There are very few opportunities to watch Mark Stoops' football team practice. You catch a few in the spring, but they are rare in the fall.The day two open practice for Fan Day did not provide too much to digest. Today's practice front of the media gave us a little more.
However, two days removed from a scrimmage, many were "banged up" on the sidelines, and we did not get to see the most valuable part of practice, team period. Regardless, here's what happened when they did let us roam the practice fields beneath Commonwealth Stadium.
An Excellent Running Game
The most trivial aspect of watching a team scrimmage against one another is not knowing if one side is good because they're good, or because the other side is bad. During the limited team period we did get to see, the running game excelled, specifically up the middle of the field.
The problem is that it is exactly where the defense is at its weakest. Tymere Dubose made a nice play in the backfield, but the running back consistently thrived.
It wasn't just the big Mikel Horton using power to bash through people to get tough yards. Every back patiently found their hole before exploding into second gear to get to the second level of the defense. Even the smaller guys like Boom Williams and Sihiem King displayed an aggressive vertical approach.
Eddie Gran coaches his running backs to be "one-cut" backs. It's soaked in. They don't waste time dancing in the holes; they plant their foot and go.
Large Outside Wide Receivers
The practice begins with individual group work (a.k.a "indos), leading into group work; the o-line vs. the d-line, corners vs. receivers etc. Watching one-on-ones with the receivers and corners is without a doubt the most entertaining part of practice. Today, the receivers consistently won.
Tavin Richardson stole the show early
, beating Derrick Baity not once, but twice in a row during the red zone work. When you see a big receiver like Richardson, you expect them to be able to use their size to make plays. What made his play impressive was that he didn't rely on his size, using his body to create separation at angles that aren't easy to catch a pass, yet he hung in there to hang on in tight windows near the ground.
The catches from Kayaune Ross came primarily from his height advantage. When the window opened, he finished the play. After missing both scrimmages with a hamstring injury, Blake Bone has to make the most of his reps if he wants to see the field.
The Little Wide Receivers Aren't Bad Either
The big guys were consistently impressive, but none of them could compare to the catch Garrett "Juice" Johnson had deep down the middle of the field.
The deep ball down the middle of the field was a high "jump ball." Juice is only about 5'9", but he still went up high to catch the pass, spinning in midair before falling to the ground hard. I think most expected the ball to pop loose, but he held the ball up high from the ground, receiving cheers from the crowd, the loudest coming from Darin Hinshaw.
Drew Franklin's favorite player, Charles Walker, made a couple of sneaky catches. You'd see him open, but didn't think the ball would make it until he found a way to come up with the catch. However, I finally saw what I thought was impossible -- a high pass slipped through his hands. Nobody can catch 'em all. I can't think of a better time to let one get by than when his number one fan was looking away.
The Starting O-Line (Maybe)
After watching the film from Saturday's scrimmage, I was hoping to see who was running with the ones. After two scrimmages, they probably will stick with who played best from here on out.
Unfortunately, too many guys were "banged up" or held out for precautionary measures. When Jon Toth didn't participate in the team period, it gave us a look we'll rarely see. From left to right: Cole Mosier, Logan Stenberg, Nick Haynes, George Asafo-Adjei and Kyle Meadows.
The best guess is that Haynes will return to left guard, Toth to center, with the only notable change occurring at right guard if Big George maintains that position ahead of Ramsey Meyers.
Nothing puts a smile on my face more than seeing the coaches in their zone. When something doesn't go the way it should, they get animated.
In Jimmy Brumbaugh's case, he got into a three-point stance to show Adrian Middleton where his eyes should have been when facing a double team. D.J. Eliot didn't tackle anyone, instead using Denzil Ware as the example for the rest of the group. When the offensive line was hitting the sled, John Schlarman got low to show them proper footwork.
I didn't see Lamar Thomas running routes, but I did see his very loud attire. He was rocking bright white sunglasses. The bill of his cap was bent up high while one leg of his pants was pulled up to his knee. The only thing he was missing was a mesh practice jersey cut off at the chest.
Punts on Punts on Punts
When the coaches talked about an "open punter competition," many fans were filled with useless anxiety. During the two special teams periods, there were some booming punts, but those weren't the most entertaining kicks of the day.
After the quarterbacks warmed up, they spent the remained of one period punting from around the 40, hoping to land one near the goal line. Watching quarterbacks kick is funny, but the transfer from Cincinnati, Luke Wright, was actually pretty damn impressive to watch. His kicks were spirals, with one landing near the goal line with back spin, stopping inside the five. If the Cats are in desperate need of a punter, they need to look no farther than the quarterbacks' room.
After his spring game performance and seeing him in two open practices, Ware is undoubtedly the best player in the front seven.
The muscle he's added look impressive during interview sessions, but his physicality is immeasurable until you see him strike a pad. When followed by Kobie Walker and Josh Allen, the next two best outside linebackers, it's child's play.
They can't use Ware in the pass rush every time (even though it might be for the best), but there isn't a drop off in skill when he drops back in pass coverage. When he's in open space, Ware flies all over the field in impressive fashion, covering the flat zone without missing a beat. The secondary will receive most of the hype, but Ware will be the defense's best player in 2016.
Roland Walder Used the Hit Stick
There wasn't any live tackling, but that doesn't mean there weren't any big hits. During the team period that primarily consisted of running plays, the freshman linebacker from Ohio met freshman running back Benny Snell in the hole. Snell did not make it through the hole, nor did he stay on his feet. It was the kind of hit that had everyone on the practice fields ready for September 3.