2019 Training Camp VII: Camp Comp
I started blogging from training camp in 2009, so I feel like I have a good handle on the "feel" of camp. Hopeful? Cover your eyes? Team is better? Team is worse? This camp - what I've seen so far - feels exactly like another one of those camps in the past. It's time to play.. CAMP COMP.
The camp comp for this training camp? It feels exactly like 2014. Like, exactly. Got to thinking about this yesterday and it all just started flowing.....
- Team is coming off a 4-8 season where the offense was much better but the defense was yiiiiiikes.
- Brandon Peters is Wes Lunt, the QB transfer from a power five school who is known more for his arm than his feet.
- Isaiah Williams is Aaron Bailey, the four-star QB phenom known more for his feet than his arm.
- Matt Robinson is Reilly O'Toole, the "hey guys, I can maybe do both things while these other guys can only do one of the two" QB who eventually leads the team to a bowl game (ok I'm projecting).
- Need an injection of talent at wide receiver? Can I present junior Geronimo Allison who fits what the OC wants to do with his receivers and freshman Mikey Dudek who catches everything at practice? Or maybe junior Trevon Sidney who fits what the OC wants to do with his receivers and freshman Casey Washington who catches everything at practice?
- What's that? There's a transfer on the defensive line who is here to fix last year's mess? Is his name Jihad Ward or Wole Betiku?
The offseason storyline? "Why are we sticking with this same failed defense?" The general feel at the beginning of training camp? "It doesn't feel like it's happening yet - it should absolutely be happening by now". I mean, Ryan Cubit joined the staff in 2014 and Miles Smith joined the staff in 2019. I could go on and on.
But I feel like that doesn't really explain my point here. It's the "feel" of camp that seems similar. This weird combination of "yep, we've absolutely improved" in some spots combined with "wow, have we improved at all?" in other places.
I think I've said this before, but it's worth repeating. Most confident I felt coming out of training camp in the last 10 years? Without question 2011. Least confident? 2017. Sneaky good camp? 2015 (I was all set to predict 7-5 before Beckman was fired a week before the first game and the whole season was thrown into turmoil). Shouldn't-be-this-bad camp? 2018.
2014 (and now 2019) are their own category. Over here, all these things to feel great about. Over here, things that frighten me to my core.
The big difference, of course: the QB battle. Because of Bill Cubit's offense, we knew in August of 2014 that Wes Lunt was going to win the starting job. He was recruited to run the Cubit offense and Bailey was purely a runner who was trying to learn a pocket offense. O'Toole was basically given the same afterthought treatment that Matt Robinson is currently receiving. (The big difference there, obviously - O'Toole was a senior while Robinson is a redshirt freshman.)
So Lunt was The Guy way more than Brandon Peters is being treated as The Guy. If I had to put money down right now on the starter in the first game I'd guess Peters (junior competing against three freshmen), but it's nothing like it was with Lunt having the starting spot locked up. In fact, I don't think they'll even decide on a starter until maybe August 19th or so. And a guy like Robinson has way more of a chance than, say, Reilly O'Toole had in 2014.
BUT, it's the same camp. You feel great one minute and awful the next. You can squint and see seven wins and then suddenly you're frightened of three.
I remember a moment in 2014 (and I might have even tweeted it at the time) that I was convinced Josh Ferguson and Donovonn Young were going to be this dominant pairing in the backfield. That offensive line was returning four starters (Alex Hill, Michael Heitz, Teddy Karras, and Simon Cvijanovic), and you'd watch these running plays in practice (especially the Josh Ferguson spin move) and be completely convinced that we'd have an incredible run game.
But then you'd watch the passing game and it was all hope. The wide receivers returning from the previous season weren't cutting it (Martize Barr, Kenny Knight, Justin Hardee), so it was going to be up to the newcomers (G-Mo, Dude-K, and Malik Turner) to fill the gap. So you'd be all excited about parts of the passing game (especially with Lunt), but then you'd realize it was pretty much "all the new guys have to gel immediately because we've tossed out everything else". A running game that had been starting to prove itself but a passing game that was "hope all the new guys figure it out".
And the defense was the wild card. You couldn't trust what you were seeing. We had seen two years of the Tim Banks defense and most were convinced it couldn't work. So even though I started to see signs of a plucky defense at camp in 2014, could I trust it? The 2013 had been one of the worst defenses in the country (S&P+ #102), so how could anyone trust what they were seeing in practice? Even if it looks "good", it can't be that good.
So it was a really tough season to predict. That was the year I went with the "I just know we're going to be 5-6 going into the Northwestern game" prediction (and I predicted a loss to finish 5-7 - we beat Northwestern and finished 6-6). And it feels very similar this year (so far). One moment I think a bowl is really possible, especially given the schedule. The next moment, I remember how far we have to go and realize this is just us scrimmaging against us.
The camp comp: 2014. A combination of excitement over camp performances combined with trust issues. Some hope creeping in, mixed with "but why did we have to boost the roster with transfers in the first place?"
Will the result be the same? Remember how we almost went the entire season trailing every single game entering the fourth quarter but also won six games and went to a bowl? Will we do that again?
I hope not.
I hope so.