Originally, I had planned on just going to today's late practice. I'd wait until the put the pads on and started hitting, but after further consideration, I decided that a full day in Westwood sounded like a pretty good idea so I checked out both practices today and got to hang out with some friends for a while in between. If any of you out there in the SoCal area haven't been to a football practice before, I highly, highly recommend it. You can grab a meal in Westwood, walk the campus a bit and learn more about football than you have ever leanred in your life. Getting to be within feet of the players and coaches, you can see everything that goes on and if you listen to the coaches talking, it's like sitting in a class on football so for all you Bruins out there, try to make your way out.
Getting back to the on-field action today, it was a decent day of practice. The energy was there for the most part, but there were a couple times, especially at the end of the morning practice, where the energy took a noticeable drop. It was good to see guys hitting again in the afternoon, even if they weren't taking ball carriers to the groun. The full pads and contact gave you a much better indication of the line play though. There was a decent number of recruits walking around and we even got word that Marquis Jackson, a DE, will enroll this spring and be available for spring practice. Of note was the absence of Randall Carroll, who is nursing a groin injury.
Offensive Line- Let's define what "good" means for our offensive line. "Good" is today's performance where there was the occasional big hole, but running backs weren't going down for a loss and were routinely getting to the line before getting hit. "Good" is Kevin Prince being able to get to the back of his drop and look for a couple seconds without the pocket collapsing and even when there was pressure, being able to scramble to one side because both sides weren't crashing down on him. "Good" is only one false start even though Prince used several hard counts and having Prince call out line rolls and slides at the line with enough confidence in his line to be able to recognize them and execute. The offensive line was far from dominant today and the defensive line was definitely the better of the two sides, but the offensive line was respectable and helds its own for the most part. With the offensive line's inexperience and play last season, that's pretty darn good.
Tight Ends- Prince is going to the tight ends often and the tight ends are giving him good reason to come back to them. We're using a lot of multiple tight end sets so they'll need to play a big role this year. In the receiving game, they've shown good hands. Off the top of my head, I can remember only one dropped pass from a tight end all day and that was by Cory Harkey on a ball he should have had, but was a little behind him. Besides that, the tight ends were reeling everything in and were doing a good job of running crisp routes to make themselves available. Nate Chandler made an absolutely sensational grab in the morning practice to catch the attention of everyone at Spaulding Field. Blocking-wise, the tight ends did well to help on the defensive ends, but until the defense starts mixing in more blitzes, it will be tough to tell exactly how they're progressing in that respect.
Pass Coverage- Our secondary is just stout. There is no other way to say it. Even with our question mark at strong safety, which I'll get into later, the defensive backfield just doesn't leave much room to throw the ball. What amazes me is not how good they are in man coverage, where their athleticism lets them run with receivers, but the cohesion they show in zone coverage. Despite just getting into training camp, the linebackers and secondary pass receivers along to each other very well and close down quickly when a catch is made. I mentioned how involved the tight ends were and a big reason for that is because the receivers were covered deep and Prince only had his tight ends to go to underneath.
Milton Knox- Especially in the late practice, Knox was extremely explosive. He hits the hole hard and runs with a low center of gravity that will make him tough to bring down. The biggest difference between Knox last year and this year is the confidence with which he is running. Last year he hesitated a bit and sometimes got happy feet in the hole. Today, he was making one cut and going hard. He wasn't asked to do much blocking so I can't speculate on how much playing time he will get this year, but he looks like he can be an explosive ball carrier.
Terrance Austin- With the rest of the receivers struggling to get separation, it was the experienced Austin who found space underneath and on intermediate routes to give Prince a go-to option. Because Austin is often charged with the intermediate routes, he and Prince will have to develop a good rapport if the Bruins are to thrive because Prince won't have time to throw deep all the time no matter how improved the line is.
Strong Safeties- On Wednesday, I listed the play of Dye and Love as "ugly," but they were better today so they got bumped up to "bad." Both Dye and Love looked better in coverage and while they weren't breaking on balls as well as you'd like to see, they were reading the field better and putting themselves in good enough position to take a portion of the field away from Prince. Dye still gets caught out of position too often though and Love still plays like a man half his size. During tackling drills, the 6'4,'' 210 lbs. Love got knocked back by the 5'11," 183 lbs. Brandon Sermons. Love better start getting lower and establishing leverage or he'll find himself on the bench.
Christian Ramirez- He made a nice grab coming out of the backfield in the afternoon and made a couple defenders bounce off of him in traffic, but Ramirez was not the best running back on the field today or even the second or third best. Ramirez did not show much ability to break a big one and wasn't even hitting the hole quickly enough to pick up four of five ugly yards. He didn't play last year so he may still be getting back in the groove, but he's going to have to step it up if he's going to be our #1.
Special Teams- I mentioned on Wednesday that our special teams were poor and that it isn't unusual this early in training camp. It's still not unusual for special teams to struggle, but they were horrid today. Even when a return went well, it wasn't because the return team did their job well as much as it was poor coverage. Eric Chalifour was taking the kicks in the afternoon and wasn't kicking it consistently, deep or high. There was a blocked punt as the line got pushed four yards deep and some bobbled balls on kicks and punts. On the whole, the special teams can only be described with words not suitable for those under the age of 13.