and he's doing it the hard way. Anthony Kelley used him on a straigh rush from around the end, causing Cody Pickett to step up and move through the pocket, where he was warmly greeted by Kai Ellis. As with Eric Shyne, Tipoti is getting a crash course in adjusting to the speed of the D1 game. Right now, he battling through the adversity well.