While I'm not naive enough to believe that how things were done on Thursday is how they'll be done for the next four weeks, I came away from my first Steve Kragthorpe practice impressed.
The practice had a good flow to it, with not much standing around and a fairly high level of intensity. Each unit worked separately for the first hour or so, and Koach spent some quality time with each before the 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills that ended practice.
If there was a star of the first day it had to have been Willie Williams, who fans were ogling like a 12-year-old on the set of Baywatch (Baywatch references are still relevant right?).
WWII was about as impressive as a linebacker can be in a helmets only practice. The guy is an absolute specimen and got what was easily the most noticeable crowd reaction of the day when he hit the blocking sled for the first time and knocked it five or six feet in the air. He also showed he possesses much more quickness than I'd had him pegged for when he made a pair of great breaks and broke up two passes during the 11-on-11 workouts.
I understand that coaches are supposed to be stern and intimidating during these first few days of practice, but the faces of the defensive guys gave them away. Everyone seems to realize that we have something special in #7.
Brian Brohm, to put it bluntly, did not have a good day. I'm not saying that his senior season is going to be a disappointment, or that Hunter Cantwell (who had a fantastic day) should be given a chance to start, I'm simply saying that on this one particular day Brian wasn't sharp.
His ball waddled on more than one occasion and he uncharacteristically missed some guys tall on 10-yard out and slant routes. Again, I think that Brohm is the best quarterback in the country and that he'd going to have a tremendous senior season, but the first day of practice didn't belong to him.
As I mentioned earlier, Hunter Cantwell looked extremely sharp. The cannon was on full display as he put the ball wherever he wanted to for two hours.
Another guy with a rocket for an arm is Matt Simms, unfortunately the way he uses it makes me want to throw up more than Gary Barnidge (who yacked three times about an hour into practice). Simms' sidearm throwing style is equally disturbing in person, but what is perhaps even more unorthodox is how he holds the ball stomach-high during his drop. The first thing quarterbacks are taught during the wee days of flag football practice is to bring the ball up to your ear after you take the snap, but Simms still holds and throws the ball like a fifth-grader trying to adjust to shoulder pads.
Despite all this, more times than not the kid gets the ball where it needs to go, and in a very timely fashion. Simms got to take a couple of reps during 7-on-7, and though he did appear to be overthrowing a couple of times (it was his first collegiate practice after all), I came away more impressed with him than I thought I would.
As expected, Tyler Wolfe worked as the third-stringer as the battle for the 2009 starting job officially kicked off (I say this jokingly, even though there's probably a decent amount of truth to the statement). You can see why Jeff Brohm likes Wolfe, he's yet another Louisville quarterback with a big and accurate arm, and he's going to very hard to beat out once Hunter Cantwell takes his game to the league.
Though I fear he'll never take a meaningful snap, I like the way South Oldham product Caleb Newton throws the ball. If nothing else, he's good for the receivers.
Speaking of the receivers, have I mentioned that I love Scott Long? Number 84 was near flawless in the early drills and then was the standout receiver during 7-on-7 and 11-on-11. The only time Long drew heat from the new coaching staff was when he got caught walking (not jogging) to the sidelines after a play.
Less impressive was Mario Urrutia who dropped six passes during the offense vs. defense exercises. Though harsh criticism is a bit unfair since he had the ball thrown his way more than anyone else on the field, All-American receivers shouldn't drop some of the balls he did, even in early practices.
I think the problem may have been that he didn't have Harry Douglas out there with him, which is sort of like asking Luigi to fix a sink without Mario. HD caught passes for the first hour of practice, but spent the last serving mostly as a mentor to the younger guys, particularly Doug Beaumont (who I'm officially big on). With such a plethora of young talent at the receiver position, having a guy dedicated to being a leader like Douglas is enormous.
I thought that Josh Chichester looked better than he had in the spring. Even though he still dropped some passes he shouldn't have, Josh looked a lot more comfortable than he did four months ago, which is a big step in his progression.
JaJuan Spillman was indeed the guy who worked as the third starting receiver, and looked the part. Spillman was still doing a lot of motion stuff, but he did get several chances to make some plays down the field.
As expected, Woodny Turenne was in street clothes, which was disappointing. He spent most of practice watching the DB's and talking with his teammates.
Not sure what was wrong with Rod Council, but he was held out of all the drills with the offense. While it was only the first day, it was still a little worrisome to see the two projected starters at arguably the biggest problem position on the team standing next to each other on the sidelines during passing drills. Council spent a portion of practice running sprints alongside Chris Vaughn, who caught passes early on but was also held out of all offense on defense drills.
One of the most impressive young players of the day was Chaz Thompson who displayed exceptional feet and broke up multiple passes during the man-to-man passing exercises. He did have to be forcefully told that there was "no hitting" during the drills, but I won't hold that against him.
I continue to be high on Johnny Patrick who shows great instincts for someone who is still getting used to a new position. Gifted athletes will always find a way onto the field, and though his impact may be minimal this season, I think eventually he's going to be a real asset to the defense.
Overall the secondary and defense as a whole held its own during 7-on-7 and 11-on-11, giving the offense a much harder time than it had during the spring. On several occasions Brohm or Cantwell was forced to dump the ball to a tight end or running back after looking down the field for a couple of seconds and seeing no one open.
I know I've said this before, but good God Peanut Whitehead is enormous. My buddy Sans (this is me being Bill Simmons) made the observation that his shoulders are so broad, the name "WHITEHEAD" goes across the back of his jersey without dipping at all. If you'd have seen just him from the back yesterday then you'd have thought you were at an NFL practice.
It was difficult to gage just how much success the defensive line had against the offensive line since it's hard for either side to go all out with no pads. Still, even when things aren't moving at full speed it's not hard to see that speed off the ends is going to be huge for us.
It's also not hard to see that team camaraderie is a big deal for Kragthorpe. At one point during 7-on-7, Koach noticed freshman Josh Miller standing off to the side by himself and ordered him to go stand with the rest of his team. Miller complied.
Joshua Tinch was in attendance, and did the one thing that everyone who attends a U of L practice should be required to do: give Art Carmody a hug.
It was hard to get a feel for how the running backs performed since their role in helmets only practices is universally limited. Allen (who worked as the starter), Bolen and Spencer all got touches during 11-on-11, while Anderson and Martin (who has quite the body for a freshman running back) didn't see any reps.
Just as Kragthorpe said on Wednesday, Mike Donoghue worked as the starting right guard.
Just as it was in the spring, motion before the snap was a common theme. I think it's safe to say that Cardinal fans can bank on seeing a great deal of Brian Brohm foot tapping this fall.
After taking in a day of football for the first time since April, I feel like I've achieved some sort of homeostasis. Without going into too much detail, something in my body had been off (just ask the ladies...damnit) since the Spring Game, but now I feel centered and whole once again.
Overall I thought it was a fantastic first day, and I'm excited get back out there again this evening.