I took a couple of minutes out of my busy schedule today to wander over to the Bookstore here on campus and check out the first day of practice.
Travis Thomas, LB/RB
Coach Weis confirmed yesterday in his press conference that 2nd string tailback Travis Thomas would be moving to linebacker to vie for a starting position at the newly renamed Will (formerly Apache) or weak linebacker spot.
Travis Thomas looked pretty good today lining up with the first team defense. He didn't appear hesitant or confused at any time, and was very good in coverage.
George West, WR
I was a little surprised today to see George West line up with the second team at receiver, as I would have expected frosh phenom Richard Jackson to get the nod ahead of him, but he looked pretty good. Decent hands, good speed, decent route running. I wouldn't read too much into him lining up today, though, as I'm sure that the battle for 4th receiver will be a fluid one (I think Grimes has pretty much locked up the 3rd WR spot as of right now).
Geoffrey Price and Mike Annello, P
Our punting situation looks pretty good. Price was booting consistently high, tight spirals down the field today, making Annello's kicks look downright wobbly and weak in comparison. I don't think this will be much of a competition.
Carl Gioia and Ryan Burkhart, K
Carl Gioia seemed to be our most consistent PAT kicker today in drills, and true frosh Ryan Burkhart looked like a freshman in his first fall practice.
Burkhart may improve over the course of camp, however, as Coach Polian was tweaking his mechanics after every kick. Burkhart does look like he has a leg on him, and I didn't get to see any long-range kicking work today.
I'm not sure whether this is even worth noting, but during today's punting drills, Tommy Zbikowski was nowhere to be seen. The punt returners practicing today were Jeff Samardzija, George West, Barry Gallup, Jr., and Munir Prince. Their may be any number of explanations for Zibby not practicing there today, and I am confident that he is still going to be our starting punt returner. I'm a little curious about seeing the Shark back there, though...
Freshman running backs
Coach Weis confirmed yesterday that stud frosh RB James Aldridge was hobbled this camp recovering from knee surgery, and with Travis Thomas working on defense, we got a good look at incoming freshman running backs.
A shifty runner with a good burst (like Darius), there is a lot of potential here. He appears to have better top speed than Darius, but nowhere near the vision.
A big, bruising back, Schmidt looks more like a linebacker than a running back, and when he gets the ball, he looks like a runaway freight train. This kid looks like he can HIT.
While Brady ran the first team offense, sophomore Evan Sharpley and the two frosh QBs, Zach Frazer and Demetrius Jones were rotating in with the second team. David Wolke, last year's backup, was passed on the depth chart by Sharpley in the spring, and decided to transfer to a I-AA school this summer.
With his experience from last year, Sharpley looked more comfortable in the pocket than either of the incoming freshman, and displayed a solid, consistent level of play.
Frazer has a cannon for an arm, but he needs to work on his mechanics and develop a quicker release. He cocks his arm back before throwing the ball, and will have to work on that to really develop as a passer.
I didn't get to see Demetrius use his legs much, but he looked decent aas a passer, with very good touch on his short passes. I didn't get to see much display of arm strength.
Notable fitness levels
Looks like he has trimmed down, and seems to move and react much quicker than last year. This should greatly improve our team speed and ability to react going forward.
Became a beast over the summer. Last year he played in the 260s, small for a defensive tackle, and used his speed to get through blocks. He now weighs about 285, and doesn't look like he has slowed even a heartbeat. He may even be faster. This kid could have a monster breakout year.
This kid is a giant. He looms over people.
We saw Stewart at bowling last year, and he looked fat. He didn't appear to be in shape, and I was concerned about his athleticism. Apparently, Coach Mendoza's workouts have really worked on this kid, 'cause I swear he's lost 50 pounds of fat since last winter. He is still immense, but no longer appears out of shape, and looks like he has added a considerable amount of muscle. This kid will be an immovable object that absolutely manhandles people when he learns technique.
I'll be going to practice for a little while every day this week, so stay tuned for regular updates.