The session was crisp. Players knew where to be and what to do. The energy level was high from the start and never dipped. A lot more time was spent on working than teaching and it is obvious that three camps with mostly the same coaching staff has had a positive effect on the team.
It was perfect weather for football. Rains early in the day left the temperatures in the 70’s. The field was a little slick, but other than that you could not have asked for better conditions.
Nate Ness was impressive early. He is in a serious battle for playing time at free safety but the first night belonged to the junior college transfer. In drills he got his hands on balls that looked to be out of range and in 11-on-11 drills he had a pick of an Adam Austin pass that would have gone a long way.
The battle is so tight that Ness, Dominic Patrick and Brandon Tatum were being rotated all night long with the rest of the first team defensive backs.
The freshman looked impressive physically. Players like Cory Elmore, Ricky Elmore, Earl Mitchell and Conan Amituanai all look bigger than when they were out in Tucson in the spring. In fact almost every one bigger, faster and stronger. In his post practice comments Stoops was quick to praise the strength and conditioning program.
There were no great surprises to the format of practice. After a stretching session the team went to special teams where Nick Folk boomed some field goals.
The team moved over to positional drill work. What was instantly noticeable was there was little wasted time or movement. There was little time for explanation, instead they jumped right into the drills. The freshmen relied on the older players to guide them through the routines.
After drills it was time for group work. The lines and backs worked on running plays, while the rest of the team worked on pass coverage. As soon as the teams lined up the high energy level got even more intense.
Soon it was time for 7-on-7’s and Tuitama got to show off his arm. He connected on the majority of his passes, including a laser to B.J. Dennard that split two defenders and would have gone for a score. When he was not taking snaps, Tuitama was coaching younger players. It is very interesting to see the change in demeanor and intensity now that Tuitama is a veteran.
Practice concluded with 11-on-11 work. Things got intense and you can tell that the players want to strap on the pads and do it for real. Several times defenders had to restrain themselves to keep from delivering blows. On three occasions defenders got near Tuitama and pulled up at the last second.
The two punters showed off their legs. Freshman punter Keenyn Crier shanked his first punt but quickly rebounded and got off a few really good ones. Overall he was a bit inconsistent. He needs a little bit of work on his technique but showed a very strong leg.
Kyle McQuown had a very good day kicking the ball. Last year at this time he was battling consistency, but he was very solid on Thursday night.
Four players fielded punts. Syndric Steptoe, Mike Thomas, B.J. Dennard and rookie Devin Ross took turns as punt returners.
Tuitama took the bulk of the snaps at QB, with Austin getting the work with the second team. True freshman Tyler Lyon got limited reps with the third unit.
Chris Henry and Xavier Smith got most of the work at tailback. Walk-on junior college transfer Chris Jennings had one very nice run around the left side.
The three freshmen receivers are all impressive physically. Both Terrell Reese and Delashaun Dean are legit 6-4 and you can’t miss them on the field. Terrell Turner is “only” 6-2 but he’s an impressive specimen. They need work on their route running but expect two to play this season.
*DT Ricky Parker and WR/CB Gerold Rodriguez are no longer with the team. No reasons were given for their departure, although it is believed that Rodriguez is planning on transferring to another program.
*Shawn Best, a thrower on the track team, has joined the football program as a defensive tackle.
*Freshmen D’aundre Reed, Derke Robinson and Michael Turner have not been academically cleared but were on hand to watch practice. Word is that Reed may be cleared as early as tomorrow.