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The Mustangs returned Tuesday morning for another practice on the turf at Gerald J. Ford Stadium. Some notes:
• Alumni reunion: in attendance at practice were graduating DBs Chris Banjo, Richard Crawford and Justin Sorrell, as well as former OT Kelvin Beachum, Jr.
• Skeleton (no defense) passing drills in April can not be viewed as a preview of the starting lineup that will take the field when the 2012 season begins, but the same five offensive linemen worked with the first team: Kris Weeks at left tackle, Jordan Free at left guard, Blake McJunkin at center, Bryan Collins at right guard and Christian Miller at right tackle. New offensive line coach Bob Palcic appears to have recognized the versatility of Free and Collins, who have flip-flopped between the right and left guard spots throughout the first few practices.
• When the offense worked as a complete unit (rather than simply quarterbacks and receivers working on passing drills), Stephen Kaiser again took the first snaps at quarterback.
• Maybe it’s nothing more than evidence of head coach June Jones’s Monday claim that WR Darius Johnson (and LB Taylor Reed) have to earn back their spots in the starting lineup after sitting out last week’s practices to focus on academics, but the receivers had a new look, at least in early skeleton (no defense) drills, when outside WRs Keenan Holman and Der’Rikk Thompson were joined by slot WRs Cole Loftin and Ryan Walker.
• The quarterbacks and receivers didn’t seem to be in sync early in practice, as several passes fell incomplete, either because of errant throws by the quarterbacks or drops by the receivers. The passing game tightened up, however, as practice went along. Two of the nicer catches were turned in by a pair of young players who didn’t play in 2011: WR Bobby Waid used all of his 6-4 height and long arms to climb the ladder for a high pass and then spun so quickly upon landing that he left a linebacker grasping at air, and moments later, WR Kyle Guinyard did the exact same thing to a fast-charging cornerback.
• When offensive and defensive linemen engage in blocking/rush drills, the results are hard to deny — either the defensive player gets through or he doesn’t, so it’s rare that the victor in a matchup is hard to determine. When the Mustangs took part in such a drill Tuesday (with one defensive lineman lined up from three or four offensive linemen, who had to sort out who would block), It should come as no surprise that C Blake McJunkin held his own. The elder statesman of the offensive line, McJunkin is experienced, strong and has solid technique, and presumably will be the anchor of the offensive line in the fall. Equally impressive, however, was C/G Taylor Lasecki, who stood a few rushers up on their heels and drove them back, or at the very least stopped their forward progress. (Graduated OL Bryce Tennison said during the fall that the reason for Lasecki’s strong performance in practice was the freshman’s ability to grow a full “man beard,” but despite a reduction in facial follicles, Lasecki has looked very strong in protection drills.)
• Then there’s the case of DE Margus Hunt. Since his arrival on the football field, Hunt has drawn a lot of attention — first as the track star experimenting in a new sport, then as the kick blocking specialist and last year as a more complete football player who capped off his third season in the sport by shredding the Pittsburgh offense for three quarterback sacks (and almost collecting a few more) in the Ponies pounding of the Pitt Panthers in the BBVA Compass Bowl. Coaches talk about how Hunt’s development seems to be evident almost on a day-to-day (or at least week-to-week) basis, and they’re right.
First of all, he looks different. When he first took the field three years ago, he was tall and lanky, and awkward as he learned how to navigate around blockers and chase quarterbacks. He has strapped more than 30 pounds on his 6-foot-8 frame since then and now has the build of a defensive end, with more bulk in his chest, shoulders and arms. More importantly, though, is his obvious increase in comfort on the field. Last year, he started to take advantage of his height and long arms, holding blockers at bay while watching the ball and then flinging blockers aside to chase the ball carrier.
In Tuesday’s drill, Hunt showed more evidence of his progression from a track athlete playing football to a football player with exceptional athletic gifts. In the OL/DL drill, Hunt burst around the corner, dipping his shoulder so low he had his shoulder pads at about the level of the blocker’s waist. He got a hand down on the ground, with his body tilted at an angle of somewhere around 45 degrees and used his leg strength to power past the offensive line and accelerate so fast he got to the “quarterback” (an offensive lineman living out a blocker’s dream of actually touching the ball) virtually untouched. Yes, it was a drill in practice, but defensive ends his size with that kind of body control are rare, and Hunt is showing the ability to do this more and more. If he can repeat it in games on a regular basis, his ability as a pass rusher will improve dramatically.
• Pick of the day: when backup QB Garrett Krstich fired an ill-advised pass over the middle, two defenders went up for it. LB Randall Joyner outfought his own teammate and pulled down the interception.
• The passing game, which was inconsistent early on, improved throughout the day. Two of the nicer plays in “live” drills (against a defense) came late in the practice. QB Conner Preston fired a perfect 45-yard strike over the outstretched hands of two DBs to find WR Marcus Holyfield for a touchdown, and Steve Kaiser fired a crisp pass over the middle to WR Jeremy Johnson (one of several players who look visibly stronger than they did during the season), who made the grab in stride, accelerated away from a defender, turned upfield and split two DBs on his way to the end zone.
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Thanks, PP! Those of us out in the hinterlands can't get enough of this!!
The biggest surprise for me so far is hearing about Kaiser taking the first team snaps versus CP.
Anything to report on how Christian Holloway and/or Gehrig Dieter look so far?
Last edited by ojaipony on Wed Apr 11, 2012 12:12 am, edited 1 time in total.
It seems like over the past year, these reports have included a lot of mentions of interceptions by Joyner. Sounds like he has really good hands for a linebacker, and good awareness, too.
Sorry about the limited coverage of football, but SMU is making the transition to Big East Basketball powerhouse.
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