Practice In The Rain

Mar 30, 2019

Usually, when it rains, they'll move practice inside the Irwin. But this was the IHSFCA Coaches Clinic, so there were 200+ high school coaches there to watch practice, and it wasn't raining too hard, so they stayed out in the rain. Which was fun. There's no mud on the field, but football in the rain can still be fun.

It was a shorter practice, so there wasn't much "football". Meaning, there wasn't much 11 on 11. There were position drills, special teams work, 7 on 7, lineman v. lineman, etc. Still a lot to learn from the first open-to-the-media practice of the spring. Let's just get to the plus signs.

+ I'm always so fascinated by offensive lineman fattening. When we last saw Julian Pearl, he was around 245 lbs, playing some defensive end in the Nebraska game back in November. He only played in two games, which means he redshirted, and now he returns as an offensive lineman. And maybe... 35 lbs heavier?

I mean, I'm not one to talk about the ease of gaining 35 lbs in four months, but it's always crazy to see a player in March and not recognize him from the last time you saw him in uniform in November. Part of it is a full year of conditioning I'm sure - he arrived as a skinny high school basketball player and was expected to add 50+ lbs of bulk to then play college football. So this is all part of that transformation. But man, he's at least added 35 of those lbs in the last four months. Mike Tisdale diet.

So if the question is "how do you think Julian Pearl looks as an offensive tackle?", my answer is "he's already almost there body-wise". We have two junior starting offensive tackles, so Pearl won't be needed until 2021, but yes, body-wise, I think he's an offensive lineman.

+ Let's talk offensive line depth chart because it's the least surprising. Here's how they were running most of the time:

LT: Vederian Lowe / Jake Cerny
LG: Kendrick Green / Kurt Gavin
C: Doug Kramer / Jake Stover
RG: Richie Petitbon / Jordyn Slaughter
RT: Alex Palczweski / Julian Pearl

Kievan Myers, who they're still pushing to get in playing shape (he didn't arrive until after school started last fall) was probably the "11th man" and was working in at the guard spots. But with Pearl moving over to the OL and getting placed at right tackle, that moved Jordyn Slaughter in to right guard. Which means these are the battles:

  • Lowe and Palcho start at tackle (duh), and it will almost certainly be Cerny as the third tackle while Pearl learns the position.
  • Kramer starts at center, Stover backs him up. Stover is also in the mix as a backup guard.
  • Green and Petitbon are the starting guards, and then it's a three-way (four-way, with Stover) battle for the backup guard between Slaughter, Gavin, and Myers.

Ideally, the two fourth-year juniors (Cerny and Gavin) are ready to be the 6th and 7th guys. It allows the younger guys (the 2018 recruits Pearl, Slaughter, and Myers as well as the two freshmen who arrive this summer) to develop slowly. And then this time next year it's a big battle between seven guys for the one starting spot on the line (right guard after Petitbon graduates).

How did Petitbon look, you ask? Size-wise and technique-wise, well in front of the names listed immediately above. As it should be. Will he gel with this line like Allegretti did? We shall see.

+ The best unit at practice, in my eyes, was the secondary. When I tweeted that, someone asked if that just meant that our receivers are poor (they are), but watching the secondary in practice is way more than just "how well do they cover the receivers". It's a reading-and-reacting thing. And the best reading-and-reacting unit on the field was the secondary.

There was some quirky stuff which I'll get to below (Delano Ware playing some... linebacker?), but if we're just listing a group of dependable players, I'm pointing to the secondary. That's a lame way to say that. Let me see if I can explain.

Watching practice is about getting a good feeling (or a bad feeling) for me. It's not "these players are great and these players are awful", it's not "that specific play means that the defensive line is improved", it's just a feeling. I want to see starters are that are clearly better than the second and third string players and I want to see someone on the second string who is clearly making strides. I want to know that the position coach for that position will have plenty of buttons to push during the season. Option A isn't working? He pushes the Option B button with full confidence that it will work.

At this practice the two coaches with the best buttons to push were Gill Byrd (secondary) and Mike Bellamy (running backs). Bellamy didn't have Mike Epstein available (I'm guessing they take it easy with his foot all the way up until the Akron game), but he did get great play out of Reggie Corbin, Dre Brown, and Ra'Von Bonner. Everyone feels good about where the running game is at going into 2019.

But I was surprised to find a similar feeling with the secondary. One player who will be in the mix isn't here yet (Marquez Beason), but if you're just listing the rotation this year (buttons to push), I feel really good about all seven of these names:

Nate Hobbs
Quan Martin
Marquez Beason (sight unseen, mind you)
Tony Adams
Delano Ware
Sydney Brown
Stanley Green

If we have five defensive backs on the field, and if those five DB's are Hobbs, Martin, Ware, Adams, and Brown, I feel really good. Well, I'll put it this way - I feel really good in 2019 and great in 2020. They were flying to the ball last night, especially in run support.

The secondary struggled last fall (the whole defense struggled), but a lot of the defensive backfield struggles came from running out three freshmen, three sophomores, and two juniors. One of those juniors transferred (Cam Watkins), so now Stanley Green is the only senior. Now everyone is a year older and, for at least one practice, it showed.

Again, it's hard to explain. It's mostly just a feeling. From a hesitant secondary in practice last summer to an aggressive secondary in practice this spring. We need about 13 other leaps like that but... it's something.

+ OK, yes, it was raining. Yes, it's hard to put together a passing game in the rain. Not only because wet footballs are hard to grip and catch, but also because a driving rain knocks down every pass.

But goodness me, we did not show much of a passing game. The times where it should be easy - QB and WR drills where the QB's are throwing to un-guarded receivers - were bad bad bad. I might have overheard a high school coach say something to another high school coach about how this didn't look like a college passing offense.

(Because it's not. At least not right now.)

I mean, it was cover-your-eyes-and-peek-through-your-fingers bad. Again, driving rainstorm. There are #reasons. But goodness me. We need, like, six things to happen:

  1. Ricky Smalling to become a the dominant, alpha receiver.
  2. Trenard Davis to step forward and have a Jarred Fayson-like senior leap.
  3. Dominic Stampley to put the dropsies in the rear view mirror.
  4. MJ Rivers to crank up the accuracy (and maybe crank down on some of the short throws?).
  5. Matt Robinson to really push Rivers for the starting spot (I think that's happening.)
  6. "OH MY GOD THAT'S EDWIN CARTER'S MUSIC" during the Akron game where Carter returns to the field perfectly healthy and he replicates his "two catches for two touchdowns" game from last September.

And then, maybe, the Richmond transfer is better than advertised, one of the walkons shocks the world (Jordan Holmes? Donny Navarro?), and then we get some fifth-year transfer QB who can play for one year since these QB's are likely still a year away.

No problem, right?

+ OK, a few more rapid fire things:

  • Ware at linebacker was probably just a "practice thing". As in, he'll have to slid in and do some linebacker-y things when the offense goes into a certain formation so why not have him practice some at linebacker. But it was still odd to see a defensive back (a few defensive backs, including Dawson DeGroot) working out in position drills with the linebackers.
  • Lere Oladipo was at defensive end for this practice while Jamal Woods was at defensive tackle. Oladipo out at DE might have just been a function of other DE's being held out for whatever reason (Carney and Gay didn't practice - I think they're rehabbing), but it might also be that with the DT depth, Oladipo can best help out at SDE this season.
  • For the first time in a long time there were senior standouts during practice. As in, "man, if he has a really big senior year, that could help us so much". Guys like Dele Harding, Dre Brown, Tymir Oliver, and Stanley Green all had nice moments. This team will go as the juniors go (the 2017 class, mostly), but it would be really great to get something from some of these seniors.
  • Bobby Roundtree is the best player on the field. I don't know if that means he leaves early after next year, but Bobby Roundtree is the best player on the field.
  • The offensive line owned the defensive line for a lot of the times they were lined up across from each other. That's both encouraging (we'll probably still have a run game!) and discouraging (the run game won't matter if we're getting 60-balled again!). Really really really really really need Austin Clark's defensive line to take a massive step forward. At least for one practice, I didn't see it.
  • I'll try to bury this here since it might be controversial. It felt like Lovie was the linebacker coach and his son was assistant linebacker coach? When they were running some special teams drills and the defensive linemen are over here with Clark and the offensive linemen are over here with McClain, it was Lovie who had Harding, Hansen, and Eifler pulled to the side going through certain linebacker reads and calls. Miles Smith was over with Ligs assisting with special teams drills. And then, when the linebackers were running through position drills, it was Lovie with the whistle. Just... something I was watching (and it was only one practice).

OK, I think that's it. More rain in the forecast for today's practice. Inside or outside? I'm guessing inside.


illiniranger on March 30 @ 04:32 PM CDT

Our safeties were flat terrible in run support last year, so if they are much better at that this year it will be huge.

ATOillini on March 30 @ 04:33 PM CDT

Enough with this "One of the 17...." stuff. You are head and shoulders above everyone else. It's late March, the season doesn't start for over 5 months, we've won 9 games total in 3 seasons, apparently it was raining hard.....yet I can literally feel the giddiness in this post. I think I know my nomination for the next statue after Butkus.

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