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OL David Keller was in a boot on Monday, and it remained unclear how serious the sophomore lineman’s injury was after practice.
“I don’t know – everybody is OK,” Mike Riley said. “Nobody is going to be long term at this point. It is kind of day by day.”
While Keller was not in the immediate running for playing time on the O-line, his injury stabs at the depth of Mike Cavanaugh’s squad during a time when filling the two deeps on the offensive line is a top priority.
Hayden Craig (SO, TE) and Zack Robinson (RS FR, S/CB) sported sweatpants and hoodies on Monday and did not participate in team drills. Neither of them appeared to be in serious pain.
Minus injury related bumps in the road, Monday was a very smooth – albeit wet and gusty – day of practice.
“Today was an installation day,” Riley said. “So we put in another series of plays we haven’t run yet, and we spent the period reviewing what we put in last week and this week so far. We are taking a lot of stuff one step at a time.”
Riley seemed also quite pleased with the progress of his new defensive tackle additions thus far. JUCO transfers Siale Hautau and Edwin Delva made their first appearance with the 1’s last Monday.
“I think they are fitting in really well early on, which is encouraging,” Riley said. “They are (still) learning a new (defensive) language. But as far as their play - the nice thing about them is that they have experience.”
But what about those three guys backing up the down linemen on the defensive side of the ball?
The ‘backer trio of D.J. Alexander (JR.), Michael Doctor (SR.) and Joel Skotte (SO) are responsible for cleaning up after any mess that Hautau and Delva let sneak through their formation – how are they faring, Coach?
“Well I think that the two outside guys have played a lot and had really good off-seasons',” Riley said. “They worked hard and I feel good about them. The other guys, well they are in the middle and competing - we’ve got to figure out some good depth for D.J. and Michael on the outside. So the middle linebacker and the back-up outside linebacker deal is wide, wide open.”
Maybe Skotte’s position on the defense is not as comfortable as once thought. Or, maybe Riley is employing the old coaching bromide -- constantly preaching competition and that no job is irrefutably safe.
Practice Notes – Day Five
Chase Eldredge dressed in full gear along with his fellow linemen on Monday afternoon after being limited for the first week of practice. Eldredge’s return (even if it is tentative) is a boost to the depth chart and softens the blow from Keller’s injury.
In that same vein, the offensive line received no free passes from Cavanaugh today. The seasoned offensive line coach was barking at his players from the beginning of practice until the final buzzer signaled a team huddle. While some of the more – colorful – language may seem excessive to some, there is little doubt that Cav’s ways are tried and true. The O-line looked sluggish as practice began, which drew the ire of Cavanaugh. By the end of practice Josh Andrews, Josh Mitchell, Grant Bays and Michael Philipp were at the forefront of an offensive line group that was punching massive holes in the defensive front four and moving with more bounce.
Storm Woods is quickly becoming one of the most dynamic and consistent performers this spring. With yet another excellent day of practice under his belt, I keep asking myself “What is in his water this year?” The answer is confidence and his cup runneth over. He is lowering his shoulders into defenders more and seems more conscious of his body and where the holes are in the opponent’s scheme. Woods is running harder and faster than he did last year, and it all comes down to confidence established through familiarity with the system. You can see it in his eyes as well as the way he moves on the field – he is becoming one of the most versatile options Riley and Co. have at their disposal.
Brandin Cooks is really the only proven member of the wide receiver corps, and as such he has the responsibility of catching those tough passes, running routes seamlessly and showing the young guys how it’s done. Cooks has been mentoring freshman Malik Gilmore on everything ranging from technique to breaking loose from a defender in those first five yards. It may seem elementary to some, but this development is very intriguing to me, primarily because Cooks developed a very similar “understudy” relationship with Markus Wheaton last year and is already transferring his knowledge to teammates this spring.
Day Five was a great day for senior Micah Hatfield. As the No.2 Slotback behind Kevin Cummings, it makes sense that Hatfield flies under the radar more often than not. However he is developing into a dangerous receiving weapon, and his talent and ability to manage the field and find gaps in zone coverage is impressive. If he keeps up this pace, could he present some competition for Cummings? My intuition tells me that Hatfield is going to erupt toward the end of spring – keep your eyes on him.
Sean Mannion spent most of his time with the 1’s today, and Cody Vaz was working with the 2’s/scout team almost exclusively. Both QB’s looked decent enough, yet some of their throws left a little to be desired on account of the rainy/windy conditions.
If Richie Harrington has one glaring weakness - it is his inability to consistently receive a snap. The young QB muffed two snaps on Monday, and got a talking to from Danny Langsdorf for it.
Notable Note – I did not see Grant Enger at practice today, and Riley did not offer a comment on the matter. Grant Bays replaced him on the interior line at RG.
Trent Bray focused on speed and precise angles with his linebackers. The first hour or so of Monday’s exercises lent themselves to Bray putting his linebackers’ athleticism to the test with fumble recovery drills while enforcing reaction and preparation pre-snap instead of adaptation/adjustments after the ball has been snapped.
Bray also allocated a lot of energy and coaching to various blitz packages, emphasizing agility into the backfield as a key to disrupting the QB and thusly an opponent’s entire offensive plan.
Michael Doctor made the defensive sideline explode after he picked off a tipped pass that was intended for Obum Gwacham. Doctor dove for the turf with the ball mere inches from the green blades of synthetic grass – his fingertips clasped around the top of the ball and he reeled it into his chest just in time.
Redshirt sophomore defensive end Lavonte Barnett had a banner day with the 2’s/scout team. At one point, Barnett stormed past Sean Harlow into the offensive backfield and put quick pressure on Vaz, forcing the senior QB to throw off his back foot – a throw which Barnett then blocked.
Cyril Noland (RS FR) and Kendall Hill (RS FR) are really refining their ability to get a hand on the ball and keep pace with wideouts in the open field. Riley is particularly excited about these two young safeties, as he mentions the pair whenever the topic of “improving players” is brought up.
Steven Christian had a tough day. He was beat pretty consistently during 1-on-1’s and struggled to get his hands up in time to knock a pass down.
Micah Audiss and Larry Scott used Monday as an opportunity to stand out in the crowd of defensive backs/safeties jostling for playing time. Audiss squeezed into the starting rotation ahead of Christian when the offense and defense ran with 11 men and Scott Drew the praise of Rod Perry on more than one occasion.
Dylan Wynn continues to grow as a vocal and physical leader on the defensive line. He also had a great day in the trenches on Monday, alongside Hautau and Delva and Scott Crichton’s replacements, seniors John Braun and Devon Kell.
Blake Harrah is starting to find his niche in the defensive scheme. After spending a good portion of last season battling injuries, Harrah is making a strong push for more looks with the 2’s, and fought like a beast in the trenches today. Noke Tago also impressed, especially when it came to hindering the progress of the run game.
Sean Martin, Steven Nelson and Rashaad Reynolds all had average days – neither was chiefly explosive, but they put together a decent day of pass defense and did well maneuvering around blocking in the open field.
The Gwacham Grading System – Day Five
This was Gwacham’s best spring practice to date. Well run routes, soft yet efficient hands and better closing speed on higher velocity throws typified his performance Monday. As I mentioned last week, I’m grading Gwacham on a 1-10 scale from here on out, in order to better gauge his (potential) transition into the starting split end role. And I’m also a tough grader.
Day Five – Hands = 7
Technique = 7
YAC/Possession Capability = 6
Overall = 7
Injury Report Update – Quick Hitters
Eldredge back in pads and running with the O-line.
Isaac Seumalo remains limited.
Blair Cavanaugh returned to work today and saw a few tosses head his way.
David Keller out – leg.
Hayden Craig out – slight limp.
Zack Robinson – TBD/taking it easy.
Crichton, Zimmerman, Mullaney, Weinreich and Anderson remain out for spring ball.
Running with the 1’s
QB – Sean Mannion/Cody Vaz
TB – Storm Woods
FB – Michael Balfour
TE – Connor Hamlett (TE/H-Back), Caleb Smith (TE)
WR – Brandin Cooks (Flanker), Obum Gwacham (Split End), Kevin Cummings (Slotback)
OL- Michael Philipp (LT), Josh Andrews (LG), Josh Mitchell (C), Grant Bays (RG), Gavin Andrews (RT)
Defensive Line – Dylan Wynn (RE), Siale Hautau/Noke Tago (DT), Edwin Delva (DT), John Braun/Devon Kell (LE)
Linebackers – Michael Doctor (Strong Side), Joel Skotte (MIK), D.J. Alexander (WIL)
Cornerbacks – Rashaad Reynolds, Sean Martin/Steven Nelson
Strong Safety – Ryan Murphy
Free Safety – Micah Audiss