With 19 cruel and protracted days remaining before actual football is played inside Papa John's Cardinal Stadium again, my mind - the same one which managed to erase any gridiron-related memories that occurred between September and November of 2007...and which loves taffy - is and will be uncontrollably over analyzing the three days of football it witnessed last week.
It's either that or pound out a couple of seasons of Deadwood on DVD. It's a show that a lot of people have told me I'd like, and while I think the chances are high that I would, in fact, find the program enjoyable, I'm also aware that it was canceled after three seasons, and the knowledge that the series is going to end abruptly and inconclusively makes me feel like it isn't really worth the effort to get into it. I mean, would you watch a movie that you knew going in was going to be amazing for an hour and-a-half, but have an ending that was going to leave you horribly unsatisfied? It's just like college football without the rooting interest.
So basically, I'm choosing to pore over six hours of semi-competitive football for the next two and-a-half weeks. In accordance with this decision, I thought we'd spend some time this morning going over the five players I was most impressed with over the course of the three open practices. Now since contact was limited (l.i.m.i.t.e.d., Campa), no linemen or running backs really had any shot at making this list.
Sure, these observations are completely subjective and based off of three practices that, in the big scheme of things, mean very little, but what the hell else are you going to do for the next 19 days? Start watching The West Wing? Because I'll go ahead and tell you, the ending blows.
Even a casual fan would have been able to recognize that Patrick was a level above every other member of the secondary last week. When he jumped a route, it was a single move, when he hung back a couple of yards, the ball was thrown deep. The natural ability has always been there, and now the instincts appear to be following.
The true freshman's size alone was enough to warrant mention on this list. Even though the lack of full contact made giving any sort of truly relevant scouting report impossible, I was impressed with the way Heyman carried himself during the O vs. D drills. The first time the starting defense took the field together on Tuesday, he was hopping around and smacking helmets, which is exactly the type of thing you want to see out of a young guy who is going to be relied upon heavily right off the bat.
Scott Long is as close to a proven commodity as Louisville has at wide receiver, and his ability to impress in practice has been well documented, but I was surprised by how superior Beaumont looked to the other comparably unproven wideouts last week. He's as shifty as any player on the roster, and his ability to get physical and catch balls in traffic is amazing for somebody as small as he is. He's also a terrific route-runner, which will really speed up the process of getting on the same page as a quarterback he hasn't caught a lot of passes from.
As expected, Hunter Cantwell was two or three steps above all the other quarterbacks at camp, but I was amazed by just how much bigger and more polished Matt Simms looked than he did last summer. Despite a release that would make Vince Young blush, he consistently puts the ball precisely where it needs to be, and gets it there in a hurry. While I'm still not eagerly anticipating the end of the Cantwell era, what I saw from Simms last week has me feeling much better about life after No. 14 than I did 12 months ago.
It felt like every other time I watched a play last week and said, "damn, who was that?" it ended up being Nord. Again, the lack of full contact drills still leaves his blocking ability as an unknown quantity, but I've seen enough to believe that this kid can be a major part of the passing game right now. Gary Barnidge was ready to play as a true freshman, and Bobby Petrino realizing that made the offense in 2004 that much more potent. Unless Pete Nochta or Johnnie Burns morph into Tony Gonzalez at some point over the next three weeks, I'd love to see Nord contributing sooner rather than later.