Practice Thoughts March 16, 2013
It’s 1:00 in the morning. I got up at 5-something so I could go to work early so I could leave work early so I could go to football practice. I got home a half hour ago, but I can’t sleep. Because I’m still jacked from football practice. This… this is a cry for help.
I probably won’t post this until tomorrow morning when I wake up – it’s my failsafe for avoiding posting anything I’ll regret in a few hours. Kinda like my very own personal Texts From Last Night.
As always, a practice breakdown will include nothing that Pat Fitzgerald could get his tiny little hands on and use against us next fall. No scheme discussion, no “so and so tends to do X when Y”, none of that. Just some good old fashioned “here’s what I saw and here’s who I liked”.
Oh Yeah, TJ Neal
Even though I wrote about him less than a month ago, even though I’ve told friends recently “remember, we also have TJ Neal coming off a redshirt”, my first thought when #52 made a nice play this evening was “oh yeah, TJ Neal”.
Neal might have been the top recruit in the 2012 class. Offers from Auburn, Florida, USC, Nebraska… and he picked Illinois. After a redshirt year (where it looks like he bulked up a bit), he’s ready to join the rotation at linebacker.
He’s probably still a few years away – I probably say that for every player on the roster at some point – but he made a few plays tonight in 11 on 11 drills that made me say “oh yeah, TJ Neal.” Hmmmm… I probably need to clarify here. I’m saying “oh yeah, TJ Neal” as a statement of remembrance. TJ Neal! Totally forgot. The comma is important here. Otherwise, it would be an exclamation. “Oh yeah TJ Neal – you do your thing.” Got it? Excellent. Moving on.
I’ve wanted to name my depth chart updates “depth chartges” for a long time. But the title seemed too lame for even me. So I decided to give it a spin here and see how it flows. Yeah, clunky.
First string OL tonight: Cvijanovic (LT), Heitz (LG), Hill (C), Karras (RG), Lewis (RT). Big fan of Hill at center. I’ve been an unabashed Alex Hill fan, so finding a spot for Hill and Heitz in the rotation (instead of making them fight for LG) is nice to see. Second string was Hinkhouse (LT), Spencer (LG), Feldmeyer (C), O’Connor (RG), McDowell (RT). Interesting to see that McDowell is back on the right side, as he was tried on the left side all last year. Joe Spencer at guard was also a pleasant surprise – I really liked him in Rantoul, so lets get him some work at both center and guard (just a redshirt freshman).
First string DL was Bates (Leo), Teitsma (3-tech), Howe (NT), and Kynard (DE). Monheim and Svetina at LB (Brown held out of contact while healing), with redshirt freshman BJ Bello at Star. Corners were Bentley and Eaton Spence (I guess I don’t have to qualify that with a first name any more since Akeem Spence is off to the NFL Draft – although, thinking about it, if I would have just put “Spence” at corner last year none of you would have thought I was talking about Akeem). Safeties were – with Earnest Thomas held out of contact – redshirt freshman Taylor Barton and, drumroll, BEN MATHIS. After three years of demands, the coaching staff has apparently finally succumbed to my PLAY MATHIS campaign. Power of the press, y’all.
Players in the rotation when they went to 11 on 11 stuff: Teko Powell and Vontrell Williams at DT, Darius Mosely at corner, Eric Finney at Star, and Kenny Nelson at DE. Oh yeah, and TJ Neal.
Wait, I didn’t talk about offense besides the line. Well, most of it you already know. Young, Ferguson, and Ayoola at tailback. Millines is suspended, but Lankford, Harris, and Osei at wide receiver, with Martize Barr probably the fourth guy and maybe Justin Hardee fifth. Jon Davis is no-contact right now I think so it was Evan Wilson and Matt LaCosse at TE. Nate and Reilly at quarterback, obviously. Oh, and Devin Church – still wearing a green no-contact jersey while recovering from his torn ACL – was in the rotation at WR. Made a nice diving grab, too.
Mosely (or is it Mosley)
Again, I’ll never get that right. Mosley and Cazely. Mosely and Cazley. L before E except after Z? Wait, does that work? *looks up the correct spelling* NOPE. It’s Mosely and Cazley. L before E except after S. That’s no fun.
Anyway, I was very excited to see my Favorite Recruit Not Named Aaron Bailey on the field. And he was everywhere on the field. Returning punts. Returning kickoffs. Playing corner. Breaking up a pass in 11 on 11 and sharing a celebratory statement with the receiver whose pass he just broke up which raised the dander of the upperclassmen on the offensive side of the ball.
I’m probably exaggerating that for effect. But I loved both sides of it. Both the not-back-down-edness of the true freshman and the there-needs-to-be-an-order-to-things of the upperclassmen. Really, I just want to see fire and competitiveness from my team. So I exaggerate stories.
But Mosely (Mosley?) looked every bit as athletic as I’d hoped. Great recruiting pick-up. Now 37 more just like him, please.
Let’s see what I can remember. Most you already know. Houston Bates from linebacker to Defensive End (when he flat out burned a couple offensive linemen). Speed moves aren’t my concern – power and edge-holding are.
Redshirt-freshman LaKeith Walls moved from RB to safety. Steve Hull is on offense now at WR, although, again, held out of contact. Robbie Bain from OL to DT. Alex Hill at center I already mentioned. I think that’s it.
Tell Me How You Really Feel
I should go back up to the top and make this a “choose your own adventure” post (actually, that’s a really good idea that I want to try some day). It can be a one-adventure choose your own adventure. If you want to read specifics on positions, read the whole post – if you just want to know if we’re going to win any football games, jump to “Tell Me How You Really Feel”.
Short answer: way too early. I have no idea. Long answer: well, three things.
1) Liked that Bill Cubit was involved with the OL. Might have just been one practice, and might just be because AJ Ricker just got here. But Bill Cubit spent more time with the OL than I ever saw from Beatty/Gonzales or even Petrino. He was very concerned about certain blocking schemes being learned properly.
2) Also exciting: In 11 on 11, lots of (type of play we ran redacted). We’ve seen very little (type of play we ran redacted) the last few years despite fans screaming “why don’t we ever (redacted)??” So it was very nice to see us run a lot of (type of play we ran redacted).
3) I know some guys are injured, but looking at our first string defense was rather stunning. So many faces gone from last year. No Spence, Buchanan, Foster, or Staples. No Ashante. No Hawthorne, Green, Sanni, or Hull. This is basically a brand new defense. And many times, that’s a frightening thing.
OK, I’ll finish with this. Best moment of the night, as I mentioned in an earlier post, was the Alley Drill (Beckman’s version of the Oklahoma Drill). Players line up in a narrow alley, three blockers and three defenders with a tailback and a safety. Let’s see what you got.
And it’s not always linemen blocking. Sometimes it’s three receivers as the “offensive line” and three cornerbacks as the D. And sometimes, it’s not even a tailback.
After a few rounds, Beckman called third-string QB Chase Haslett’s number. This was gold for both sides of the ball – the QB’s were fired up that one of their guys would get the ball – the D was fired up that they’d get to tackle someone in a red jersey.
With three plays from the ten, Haslett actually scored down this narrow alley. Second play he got lit up, though. So when he was done, he sought out Donovonn Young. “I have no idea how you do that every game” and motioned like he couldn’t feel his arm. Donovonn just smiled.