Sunday, August 12, 2007

Early Practice Observations

If I had made a post about What to Watch For in Fall Practice, I would have undoubtedly said:
  • Watch the wide receivers to see who emerges behind Early Doucet;
  • Watch the offensive line to see how Will Arnold is doing and whether anyone is pushing the starters;
  • Watch the running back rotation to see who's getting the reps;
  • Watch to see how the true freshmen integrate onto the team; and
  • Watch the special teams.
Now that there has been about 1 1/2 weeks of practice and a scrimmage, there is perhaps enough information (known to the media) to make a few observations on these and other topics.

Les Miles commented yesterday that newcomers Terrance Toliver and Demetrius Byrd were in the lead for the 3rd wide receiver spot behind Doucet and, presumably, Lafell. If those two have passed Chris Mitchell, Jared Mitchell, and Ricky Dixon already, that spells bad news for those three guys getting real playing time in the foreseeable future.

Will Arnold briefly played at Right Guard, a position he has never played, but moved back to Left Guard after a couple practices. He's also already missed quite a bit of practice time in the training room. Will Arnold at Left Guard troubles me. That's the spot where Herman Johnson really emerged as a player. Herman is a versatile guy, and has played Left Guard, Right Guard, and Right Tackle in his career. He showed out when he was moved to Left Guard following Arnold's injury, and now I guess he's either going to hold Arnold out of the lineup there or he will have to be moved to make room for a guy who probably is only going to play a part-time schedule. I don't like it.

As near as we can tell, Ciron Black and Brett Helms written in ink as starters at Left Tackle and Center respectively, but every other position is open to competition and/or uncertainty. Herman Johnson will certainly be playing somewhere on that line, but it remains to be seen where. Miles has praised the play of true freshmen Jarvis Jones, Josh Dworaczyk, Ernest McCoy, and Joseph Barksdale. Jones, Dworaczyk, and Barksdale are Tackles and McCoy is a Guard. It is also possible that one of those guys or a redshirt freshman like Matt Allen will push Lyle Hitt or Carnell Stewart for the starting jobs.

At running back, Richard Murphy is expected to be a star, but he's been limited by nagging injuries so far. His absence has given Charles Scott an opportunity to get more reps, and it will be interesting to see if Scott, who started 2006 so strongly, can earn playing time in this rotation.

Three true freshmen have dominated the headlines from practice. Stevan Ridley has surprised everyone with his skill and athleticism at practice. He did very well in the first scrimmage, albeit he was playing against the 3rd string defense. It appears that Ridley has earned an extended look at tailback and may not be moved to linebacker or fullback as was expected during his recruitment. I sincerely doubt Ridley moves up the depth charts at tailback this year, but perhaps he will redshirt and become a part of the NEXT generation of tailbacks.

The second true freshman getting headlines is Chad Jones. Either Miles is very impressed or is blowing smoke you-know-where to keep him from signing with the Astros. Jones is reported to be a shoe-in to get a lot of playing time at special teams and may even return kicks, which I find amazing for a guy who weighs 220 pounds. He is a great athlete, and it's just inevitable that he's going to get on the field one way or another.

The third true freshman is Terrance Toliver, who has already been mentioned. It really is impressive that in this talented wide receiver corps, Toliver is getting so much attention. Michael Clayton was the last true freshman wide receiver to earn a lot of playing time, but the talent level at the position was not nearly as good then as it is now. Dwayne Bowe and Craig Davis didn't play all that much as true freshmen, and Early Doucet (though he played) was pretty far down the charts. What does this say about Toliver's ability?

Special teams are still something of a mystery. It looks like Patrick Fisher will be the punter, but we don't really know how good he will be. The kickoff kicker has not been decided yet, and the return-men are still up in the air, except that we know Trindon will be one of the kickoff return men. Early Doucet was the other kickoff returner last year, but they may want to take him out to protect him. Plus, he just wasn't all that big of a threat returning the ball. I think we can probably do better there AND protect one of our best players. Our punt returner from last season graduated. Personally, I hope Trindon earns that spot too.

That's all for now. We're only 18 days away from kickoff, and I've been excited about it for a long time already. Anticipation is killing me.

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