Despite an early feeling that was more akin to early spring practice than down-to-business fall sessions, the coaches were one the prowl to make sure that intensity was kept up, despite the lack of contact. And as the afternoon wore on, the team seemed to pick up on that feeling, and the result were some spirited 11 on 11 sessions over the last few periods of practice.
As is usually the case, much of the early sessions were devoted to individual work. Wide receiver Chris Henry got a lot of early attention, and he did not disappoint as he showed soft hands on pass catching drills and excellent runs as he finished several receptions. Running mate Brandon Myles, who also sat out last year while receiving less attention, showed excellent speed and acceleration. Additionally, big target Nathan Forse, who has moved inside to a slot position, also showed promise with some nice catches.
On the defensive side of the ball, none of the anticipated changes were in evidence on the day. Leandre Washington was at the first team rob linebacker spot, with Jahmile Addae back at free safety and Brian King at corner. Some of that experimentation may be delayed until hitting begins later in the week, but for now the back seve was pretty much as it was when spring practice ended.
After the individual drills, skeleton passing work (six offensive players against eight defenders) and then full eleven on eleven sessions were conducted. The offense worked out of several basic sets, and worked a good bit on their screen packages.
"I thought they came back in pretty good shape, and I'm really pleased with how the veterans came back mentally," head coach Rich Rodriguez said after practice. "I thought they retained a lot of what we did in the spring, and we were able to move quickly on our installation. With the new model of practices and the lack of two a days, we're sort of behind the eight ball, and that's an uncomfortable feeling. But I was pleased with the mental aspect today."
Of course, many eyes were on the incoming freshmen, who are even further behind the aforementioned eight ball, as they did not have the benefit of newcomer practices as past players had. Rodriguez characterized them as "a little confused" which was to be expected.
"I thought they ran around weel, and they practiced with pretty good intensity," Rodriguez said of the newcomers. "I think our freshman class is going to be a good class, and all of them run well. But they still have to learn what they are doing."
Among those players who don't have as much to learn, several players hit the ground running. Quarterback Rasheed Marshall seemed more in command of the passing game, and threw several nice touch passes. The linebacking trio of Grant Wiley, Adam Lehnortt and Leandre Washington functioned smoothly as a unit, and the offensive line, despite the loss of backup Justin Williams, who has left the team, showed good results form what appeared to be a solid off season of lifting and weight room work.
Single practices continue through Friday of this week.