So I made it out to the last open practice Sunday and I figured I would put together some notes for those who couldn't make it out. I had my one year old daughter with me (FYI: she liked the grass and the flags on the ropes) so I didn't get to take notes like I would like, but hopefully it's informative. My apologies for the guaranteed grammar mistakes and my extreme use of commas that my English teachers used to hate.
First thing of note is that our coaching staff is awesome. The intensity that Coach Strong brings also shows in his coaching staff. These guys are all high energy people that get on the players when they make a mistake, and are the very first person there when they make a great play. I can understand why so many players commit right after they make their visit.
- The highlight of the practice for me was the 3-on-3 drill. This is when I first notice how crazy our coaches are. Ron Dugans and Brian Jean-St. Mary manned the first team drill, and they were all over the place. Coach Dugans can probably still put up a 4.7 forty the way he was sprinting across the drill to congratulate Dom Brown and Jeremy Wright.
- Corvin Lamb absolutely stole the show during this drill. I'm pretty sure he scored on his first attempt every time it was his turn with the exception of once. And he slammed the ball after an ankle tackle that time. He really impressed me with his patience, burst, and ability to run through tackles. I don't see him overtaking Wright and Brown, but if you're looking for the guy that comes out of nowhere and has a huge game. This is your guy. He reminded me of Kolby Smith without the hands, but with more power.
- Another thing that jumps right out is the flat out size of our guys. Calvin Pryor somehow got bigger. Teddy looks like he filled out his arms and thighs a bit (he also looks faster/quicker). The defensive line is 275-plus across the line. Jamon Brown and Ryan Mack are two of the biggest people I've ever seen. Preston Brown looks like an NFL linebacker with the speed to boot. Even Hakeem Smith and Eli Rogers look bigger than their smaller frames used to. Pat Moorer deserves a ton of credit. Also, all of the injured players spent the practice working out with the exception of Mario. Gerrod Holliman and Matt Milton jogged the field while Andrew Johnson, Michaelee Harris, Charles Gaines and others lifted weights.
- Random note for Mike: Titus Teague dropped an easy interception during pass skelly. But I noticed later that he had a cast on his hand. Looked like a thumb injury to me. P.S. His dreads are still flowing and glorious.
- The offensive line will be much improved this year in my opinion. Ryan Kessling has been replaced by Jamon Brown, who is looking much more in shape than he did as a true freshman. Mike Romano is filling in for Mario while he is out. This is a good sign in terms of depth because Alex Kupper was forced to play center last year, which exposed the left tackle position for the first few games. From left to right: Kupper, John Miller, Romano/Mario, Jake Stout, Brown. Big tackles, mobile guards, and a veteran center is a good sign for the line.
- I was probably one of the few fans that wanted to see Will Stein get his starting job back when he was healthy last year even though Teddy Bridgewater had played so well. Obviously it all worked out for the best with Teddy becoming an absolute star. However, I still feel like Stein throws a great ball and that he is a few inches short of being a great college quarterback. Anyway it goes we are coming into this year with two more than capable quarterbacks instead of the unknown we had last year. Teddy looked...well very Teddy-like. Perfect passes to all areas of the field. Extremely comfortable running to his left. He looked a step quicker as well as looking less like he was gliding and more like he was "running" if that makes sense. Stein looked great as usual but there is absolutely nothing behind the two.
- Chris White and Ryan Hubbell will be a force in the short and intermediate passing game. White stepped up his game towards the end of the season last year and is expected to replace Josh Chichester as the starter at tight end. But Hubbell will allow Coach Watson a lot more freedom with formations as well as play designs. Hubbell is a legit 6'5" and he can run and cut well. Watson having a full off season to prepare his offense will most likely show up in how much he utilizes weapons like these two guys. Especially when they line up on the field together. By the way, Gerald Christian could line up at left tackle and pass the eye test. Absolute monster, and he made every safety that tried to cover him look silly.
- Our wide receiver core will be a force for the foreseeable future. Devante Parker is the best route runner I've ever seen. And he makes everything look effortless. Rogers tweaked something during the 3-on-3 drill and didn't participate much after that. Robert Clark is a quicker version of Rogers from what I got to see. Definitely a legit talent. Andrell Smith still looks to be inconsistent and impossible to get a read on. But his talent is still there and he's still a lot taller than any cornerback he will face while here. Damien Copeland, Jarrett Davis, and DeMarcus Topp stood out from the second group. Stephan Robinson looked like a guy that could use a permanent position change as opposed to switching back and forth.
- None of the running backs stood out other than Corvin Lamb but we are legitimately four deep at the position and we will be able to change the pace and have fresh legs throughout the game.
- The front seven of the defense will more than likely be one of the biggest in the conference and maybe the country. BJ Butler was un-blockable and to be honest he made Alex Kupper look very pedestrian. BJ Dubose lined up with the first team and he has the look of a guy that knows that he has to work hard to hold off Lorenzo Mauldin and Marcus Smith (who now wears #91). Brandon Dunn and Jamaine Brooks plugged the middle of the line but they will most likely rotate at the nose guard spot when Roy Philon is healthy. Dunn still plays with an exceptional motor and went after fumbles after the whistle as well as finishing every play like a guy that hasn't secured a spot in the starting lineup, which is something I look for in any defensive lineman. Hunter Stout moved to tackle this year and he is beyond legit. The staff deserves credit for noticing his talent and motor and moving him despite the lack of proven depth on the offensive line. Smith and Mauldin are both in great shape and will more than likely be used on third downs and long yardage situations. They both used their speed and athleticism well, but they didn't fare well in drills that focused on stopping the run. Our run defense as well as our pass rush should be much better with all of these guys having some experience.
- Preston Brown is ready for a breakout season. He has the size to get through the wash, and the speed to get to the ball carrier after he does. He seems to be comfortable being the voice of the defense and spent a lot of time giving instruction to his replacement at SAM, Deiontrez Mount. Daniel Brown looked steady as usual. However, Keith Brown and James Burgess got tons of reps and both look extremely athletic. Burgess had a huge hit in the 3-on-3 drill and the ENTIRE defense including the coaches went nuts for him. Ever wonder why guys don't mind coming here even though they will have to compete for playing time? Keith Brown looked a little timid at times and he received a lot more instruction than Burgess did, which is expected when you should be planning for prom right now. George Durant will continue to get more playing time like he did at the end of last season. And I could see Mount putting his hand on the ground in some situations again also.
- The safety position is etched in stone with Smith and Pryor manning the starting spots barring injury. As I said before they both look noticeably bigger with Pryor looking more like a linebacker than a defensive back. Jermaine Reve stepped into the Mike Evans nickleback/rover position and looked just as average in coverage. In his defense, he hasn't played much football since high school. Kamal Hogan has moved from running back to free safety but he was injured in pass skelly and went to the locker room. Holliman looks a little wiry but he was not happy just jogging the field. Hard to tell if he will eventually line up at tsrong or free safety but I would imagine he will see the field in some capacity when healthy.
- Adrian Bushell and Andrew Johnson should be your starters at cornerback but Johnson wasn't in pads and was during more joking around than weight training. Terrell Floyd manned his spot while he is out, and did well doing so. Titus Teague and Jordan Paschal looked to be the next in line for playing time but it's hard to know where Charles Gaines stands. Adrian Bushell will more than likely wind up on a few preseason all-american lists. He routinely shut down or was in position to make a play on anyone that lined up across from him and he genuinely looked bored doing so. His length and speed mixed with his aggressive play are what make elite corners "elite". The complete turnaround at this position from last year is remarkable.
- It's impossible to really know how the kickers will respond to game situations, but everyone I saw had the leg strength to earn a shot at the starting spot come fall.
It's hard to get much of a feel for play calling and things of that nature at a spring practice but there are plenty of reasons to get excited for. The coaches are able to really teach these guys individually now because everyone knows the expectations of the staff. The team looks the part and has taken on the intensity and energy of it's coaching staff. There's talent all over the entire two-deep instead of just being sprinkled at certain positions. And if you look through every player I noted. I only mentioned 6 seniors. The future is bright. And the future starts this fall.