First Scrimmage Used For Depth Analysis

It was almost one and done for the first fall scrimmage of the Steve Sarkisian era. The number one offense faced off against the number one defense for two series, and then basically shut it down with the exception of some spot playing. I think the coaches know who their first line players are and were more interested in using the scrimmage for finding out who else could help.

They obviously have a process going on and it is designed to last for the long run. This is not a sprint, and they fully realize there is no need in beating up Jake Locker or any of the rest of their proven players. Consequently, the bulk of the practice was spent looking at the twos, threes and fours and trying to figure who can work into playing time as the season rolls on.

With only 105 kids allowed in camp by the NCAA, there are no extra walk-ons and unfortunately that usually includes kickers. If identifying depth was the primary focus then I would imagine they already realize it is still limited in terms of quality. I think this team is probably one more good recruiting class from truly being considered 'deep'. Although they will have additional players joining the team after the first game, you probably won't see any of those walk-ons getting playing time in the near future.

Don't expect any major roster additions, at least for this coming season. The Tuesday scrimmage gave them plenty of looks at every kid in the program in a live situation. Certainly, some kids proved they could contribute, and a season does take a long time. There will be injuries and your depth will be challenged. You have to test everyone just in case you need them down the road.

I thought that the freshman quarterback, Keith Price, as well as running backs Johri Fogerson, Demitrius Bronson and Chris Polk definitely served notice that they are ready to contribute. All had flashes of speed and elusiveness. Price, in particular, proved he is one of the better athletes in the incoming class. Fellow freshman James Johnson, was held out due to injury, but likewise is a special player and is already being groomed to play. Johnson came back on Thursday only to take a great shot from safety David Batts and was slow to get up.

Welcome to the big time, James.

Since spring I have been really impressed with Bronson and he has done nothing but enhance his standing with the coaches. Daily he breaks a long run and he has a great tendency to move the pile at contact. He is low built and really quick into the hole and just keeps going. I'd be real surprised if he doesn't end up in the depth.

Playing Price would have to receive consideration but so would red-shirting him. He could use a year in the weight room as well as studying under Jake Locker and Ronnie Fouch. I felt he was the most exciting young player in the scrimmage.

I thought the three freshmen defensive linemen, DE's Talia Crichton and Andru Pulu, as well as tackle Semisi Tokolahi, show the potential to contribute this year, if necessary.

Defensively, it looked like Batts played a little corner and Josh Gage started for the missing EJ Savannah at linebacker. Savannah was back on Thursday and Batts was back starting at free safety for Greg Walker who sat out due to an elbow ding. Batts really looks the part and is already being tried across the board at all secondary positions. He will play for sure this coming season.

It is obvious the staff have really addressed the depth on the defensive side of the ball. The injury bug kept a number of safeties out of action, but otherwise almost every kid got quality reps. The starting front seven on the defense has basically stayed intact since spring so I was interested to see there were any changes up front with the second group. Those three freshmen are all getting quality reps and show the promise of developing into really fine players. Everrette Thompson, who started a lot last year, is just beginning to participate due to the foot injury he suffered during spring ball, so it has given Crichton and Pulu plenty of opportunities to get quality reps.

A considerable juggling act has been taking place in the offensive line, as coach Dan Cozzetto continues to shake up his troops, searching for the best combo. Drake transfer Nick Scott is challenging for playing time at right tackle and was working ahead of red-shirt freshman Drew Schaefer on Tuesday, and veteran Ben Ossai was seen back at his old spot as left tackle, replacing Cody Habben.

By Thursday, however, Ossai was back at left guard, while Habben stayed at tackle. Ryan Tolar was at center and the two red-shirted freshmen were on the right side in guard Senio Kelemete and Schaefer. I really think Cozzetto will go with these five, plus three back-ups for the start of the season.

The offensive line is still a work in progress and may even change throughout the season as the competition dictates. It would not surprise me to see the competition for back-ups to roll right up until game week.

Obviously Sarkisian wants to have his team fresh for the LSU opener, and beating them up against each other does not make sense. I would imagine in Saturday's scrimmage, however, we will see more extensive play by the first line players, including Locker, D'Andre Goodwin, and the like.

Training camp is like a big jig-saw puzzle, and at this point they simply have all the pieces turned over and arranged by position areas. It looks to me like they have installed a lot more than they showed in the first scrimmage. They wanted to run the football and work against the run by the defense. The offense did have success with the outside running lanes and the defense did prevent a couple of scores by simply good tackling angles, so fundamentally it should have provided the coaches a good look at who is doing it the right way.

Coach Sarkisian is systematically implementing his program. He is doing so with unquestionable energy and the kids have really picked up on it. They like to hustle, and it is paying off in their overall conditioning. He didn't need to beat up his best kids during Tuesday's scrimmage, and resting them will only keep them sharper. He got a great look at his younger kids and avoided major injury, so the scrimmage was productive and good for the rest of the team looking to take advantage of opportunities.

Most of the new kids are swimming with all the daily insertions of the game plan. The variety of things both on the offense and on the defense are quite extensive, and it is understandable that they are in mental overload. But at the same time it was good that they were able to get a lot of scrimmage work in. It will help the staff make determinations on who can play the game on the fly, who can adjust to difficult circumstances and who can handle the pressures that come with playing the game at a very high level.

The kicking game continues to get plenty of reps and there is no question they are going to use plenty of starters on their kick units. They returned both a kick-off and a punt for touchdowns, and Erik Folk is progressing as a kicker, hitting three of four on Thursday. Walk-on kicker Eric Guttorp got most of the action during the Tuesday scrimmage but Folk took over again on Thursday. Folk, Ronnie Fouch and Danny Morovick appear to be getting their timing down as the battery for field goals and PAT's. They are becoming more consistent as a group.

And finally, it was nice to see cornerback Desmond Trufant finally cleared by the NCAA clearinghouse for a course that they had accepted in the first place only to question it right before practices started. The saddest part is that he looks to be ready to play, but the missed time is going to affect his ability to be ready to contribute.

I think that eight or nine players of the 2009 class will end up becoming starters in the program, making it a great success despite the staff having only one month to put it together. Considering that they ended up with 16 of the 19 they signed, and they have almost that many committed for next year already, it is obvious they are working really hard in recruiting.

Sarkisian knows recruiting is the answer for the future, but for right now he is determined to win with what he's been dealt, a la Chuck Knox. I like that and I like the way he is building this team.


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