I stayed for much more of practice today compared to yesterday, and I got some good looks at our team today, especially the running backs and defensive backs. As you can see, I also took some pictures with my camera phone as the players were shuffling off the field. I apologize that the pictures are so crappy. I'll try to take some pictures with a real camera sometime this week and post those, but for now this will have to do.
Practice started with some calisthenics, during which the team sang "Happy Birthday" to John Sullivan. Then they split off into positions, and the first group I watched was the
Darius was solid in all aspects of drills - he was quick on his feet, the best hands and feet during blocking drills, and appears to have built up a little more power in the offseason (see photo). He is without question the clear starter in this group right now, and none of the healthy players will challenge him.
James Aldridge was not participating in contact drills, but he did participate in the agility drills, and let me tell you, this guy is a monster. His physique and leg drive remind me of Adrian Peterson, the Heisman hopeful playing for the University of Oklahoma. I can't wait to see what this kid can do when he is 100% - he has the potential to be a superstar at running back. His injury is going to prevent him from competing this year, but next year Darius will have to work his tail off to keep Aldridge from taking his starting position. I believe our running backs will be the strength of our team next year.
Freshman Munir Prince is certainly a speedster. Watching him during 11 on 11 drills, he certainly has another gear when he goes through a hole in the defense. He did some work on kick returns, and he needs a lot of work on technique to get into the mix there, as he has too much tendency to juke around and run east-west, rather than relying on his jets to shoot through the defense. However, he has a lot of potential, and can combine with Aldridge to be an impressive 1-2 punch in years to come.
Freshman Luke Schmidt looks more like a linebacker than a running back, and when he touches the ball, he's looking for someone to run over. He doesn't have many moves, but also hasn't really needed them. He got ripped into by Coach Haywood during blocking drills for not being physical enough. After a few minutes with the running backs, I wandered over to watch the
I was most interested to see how true freshman Darrin Walls (#2) and Raeshon McNeil (#8) looked in drills, as well as checking on the status of our returning starters.
Darrin Walls has some great feet and speed, but needs to put on some strength to be able to challenge receivers at the line of scrimmage. His burst when reacting to the passer is excellent, and he will certainly be in the mix at corner this year.
Raeshon McNeil, however, appears to have an edge on Walls right now. McNeil looks more physically ready to matchup against receivers, and also has an excellent burst. He was very tenacious in pass defense, and the only comments I heard the coach direct his way were warnings not to grab the receiver. McNeil is my favorite (based upon today's drills only) to slide into the nickel package.
Ambrose Wooden and Mike Richardson are still the starting corners, and both showed why today. Their reactions were much sharper than any of the other backs, and they were very disciplined in their pass defense drills.
Freshman Leonard Gordon practiced with the corners today.
At safety, Tommy Z stood out. He looks bigger than last year, like he bulked up for the fight. However, he still looked amazingly fast, and nobody on this team has better acceleration in their first two steps than him. When he decides to go, he GOES.
Ndukwe played very smart, very disciplined in drills, and made no mistakes that I saw. He isn't as fast as Tommy, but he still has good burst, and while they still aren't in full pads, Chinedum's hitting skills are very good based on last year, and he seems to be the favorite to stay in at starting safety.
The other players participating in drills were very good, but nobody in particular (besides McNeil) stood out. All around, I'd have to say our defensive secondary looks to be in very good shape.
11 on 11 drills
I spent much of the 11-on-11 drills today talking to a classmate (and fellow blogger) Tyson (read his blog here). However, I did catch some of the action. Linebacker Anthony Vernaglia appeared to be all over the field on 2nd team defense; I noticed his number at least three times making good plays.
For part of the 11-on-11 drills David Grimes was slotted in with the first team (with the Shark running with the 2nd team). He looked solid today, and didn't drop any passes (that I saw).
Rhema McKnight looked athletic in his routes today, but he had his share of drops. The coverage by our defense was excellent, but there were several times when he got his hands on the ball and just couldn't haul it in.
The big play of drills actually had nothing to do with Brady, as Evan Sharpley hooked up with George West on a deep completion. Brady went deep a couple of times, but never connected. Our defensive line got some excellent pressure on Brady several times today. Also, Brady was pretty consistently forced to throw to his checkdown receiver thanks to the excellent coverage downfield. Coach ran the hook and ladder play several times during practice, presumably to force the defense to stay disciplined in their coverage.
I kept looking for Demetrius Jones to throw a deep ball, but he kept settling for the short underneath pass rather than airing it out.
Munir Prince looked very fast in 11-on-11 drills, and Travis Thomas got a couple of reps as promised. On his first carry, Thomas looked very fast. On his second carry, the defense looked like they went all out against the run, as at least 6 guys got to TT in the backfield.
Coach Weis set up a pressure situation for Carl Gioia at the end of practice, where if he made a 35-yard kick, the team didn't have to run. If he missed the kick, the entire team had to run 8 80s.
When Gioia nailed the kick right down the middle, the team went nuts and rushed the field like they had just beaten USC.
After practice, several players jumped in the ice baths set up at the sidelines, and fans stood along the ropes seeking autographs. Brady stayed on the field with Demetrius Jones for a good 20 minutes after practice working on their footwork before hitting an ice bath himself. As the players filed out, I got a good close look at most of them. Brady was the most impressive looking, as his arms are absolutely RIPPED. He looked like he could have ripped my head off with one hand.
Tommy Z looked very strong, and Jeff Samardzija looked more muscular than he did last year at this time. Rhema is in pristine condition, and so is James Aldridge. A couple of the tight ends looked a little out of shape, but other than that the team as a whole looks as if they took well to Coach Mendoza's training regimen.
I swung by Recker's to grab a sandwich after practice, and as I was eating, Coach Weis came out of the interview room across the hall. I said "Hey Coach" and he smiled and waved at me before ducking out the door and hopping on his golf cart. I am such a geek - that little exchange made me as giddy as a schoolgirl.
I'll be at practice again tomorrow, but I have other plans for Thursday.