First, most of the walking wounded found their way back on to the field tonight. Greg Jones, Reggie Hayward, and Marcus Stroud all took part in the practice session. Charles Sharon sat this session out, still dealing with the residuals of his hard fall during the Monday night practice. He did work out individually with two other injury subjects, Quinn Gray and George Wrighster, but none of them participated in the team drills. Paul Spicer was also not involved in practice, and reports are that he is dealing with back spasms.
The team was decked out in pads tonight, but the tone of the practice was more laid back than we have seen to date. So, it came as somewhat of a surprise when the entire team gathered in the north end of the middle practice field and started doing a drill that was shielded from the crowds on the larger bleachers.
They actually ran another Oklahoma drill during practice! Jack Del Rio must have been thoroughly pleased with the way the first one went, so he decided to do it again, this time minus the hype and the electricity of the crowd to deal with.
There were a couple of match ups during the Oklahoma drill worth noting:
Dan Connolly vs. Kenny Pettway: This round was a split decision with Connolly putting Pettway on the ground on the first run, only to see Pettway drive him back into the running back on the second attempt.
It might have brought more entertainment to the masses if they had run the drill in front of bleachers where the fans were actually sitting, but the handful of fans that were in the temporary bleachers on the north end of the field got a nice show.
Now, let's get right to the drills.
11x11 (Part I):
The running backs were the priority in the first session of 11x11 drills.
Fred Taylor looked to be in good stride, although he did run into a bit of trouble when he tried to run inside the right tackle, Tony Pashos, and tried to cut up field instead of following his block. He was greeted by Daryl Smith and Pat Thomas who had both come in to plug the hole that Taylor was trying to exploit.
Greg Jones was looking solid tonight. He continues to work on his cutting, while displaying the same speed that we saw during the practice session last night. On one particular cutback, he surprised everyone with the change of direction, and he left them in the dust before they could make the necessary adjustments. Hopefully, the tact that the team is taking in bringing him along slowly will allow him to be a major contributor this year. It does appear that he is on track to be available for the start of the season, and with the crop of running back and fullback options the team has currently, he should be able to avoid aggravating that knee injury too badly.
Maurice Jones-Drew has been truly outstanding so far in training camp. He is in better shape than he was last year, and it shows in the way he bursts through the line when he spots a small crack. He does not require a lot of room to take advantage of an opportunity, and by the time the defense sees him, he is blowing right by. The only time he was stuffed tonight during the first drills was when he decided to take the ball up the middle. It might have worked against a lesser unit, but he ran right into the belt buckle of Marcus Stroud, and he was not going to escape that one. Stroud buried him on the spot, and Drew clearly realized he was trapped, so he opted not to resist.
D.D. Terry continues to show signs that he might be a jar on the shelf that the team should consider trying to hide on the practice squad. I am not sure if he is quite ready to take up a roster spot, but the team might opt to retain him if they think that they could develop him. He has decent size, nice cutting ability, and a nose for getting outside quickly. He has nice speed and good field vision, and he does not get tackled easily. He has good height, and his frame can carry additional bulk. He is raw, but there is definitely enough talent there to consider keeping him around in some capacity.
LaBrandon Toefield continues to display the same combination of speed and power that has had the team finding ways to keep him around. However, it does not seem likely that he will make it to the final roster this time around as the roster spots for the third best rushing offense in the league are becoming a real premium.
Byron connected with Matt Jones on a post pattern that went for almost thirty yards. Jones showed more fire and fight, working through coverage and going up to bring the ball in. It was the kind of play that he has teased the fans and coaching staff with for three years now.
David Garrard found Mike Walker along the near sideline on a curl route that went for about ten yards. The ball was thrown into tight coverage as Scott Starks was covering Walker like a blanket, but the rookie receiver was able to get the angle on the ball, shield it with his body, and haul the pass in. It showed that Walker is not only a polished receiver, but he can be physical when necessary as well.
Garrard also connected on post routes that went for big gains to both Richard Angulo and John Broussard. When he attempted to go deep to Mike Walker on a go route, he overthrew him by eight yards.
Byron ended the drill by going deep over the middle, connecting with Isaac Smolko in the seam, showing that the new offense is really going to try to get downfield with the Tight Ends this year.
11x11 (Part II):
Ernest Wilford had one highlight during the night practice, and it was a nice leaping catch over Rashean Mathis on a deep sideline pass from Byron Leftwich. It was a decent play in a practice where Wilford struggled to hang on to the football consistently, dropping a three passes, two of them in the end zone.
Mike Walker made a really nice catch on a slant route. He got the advantage over his coverage and made a nice grab on a pass that was thrown slightly over the top from David Garrard. He never broke stride as he made the adjustment to catch the football and turned it into a decent gain.
Garrard came back a few plays later and attempted to hit Walker on a deep crossing route. Unfortunately, the ball was so badly overthrown that it landed almost eight yards behind the rookie receiver.
Marcedes Lewis made a great catch on a crossing route in traffic, showing good concentration as he was caught between two defensive backs. Leftwich forced the ball in, but Lewis showed nice hands in taking in the bullet and not missing a step.
Dennis Northcutt ran a crossing route that went from sideline to sideline. Byron rolled out to his left on the play and delivered a strike to Northcutt who was being tightly covered by Reggie Nelson. The ball hit Dennis in the hands, but Nelson was able to get enough contact on the play to force the ball to fall incomplete.
David Garrard had an opportunity to hit Maurice Jones-Drew on a screen pass on the outside where Drew had nothing but open field ahead of him. Garrard put the pass too far out in front of Drew trying to lead him downfield. Unfortunately, he led him too far, and the ball fell incomplete. Normally this is a play that Drew turns into a big gain.
Tim Couch finally got in for some action, throwing his first two passes incomplete before finally connecting with Alvin Pearman on a dump off. On one of his incomplete passes, the ball was right on target for Mike Walker, but was knocked down on a nice defensive effort by Rashod Moulton.
Byron attempted to connect with Ernest Wilford on a deep cross, but Daryl Smith jumped the route and batted the pass away, showing nice speed and athletic ability in getting there to make the play.
11x11 (Part III):
David Garrard threw a strike to Dennis Northcutt on a deep post route that went for a big gain. He put the ball in traffic and Northcutt did a nice job of hauling the pass in for a big yardage play.
Garrard came right back and overthrew D'Juan Woods on a little crossing route, almost getting picked off in the process.
Dennis Northcutt continued to show a knack for getting open by identifying a hole in the secondary and sitting down in the gap. Byron spotted him and put a bullet on the numbers deep down the seam showing that Leftwich is now looking for Northcutt and gaining trust in his ability to make plays for him.
Byron attempted to go to Ernest Wilford on a deep corner route. The pass was on the money as it bounded through Wilford's hands and ended up falling incomplete. This pass was extremely catchable, and not one that Wilford should be missing if he feels the heat for his roster spot.
The one opportunity Reggie Williams had to make a play during the session came on a quick out pattern to the sideline. Reggie reached up to make the grab on Byron's pass, but the ball just bounced off of his hands and fell incomplete.
With Brad Meester out of the picture, Dennis Norman has assumed the Center position with the first team offensive line. His backup during practice tonight was Dan Connolly. The Center on the roster who ran with the third team was Uche Nwaneri. There were some problems with the exchange between Nwaneri and Lester Ricard, but Norman and Connolly did just fine. Norman looked good out there when he was asked to pull on plays. He has the athletic ability and is actually pretty quick moving around along the line.
The energy level for the practice was dialed down in a significant way. I tend to think that this was by design as they are going to get a little break with only one practice session tomorrow.