The defensive backs are not the only ones who feel that they are playing better three weeks into spring ball. The linebackers, who are now the focus of the defense, are also playing with more confidence.
"We're so much more comfortable with what we're doing now," said linebacker Chris Bolden. "I think what you're seeing out there is confidence. That if we do things right, then they'll work. We just need to continue to get more comfortable in the system and then the confidence will come and we'll start stopping people."
It is no secret that head coach Bronco Mendenhall wants to see his secondary make more plays. Correcting the woes in the Cougar secondary has been a point of emphasis in every practice this spring. Mendenhall likes what he has seen so far.
"The secondary is starting to execute at a higher level, they had to learn new coverage concepts going in, and they're going about it step by step," said Mendenhall. "We're staying healthy giving guys a lot of reps and that is helping develop players like Ben Criddle, Cole Miyahira, Quinn Gooch and Brandon Howard."
Following the first week of practices, Mendenhall indicated that he would keep the secondary coverages relatively basic. With only a week of practice left, Mendenhall is holding true to his word.
"We're still keeping it very simple," he said. "With each coverage, there are different things you can do, but we're keeping it simple now, so they can get the core coverage down."
Robinson feels that it has been a great help.
"We're not doing new stuff out there, we're just doing the stuff we're learning with the new defense better," he said. "It's still simple out there. We're only running two different coverages and it's coming. We're getting more and more confident with it."
After playing safety last season, Dustin Gabriel made the switch to outside linebacker this spring. Now heading into the final stretch, Gabriel is again seeing reps at safety. So what's going on? Gabriel just can't get comfortable with any position? The experiment at linebacker failed or none of the above?
"I had a pretty bad neck injury and [the move] is about not putting me in a situation that could jeopardize my playing for the next couple of years," explained Gabriel. "So I've moved back to the secondary where there aren't as many hits. The hits can still get pretty violent, but there's not as many."
Gabriel is being held out of full contact drills to steer clear of hits that could put his career in jeopardy.
"I know the calls at safety, linebacker and I want to learn it all," said Gabriel. "I'll probably be back at linebacker this fall as I get healthy, but I'll do whatever. I don't have a preference, I just want to play and to help the team as much as possible."
- The coverages are getting progressively tighter in the one-on-one drills between the receivers and the cornerbacks. Both Ben Criddle and Brandon Howard closed effectively on mid-range passes to knock the ball away in drills today
- Criddle got exclusive reps with the ones for the second day in a row playing with Justin Robinson who returned to practice. Robinson had a couple of nice open field tackles. On one such play he dropped Michael Reed behind the line of scrimmage on a pass out to the flat. The improved play of the cornerbacks has not gone unnoticed. "We're tackling better in the secondary," said Cougar Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall. "You saw Justin Robinson make some good open field tackles and hopefully that continues to get better."
- During the first series of the full-contact drills, the defense held the offense out of the endzone. Robinson tackled Reed for a minimal gain of three yards on the opening play, followed by Jan Jorgensen dropping Curtis Brown in the backfield for a two-yard loss. Offensive highlights included an eight-yard run by Brown and a 10-yard pass to Fui Vakapuna.
- The twos on both sides then took the field and the offense made it to the endzone on a long drive, which included a 10-yard run by Vakapuna, a couple of six-yard runs by Ray Hudson, Jason Beck passes of five, 10 and five yards to Daniel Coats, Manase Tonga and Zach Collie respectively. The offense got into the endzone on a Jason Beck 32-yard pass to Collie.
- The defense then got a three and out on the next series with the ones as Hala Paongo stopped Brown for a 3 yard gain which was followed by a 6 yard pass to Coats. Jorgensen then ended the series with a sack.
- The team then ended practice with a redzone drill which saw the best run of the practice. Brown carried the ball from the 20 to the four-yard line on a third and long situation. Brown slashed his way through the defense making numerous defenders miss. Vakapuna then finished off the series with a two-yard touchdown run which he celebrated with a flip.