Friday, August 28, 2009

Football practice: parting shots

This post was written by Vanguard writer Allison Whited.

I have enjoyed my time at practice the past three weeks immensely. I watch so much professional football that it's easy to forget how important raw talent is and how some play the game just to play the game. I have been reminded how camaraderie can exist between two people striving for the same thing and how much we can learn from those teaching us if only we listen.

I'm very shy, so it takes a lot for me to get comfortable enough to talk to someone, but I would like to say that every time I have had contact with someone associated with PSU Athletics, it has been a very positive experience. I even met the athletic director one day and he was so genial that I instantly felt comfortable. I just want to say thank you to those few people I worked up the nerve to talk to between the beginning of spring ball and now. I have utmost respect for the coaching and training staff, the players themselves who work so hard and the folks who work in the athletics department.

Now just a few parting thoughts on what I've noticed in practice the past three weeks:

I love the secondary. The starters seem set to be Tracy Ford and DeShawn Shead at cornerback and Cody Worthen and Jordan Brown at safety. They are good, intelligent athletes and they create a stifling backfield for anyone under the gun. Even the players behind them in depth chart, guys like Mshaka Mitchell and Michael Williams and Denzel Davis, have shown plenty of skill, speed and intelligence. I like the way secondary coach Brandon Shelby coaches. He doesn't appear to be anyone's friend, but he's a great mentor. I really think this group will anchor the defense.

I think the quarterback position is solid in Drew Hubel's hands. His height is a great advantage over everyone else on the depth chart at that position. On some plays, and this happens more and more frequently, he has great—which is a word I try not to use frequently—touch on the ball. He puts it where it should be, softly, without letting it float dangerously. He will be called on a lot this year, but he seems confident enough to handle it. I also think Connor Kavanaugh is a good backup. He gives the offense an extra dimension with his scrambling ability and he seems to be settling into his internal game clock.

The freshman fullbacks have been such a pleasant surprise. We will have to wait for the season to begin to get a taste of offensive coordinator Jim Craft's play calling, but with backs like these as well as incumbent backs like Bobby McClintock and Nick Kalpin, it can't hurt to throw some more runs into the mix. Evans Okotcha and Ben Bowen have lit it up at times. The speed on both of them is great and they are good in pass protection. They are going to prove to be good investments in the future.

The linebacker group is solid. With senior linebackers Erik Pedersen and Ryan Pedersen returning as starters, it's a unit that gets things done. They have each spent at last a year under Glanville and know where they are supposed to be and what they need to do. There are rarely mental lapses and they really are too much fun to watch.

I still think the receiving corps needs another leader besides Aaron Woods. Woods is great to watch at practice. He is so aggressive and finds a way to the ball. I have the feeling he's going to get quite a bit of coverage this season and someone will need to show up to draw heat off of him. From all that I've seen at practice, I think Lavonte Kirven is the most likely. He has good hands and good field awareness.

The offensive and defensive lines have improved so much over just the past three weeks. It's difficult to tell what everyone playing those key positions is doing on every play and I know that I did not give those guys as much credit as they deserve. They work together well and the offensive line has gotten stiffer while the defensive line has gotten more punishing.

My final thought is one of thanks. I'm thankful I got to spend time watching such a talented group of athletes. I'm thankful no one trashed me for any negative comment I may have made. And I'm most thankful that anyone even read my drivel. I have to admit that I thought I was only writing for myself, but as time has worn on I have realized that more people read it than just me. Someone actually warned me that other teams could read this junk to scout out the team (do people really do that?). All I wanted to do was show my commitment to covering the team and give people an idea of what the team was doing. I hope that at the lowest level I have achieved that.


Football practice, Thursday, August 27

by Vanguard writer Allison Whited
I found time to attend both morning and afternoon practice yesterday, so there's quite a bit to report. The basic setup for practice was what it has been all week. In the afternoon though, the first offense took on the first defense which provided a better way to gauge the progress made this week.
Lavonte Kirven has been more of a presence in practice this week than he has been previously. He has good hands and runs a clean route. He seems in synch with Hubel and Kavanaugh and this led to some very nice catches.
The defense looked solid today. They were getting good penetration and the pass rush was steady and thrilling. Linebacker Ryan Pedersen got a hand on a couple of balls and even garnered an interception.
Defensive end Dereck Jester stood out today in a couple of ways. On one play, he rushed the offensive line and broke through with little trouble and on drills looked like he had a good combination of strength and speed. He is one of the smallest guys on the defensive line at 240 pounds but he plays heavier than that.
The offensive linemen took turns taking each other on this morning, and it is without a doubt one of the most fun and most informative drills that can be watched. They go one-on-one until one of them puts the other on the ground. The team gets into watching it and there are a lot of cheers. And for the loser of the match, there are a few up downs.
One particularly interesting matchup was between centers Tyler Staley and Jackson Dallas, who outweighs Staley by 30 pounds. Staley is a veteran of Glanville's team, though, and Dallas is a first year transfer student. This gap in experience allowed Staley to get one over on the bigger man. Dustin Waldron also had a good looking match up against Cole Giandomenico which he won.
In the heat of afternoon practice, everyone seemed a little more irritable. There was a bit of admonishment coming from coaches Glanville and Shelby. Cornerback DeShawn Shead got in some hot water for making too hard of a stop and cornerback Matt Ford was strongly chided for not staying with receiver Ricky Cookman and allowing a touchdown.
On red zone drills from about ten yards out, the secondary was everywhere. The quarterbacks had to run with more than a few balls because none of the receivers could shake his defender. When they switched to the long field, safety Cody Worthen had two of the best plays I've seen him make. On two back-to-back plays, he broke up passes from Hubel and one of them was even to receiver Aaron Woods, who is difficult to cover.
Kavanaugh further proved he is adjusting to the speed of the coach Craft's game today by throwing two consecutive bombs up the middle of the field to Woods.
One thing that stands out in comparison to the first week of practice is the decrease in mental mistakes, the biggest of which being off sides/false start penalties. There were more than a few during the first couple of weeks, and the linemen could often be heard grumbling about their mistakes on the sidelines, but that no longer seems to be much of an issue. This speaks to the discipline and commitment that the team has been working so hard.