Today’s practice was the first practice seen by anyone outside of the team, with every media member coming out of the closet (R. Kelly style) to get a peek at the new-look Cats. Mark Stoops did his best to pull a “Where’s Waldo” in the picture above. Normally notes are filled with quotes by coaches, telling the public who they thought played well or something to that effect. When Stoops approached the podium for the media, he started by joking saying, “Nothing to report today, you guys should have all the answers.” Well if Coach Stoops gives me the green-light I’m taking it.
1. Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop. The coaches and players have not stopped talking about the adjustment of tempo since practice began. When you actually see a practice, you know why this change is so evident. Players rarely quit moving during and between drills. When QBs throw to the WRs, there is no standing around; when the QB on the right side throws, it is almost immediately followed by the QB on the left side. The offensive line could do all of their drills in one area, instead they switch sides of the field every time the horn sounds. I actually was caught in the middle of the stampede twice, trying to avoid being run over by the Giant John Gruenflabbenschnoger (I don’t think that’s the correct spelling). It does not stop when the team goes 11 on 11. When a player goes over to the track to puke, you know they are working hard. I wonder what Coach Korem’s GPS says tells him when a player is vomiting.
2. Even without Donte Rumph, this DLine is going to be GREAT. Losing Collins Ukwu and Taylor Wyndham should have hampered the defensive end position, but luckily Za’Darius Smith is on the roster and Bud Dupree has moved into a 3-point stance. It’s always important to pass the SEC ‘look test’; no one even looks close to NFL-ready compared to Za’Darius and Bud. Since Z came with Coach Brumbaugh, he has a lot less to learn than the rest of the group. He has the athletic ability and size to be an excellent rusher or take on a double team if need be. Bud still has a lot to adjust to. Getting hit every single play- sometimes by more than one guy- is much more physically demanding than playing linebacker and dropping into pass coverage. Even though it can get brutal in the trenches, Bud had a huge grin on his face after practice when talking about hitting someone every single play. Even with Rumph’s injury, Mister Cobble will still dominate on the inside, and they have an experienced Tristian Johnson ready to fill Rumph’s hole for the rest of the Spring.
3. Max Smith is one step ahead. Nothing against Jalen or Pat, but Max really is about a step faster than the two young QBs. At a position where split seconds make the difference between a sack and a big gain through the air, Max makes his reads much faster and probably has the quickest release of all 3. I will not jump the gun and say that Max will be the starter in the fall; there are still hundreds of reps for the young guys to take that can help them build on the improvements they’ve already made. Pat is playing much smarter, making better decisions under pressure whether or not to run or throw it away. Jalen’s release is quicker than a year before, and his running abilities will probably be used in a ‘Wildcat-type’ package.
4. The Cats NEED Wide Receivers. If you listened to the radio show, you may have heard Ryan Lemond’s fantastic pep talk. It was Lou Holtz-esque, except without all of the spit and ending on a negative note by putting down the wideouts for dropping passes (‘You guys are staying after and not leaving until you catch 100 balls’). Even though they work on catching balls during and after practice (they even use a machine to shoot tennis balls at them), there are still a lot of guys letting the ball hit them in the hands before dropping it. Daryl Collins and Demarco Robinson had a few great moments, but the Air Raid cannot operate with only 2 or 3 sure-handed receivers. Until the 4 new guys come in the fall, expect to see them work with a lot of tight ends during the Blue/White game. They may be bigger and slower, but Tyler Robinson and Ronnie Shields are big targets that run good routes and do not drop easy passes.