Head coach/offensive coordinator Gary Crowton and offensive assistants Todd Bradford, Mike Empey, Lance Reynolds and Jeff Grimes put their young charges through the more vigorous paces than last year’s fall camp with loud, detailed hands-on commands on everything from tough running, positioning, timing, how many steps to take and where their hands should be.
Crowton, more intimately involved than anything since 2001, directed the recievers off the line and into their routes timed with quarterback passes while wide receivers coach Bradford critiqued the individual route-running for improvement and polishing.
With their individual position drills finally over, the offense and defense came together for a light non-contact scrimmage, resulting in some impressive highlights – particularly for the watchful exultant fans looking for anything better than what they’ve seen from the Cougars the last two seasons.
Matt Smith, a 6-2, 185 pound, All-State receiver from Missoula, Montana, snagged a long, over-the-head pass from John Beck that drew cheers from onlookers. Beck then connected with 6-3, 185 pound JC All-American wideout Todd Watkins for another long gainer that also drew applause and cheers from the assembled crowd.
Matt Berry also connected on long strikes to Smith and Rod Wilkerson, but the most impressive grab from Berry was made by 6-1, 180 pound JC transfer Riley Weber, who jumped back over the defender to steal what should have been an interception. Weber made several acrobatic catches for sizable gains to the delight of fans.
Commenting on the infusion of new wide receiver talent to complement the more seasoned receiver returnees, Berry noted, “They are awesome! It just raises everybody’s talent level up. You can rely on them to make a play and you know they’re going to get there. You can see it by how people are battling out here.”
The quarterbacks completed multiple passes, both long and short, to not only the receivers but also the tight ends.
Crowton, who serves as his own quarterback coach this season for the first time, spoke of his signal-calling unit. “The thing that I see right now is we’re not in a scrimmage situation, but a team situation. They’ve (quarterbacks) been around and they should know what they’re doing. They should be completing a lot of passes and they are where I expect them to be.”
Despite their early fall practice success, Crowton is taking a wait-and-see aproach to determine how the quarterbacks respond to full, all-out scrimmages in the upcoming weeks of fall camp.
“It will be a bit harder for me to evaluate them until we get into two minute drills, red-area drills, scrimmage and things, Crowton said. “Then I can see how they keep us on the field and how they get us into the end zone. I’ve been very pleased with their cooperation so far to get to fall camp. They know what they’re doing and they’re handling it quickly under duress, which is what the quarterbacks have to do.”
Not forgetting the other side of the ball, there were defensive plays that also impressed onlookers. Cougarback Aaron Francisco had a hand in one dropped pass by a tight end when he appled a little extra “pop” on the reception when the tight end ventured into his territory. The well-timed “inadvertent” caused a fumble and a defensive back picked up the ball and raced to the end zone with Mendenhall-like zeal.
Both cornerback speedsters Micah Alba and JC transfer Greg Lovely racked up interceptions for the defense.
“This is a much better team,” Berry said as a general observvation of the first three days of non-contact fall practice.
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