We have the sun out, the ground wet, and blossoms emerging in Eugene Oregon, as I walk into the Mo Center for this first contact practice with pads. The Sideline today was packed with High School coaches, fans, and some impressive HS players that were here for Junior Day. I also noted outside that the mother Osprey was back with her nest on top of a tall set of lights on the Practice field, and I smiled to myself. Yes, the usual events that come with the rotation of seasons continue as always—and that brings SPRING FOOTBALL BABY!
You can see and feel the progress of the team; Darron Thomas had the body language of someone who was very confident and in control compared to last year at this time. He had experienced the bright lights of Knoxville, the Coliseum, and Glendale and by contrast to when he was trying to become the starting QB—things are coming easier for him His short and medium range passes are crisp and accurate and have the zip of authority, like they know where they’re supposed to go. His longer range passes would be a touch late on occasion, but he also threw some dandies. (We’ll cover later) I was surprised that after only a couple of months from the Natty and he seems to have gained a little bulk in his legs and arms. Looking good for a first contact workout!
Bryan Bennett appears to have gained a little weight in his calves and in particular, his arms. Tuinei no longer looks desperately skinny, but merely slender as he’s added some weight. Barner has lost any traces of the too-lean look, as he is ideal being sleek, yet muscular and fast. Who is that impressive looking #83? That big fellow catching passes nicely in the flat is Curtis White; yep-his build shouts big potential. I was scanning for #32, as I learned that was Colt Lyerla’s number. (Interesting how they gave him a classic Fullback/Linebacker number) When he stood next to Brandon Williams, it became evident that Colt is quite the ready-made package. Williams had the stouter upper body in arms and shoulders, but Colt had bigger calves and thighs to START his football career. (He really IS technically a HS senior in age and experience? Wow) Colt watched the ball into his hands on catches out in the flat, and had a good burst of speed upon pulling the ball in. (And he’s Six foot, frichen FIVE) Tyson Coleman looks like—a young Paysinger as he roamed in his LB spot. I thought BoLo looked studly last year, but now he is rounding into a RB -fast -twitch-fiber look; he really shouts speed and athleticism as he batted down another pass in the 7 on 7s.
Mathis looked like he took a HUGE step up and I love the look of him locked one-on-one with WRs. He is so darn fast but he doesn’t labor pumping the arms or doing the piston thing with his legs. He shifts smoothly from speed to speed and I was struck by the swiftness and the ease that he ran. You know the look–when they FLOW as they run. Weems looks leaner, but stronger than before, and Hawkins really Iooks the part at WR now. I know—this is like people watching, and its football gossip, but it is fun and the good fans out of state might be amused to hear the changes in builds.
I also noted less urgency this year thus far; they’re not slacking, but an air of nervous questions was absent to me. Chip had a confident, but experienced spring in his step and the upperclassmen seemed to display that confidence and knowledge. It comes from two major BCS games in a row, and while they know that they’ve become the “hunted” they lack the nervous energy because they know what they’re doing and what to expect. The tone felt like, “let’s do what it takes to make the next step—because we CAN!” The level of play is pretty high for a first spring contact day, and I noted how the emphasis was on passing and outside plays. I’m delighted to see that as I maintain that Thomas is going to progress further as a passer this year and the next step to blow the lid off is with a more dangerous passing attack. (Of course our outside plays operated well without the turf of the Cardinals field)
I did not see the new formations from the National Championship Game that I wrote of this last week. (Darn) We did do a ton of work on that nasty Triple Option we saw often last year. The drills were cool as a defender would choose which way to go and the QB had to make the right decision for the dive back, and then another decision for whether to keep or pitch. Usually we ran that out of the typical RB on each side and behind the QB as we have seen often since 2005. On one rep we saw Bennett do the mesh with the RB and ride the ball with him inside; the DE leaned too far and Bryan pulled the ball and turned upfield into the gap created by the absence of a DE. As a safety closed in to make it a short gain—we see BB throw the ball to the Bubble receiver to the outside! It was an easy six yards, and nice read, and that play put a ton of pressure on a bunch of defenders.
They had contact, but no tackling after contact was made. Even then the juices flowed as Kaddu blew around the corner. Cody had third degree burns on him and did what any OLineman would do; protect the QB. Problem is, Nick has to be a bit more subtle when you’re a tackle on the outside. Grabbing Josh around the waist and hanging on is a bit too obvious! Twice we saw some long spiral passes going outside and right to the intended WR when a green blur whooshes into your field of view and just FLIES up and nabs the ball! Who IS that fast #4 with the huge vertical? Hmmmm. We heard about Erick Dargan, and now we are seeing how he made Scout team Defensive Player of the week so many times last fall.
OK, I’m sold. Lache Seastrunk looks better in his running and moves. I didn’t see the “schoom-schoom” style of running that I described at fall camp, but instead saw moves that went forward and then little kick-moves in an effort to break tackles and that SPEED! Sheesh! We are beginning to see the impact of fast recruiting classes stacked on each other as Kenjon is now looking over his shoulder at Lache approaching. Twice ‘Strunk squirted through for big gains because his acceleration into the hole carried him forward and through in a blink. I have to say that Barner is catching the football superbly out of the backfield and made some great gains with his hands, and then his moves and speed. (I know. I’m using the “S” word quite a bit, but it fits with these guys)
Speaking of speed,–I was astonished at how fast they ran plays in practice. The third total practice in SPRING and they are at breakneck speed? Chip is shooing players off the field as another platoon comes in and he wants it done in the same quick interval as we see in games. I figured this was a drill, but NO—he did all the time in the 7 on 7s as players are looking at the signs and hand signals to get their play information. The only one who was a little confused as Oz showed him his spot was Colt Lyerla, but we’ll cut him that slack; he doesn’t get any fresher as a freshman then what he is now!
Darron Thomas looks for Huff, and I would too. DT hit him on a slant, and then Huff eluded the defender with a head swim move downward and up, and then blew down the sideline for a TD. Josh is looking like Paulson and Tuinei as a veteran who gets open and gets it done. I was thinking that he looks good for a sophomore, and then I realized that it’s not next year yet; he’s still a freshman! Huff also was engaged in a struggle for a lofting deep ball from Bennett against Cliff Harris. Now you gotta admit—that would be the price of admission alone to watch those two go at it in an epic showdown. Huff outjumped Harris and grabbed the ball, but Harris knew to “rake-and-rip” the hands as they tumbled to the turf. We’re all peering down the sideline to see who prevailed; Josh held one hand upward as he laid on the ground—with the ball in it! Holy Crap that’s good stuff!
They had been practicing flare passes to the TEs and to a WR who started in the backfield formation all day. Then the play starts and LT is running to the flat as Darron looks at him and the defense shifts over. Thomas comes back and rifles the ball to the middle of the field for a TD to Brandon Williams! Sweet. On the negative? I don’t care for the predictable clapping by Darron, and then the shoulder plunge downward to announce the snap coming, yet BB (Bryan Bennett) does a downward hand motion to announce/ask for the center snap as well. BTW—I did not notice center snaps at this practice? Cool. That means that both fellows did a good job being reliable getting the ball back there.
There had been talk of defenses not respecting the running of our QB in the latter half of the year, and perhaps it was due to vanilla plays acknowledging the loss of Costa. I was hoping to see Bennett push Thomas in this area to make DT a better runner. Geez was I surprised. Bryan rides the ball in the mesh so well that even when he pulls the ball—it makes the fellow being Zone Read to follow the dive back, thus BB can take off in the space. The heck of it is—Bryan is MUCH FASTER than he looks or you would think. Costa had a “sneaky fast” element, but you figure BB is a stiff at first glance because he walks so upright. Frequently he would pull the ball on Zone Reads and BLOW through the LB land and then the secondary for big yardage. His riding the RB in the mesh is really, really good. In this practice today—BB was the better at the Zone Read in my opinion and it will push Darron to make him better at it. I must admit that Thomas has a huge experience advantage, but BB is flat out faster than Darron. MUCH faster. Think Masoli fast—or faster. Wow.
We don’t have a scrimmage until Wednesday the 13th, and then on the 20th again. I’ll be at those, but none others, as they do take a chunk of the business day. (Like ALL DAY when you write one of these things) I look forward to a busy spring and summer using pictures to help show the basics of our offense.
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