Heading into the night planned for fun fan festivities and football, the rain-filled forecast remained in the front of people’s minds throughout the day. Luckily Mother Nature wanted Mark Stoops to get off on the right foot, allowing for (briefly) clear skies when the team began stretching for practice at 7:45. While autographs may be the most sought after sports memorabilia (cough Johnny Manziel cough), the most enticing part of the event was having the opportunity to watch the team practice. Sometimes the practice fields seem more mysterious than Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, seeing the team perform on the field for only the second time in the Mark Stoops Era. Here’s a few take-aways from a night that ended in the rain.
– It looked like the first practice in full pads. It’s been four months since the last time the Wildcats wore pads, playing with some proverbial rust amidst a myriad of distractions. Coach Stoops wasn’t pleased after practice, “It’s a little different to come out here and sign autographs for a while, go in, get dressed and then come out,” Stoops said. “Doesn’t matter. No excuses. It’s just not acceptable practice and we gotta get better.” As mentioned previously, the team has fully taken advantage of the multiple fields at the Time Couch Practice Fields, splitting the team in half during team periods to create max-reps. Adjusting to the size and turf of CWS for the first time this season proved even more difficult when the rain came rolling in just before the start of 7-on-7. Coach Stoops doesn’t believe in excuses, but there were many last night.
– I forgot how many guys get ‘banged up’. As Will informed you last night, Za’Darius Smith was in a boot, not performing during practice last night. Z’s ankle tweak, along with Donte Rumph’s hammy, Braylon Heard’s scratch, and Landon Foster’s toe jam (that last one may be made up) began to add up quickly. I was just worried that fans were freaking out in the stands. There’s a difference between hurt and injured. These guys are hurt; a temporary, nagging condition that you can play through if you need to, but you never need to risk re-injury during the first week of camp. I rarely put too much thought into reporting injuries because of their variable nature. Kind of like how Dyshawn Mobley was practicing in full pads about a week before Coach Stoops expected him to return.
– It’s Jalen’s job to lose. Whitlow is playing like the Wit-Throw offense is being branded for him. Carrying himself with confidence shows in his body language and his decision-making, setting him apart from the other QBs. Often criticized for not always making ‘the right throws’, Jalen waas hitting WRs as they made their breaks, putting the ball where only the WR could catch it. He wasn’t perfect in the rain, but neither was Max Smith. Smith seemed a little timid and at times frustrated. Rashawn Franklin put it best saying, ‘he didn’t trust his arm.” While it could have just been a bad night for Max, it was refreshing watching Jalen’s swagger. Last year the gimpy position was a worry 90% of the time; that will not be the case for Neal Brown’s Quarterback.
– The Freshman WRs are going to play, and play well. All WRs are fast in this system, what sets them apart from one another is their physical demeanor. Javess Blue isn’t going to let defensive backs ‘knock him off his block’. Guys like Blue and Jeff Badet were consistent throughout, running crisp routes while playing physical. A.J. Legree’s added size has benefited him greatly, with the entire unit collectively improving. However there were and WILL be some dropped passes, just hopefully A LOT less than #BBN is used to.
– The protocol of practice was what you’d expect: stretching, followed by drills with their respective position coaches before joining larger group workouts, like the inside drill (focused on the front 7 and running) and 7-on-7 passing (the counter-opposite to the inside drill). While fundamentals may bore most, I’m a nerd and love watching good technique like Bud Dupree’s below.
Notice the awesome football music in the background, AWOLNATION’s “Sail”. They aren’t Waxeater, but it’s still good stuff.