Note: There were too many words in this post, so Avi broke it up into two pieces. Today's post has your general observations, with a look at the film coming tomorrow.
In which I open with words of caution
...as I always do. (Being Rational Is My Schtick. #BRIMS)
There won't be a traditional grading scale of Outstanding, Exceeds Expectations, Acceptable, Poor, Dreadful, or Troll for this one, because the nature of these games makes it very difficult to tell anything about performance. I mean, if we score, does that say more about the defense or the offense? How much do we learn from seeing the 1s go against the 2s, but never against each other? Penn State, for example, just runs the first team against the second team, all spring game long. How useful is all that, really?
The point is, it's easy to get down -- or up -- on guys, or the team, based on such a small sample size. Case in point: remember Kline a few springs back? He hit, what was it, Hagan, right in the hands from 40 yards out, a throw that made everyone convinced he'd be the guy (me included)? Well...we all know how that turned out, so let's try not to overreact. Neither side of the ball played consistently well, but you won't see me declaring either one to be doomed, or anything like that. The summer is long, and fall camp is another opportunity to further improve -- it's not like the team that trotted out there today will be the one facing off against Northwestern.
Hopefully a few days after the immediacy of the moment, some of the 1-11 and 2-10 stuff I've seen thrown around can calm down a bit, but...more on that later.
- The first half of the Bear Raid (2014 edition) was pretty lackluster, and anyone who left at halftime would have assumed that we regressed wildly this offseason. How could they not, when the most productive quarterback in that first half was the backup (potentially the 3rd stringer)? Well, the good news is that things ended up picking things up toward the end, with Goff throwing for a majority of his 170 yards after the break. It would have been a better day, if more of the balls had been caught.That group that appeared after halftime was more along the lines of the unit you should expect to see. In other words, nothing to worry about with the Bear Raid Commander, really.
- I'd also argue that Goff didn't do that badly in the first half. According to Ryan Gorcey's statistics, Goff was something like 5 of 11 for 27 yards at the break, with at least three semi-catchable drops that weren't on him (Lawler, Treggs, Davis). Simply an unacceptable result from a wide receiver group that aims to be one of the best in the country this fall. Those would have resulted in a few more first downs, certainly, and I, like most of you, am troubled by the fact that the offense started slow once again. We're not good enough to play from behind consistently...
- ...nor are we good enough to survive bad snaps. The coaches have said this, and it's abundantly clear from the scrimmage, too. J.D. Hinnant obviously is not ready to play yet. Adcock or Cochran are almost assured to jump him on the depth chart when they return in June.
- We also dodged a bullet with Jordan Rigsbee, who looks like he wasn't hurt with anything too serious. He was able to walk off with some help after being rolled up on, at a position where we can ill afford another injury.
- Still not consistently full, or pressed tempo. Wait til everyone's back. Just wait.
- Obviously, the run blocking isn't quite all there yet, seeing as the backs averaged 3.22 yards per carry (100 yards on 31 carries) with fairly little room to operate, save for one really good run by Lasco and the short yardage Bone situations. It's a unit that remains very, very much in progress, but should receive reinforcements later this fall, with the aforementioned additions of Cochran and Adcock, as well as Dominic Granado. I am noticing Chris Borrayo a lot as a guy who is getting push down the field, though.
- In terms of pass protection, though, there were enough signs for me to indicate that we should be fine. Goff said it was the best day he's had behind the group, and though I think that's probably hyperbole, he did do a great job of stepping up in the pocket away from oncoming rushers, never seeming too bothered. Something like two of the sacks occurred with him under center, which is a pretty acceptable number given 23 attempts.
- Hey, how about the play of one Daniel Lasco, who finally, finally looks healthy? Although he took only six carries for 35 yards -- designed to keep him fresh -- he made the most of what he was given, running with power, authority, pushing through piles, moving smoothly in the open field...in short, looking very much the part of "lead back". That's a guy we've seen only in spurts throughout his career so far.
- That's not to say it was all positive, though. One of the complaints about Lasco is that he too often goes east-west, rather than planting and running for whatever he can get. You can see this right in the second half of the spring game, when he takes a carry to the left side for only a small gain. Coach Franklin grabs him after the play and gestures angrily at him for not cutting north. (Vined conveniently for you!)
- Another Daniel Lasco related point: We won't be able to assess Khalfani Muhammad more clearly until after he comes back from track, but if that guy we saw wearing #2 is the one that shows up for the season? Then we sure as hell have a guy worth 250+ carries. In an ideal situation, I'd prefer to have Lasco and his slightly bigger frame to take the bulk of them, with Khalfani getting a good amount of touches as a change of pace guy or in the slot. That would allow us the luxury of having to play only one of the freshmen backs, and not both.
- Jeff Coprich did some good things in the passing game in taking a little dump off for 18 yards and had a couple solid runs here and there, but I am sticking with my opinion here -- I don't really anticipate him taking significant carries of substance come fall. Given the three backs coming in, I get the sense that the team doesn't really believe in the depth behind Khalfani or Lasco, which is part of what motivated the John Porchivina switch back to offense.
- I was disappointed that Trevor Davis did not show out the way I was hoping. He's been productive in all practices for almost a year, and to see him be a quiet non-factor in the spring "experience" was a bit anti-climactic, given how much I and other other writers have hyped him up. He did have a couple of close calls, though, with one coming on an out route that would have been a first down, and another where Goff impressively fit it in over an oncoming safety. Davis just didn't manage to reel it in. Trey Cheek ended up breaking it up.
- Davis' hands, however, take a backseat to Kenny Lawler, who would have been another standout on Saturday morning had he been more consistent. He did catch one touchdown on a backshoulder fade -- a terrific throw, by the way. Kenny stretched out full extension to grab it, and Goff put it there where only he could reach -- but had another sure score bounce right off his hand in the second half. A third possible touchdown was broken up by Cheek.
- Nothing to really report about the other guys. Yes, Bryce Treggs made a fantastic catch to get downed at the one again, and yes, Stephen Anderson looks like he might be a solid anchor opposite Treggs, but no one else saw enough attention to really stand out. It probably says enough that they were still the solidest unit on the field Saturday, even without Chris Harper available.
- As bad as Austin Hinder has played most of the spring -- and it's been bad in the open practices -- he did pretty clearly outperform Boehm on Saturday, so that battle looks like it'll continue into the fall. Although I think Boehm will win out, I don't particularly care who it is, as long as Rubenzer gets to redshirt safely. Though the first half may not have made it look that way, the drop down in quality from Goff to one of these guys is quite vast, and I agree that this team is probably doomed to winning only two games if Hinder or Boehm sees significant time.
- Boehm, however, wasn't the one who chunked a little dump off pass right into the dirt. Shades of Maynard on that one, Hinder. Shades. Of. Maynard.
- No special teams section since there were no punts or returns, but since Anderson went 3 of 3, and Langford's miss was only just short from 51, I would guess that those two guys surged a bit ahead. Your guess is as good as mine here, though.
- From the first play on Saturday, they looked faster. They tackled better. There were no egregiously bad breakdowns in coverage, facing off against probably the best group of receivers they'll see all year. What else could you ask for? I didn't notice anything particularly unique going on on defense though, because Kaufman really ended up rushing just four a lot of the time, with very few nickel looks, either. He also tended to slide around the linebackers to work in coverage, not really showing any unique personnel packages. If Scott or Liffey chimed in, they probably would be more help here than me, I think.
- We may not know for sure about year two of Damon Harrington's strength and conditioning program until the fall, but seeing the 1st team defense face a 17 play drive and only giving up a field goal is pretty promising. They certainly could have broken at any point, and might have, in recent years. I am, of course, acknowledging here that the underlying variable here is that they faced the 2nd team offense. Still, let's take what we can get here. The fact that there have been no injuries of note all spring should serve as further proof, no?
- No Hunter and no Jalil? Didn't matter on this day, as the patchwork group of defensive tackles combined for a sack, three TFLs, a fumble recovery, and several other no gains, which is incredibly encouraging, although I think Mekari's numbers were slightly inflated due to them whistling every play dead that involved a QB. A few times, this bunch even destroyed or took on extra blockers to keep the linebackers free to make plays, which didn't happen much last year either. All good signs. We still need to see how they perform against other lines besides ours, though, so I'm going to mark them down as a continued question mark for now.
- Another much anticipated Bear made his return on Saturday in Brennan Scarlett, who flashed in for a sack of Hinder early in the first quarter. That was it as far as statistical contributions went for him. For whatever reason, Scarlett isn't a guy who I notice that often, going back to 2012. Just an observation on my part.
- Kyle Kragen was definitely, definitely robbed of a sack on the stats sheet. Early in the second half, on a play that was called dead immediately, he worked past Farley and tapped Goff as he was about to throw, forcing a fumble. I distinctly remember him getting consistent pressure off the edge forcing Goff to step up pretty much all game long, but not enough to sack him until that particular play. When Sione Sina is ready in the fall, it will be interesting to see if he can push Kragen a bit, who has largely been a practice performer.
- Of course, I have to mention Jalen Jefferson for his continued steadiness. If he becomes a more consistent tackler, something he struggled with last season, we have really little to worry about as far as he goes. His interception was just a fantastic combination of read and athleticism, and after looking at that particular play several times, I still have no idea what Hinder was looking at on that one.
- Grant Marek and I are big fans of Raymond Davison, and he sure did make us look smart for liking him. On the first play of the game, you'll see Davison doing a lot of different things -- he drops back into the flat, tries to disrupt Bryce running the wheel, and then reads the quick pass to Lasco and closes in a hurry to hold him to no gain. If we're not going to play a ton of nickel, then the backers will have to function effectively in coverage, like he did right there. He's still got to add more weight, but I think he may eventually fill the role that Johnny Ragin was supposed to (although he's a bit less athletic than Ragin).
- Pity there was no Michael Barton available. He's another guy I really like from this linebacking group, and I was looking forward to getting a closer look at him, since he hasn't caught my eye often in open practices. Between he, Jefferson, and Nickerson, however, you have to figure that the starters are pretty much set here.
- Trey Cheek was probably the other surprise guy on Saturday. At times fairly behind the other two corners of his recruiting class -- he's the only one without a starting spot, after all -- Cheek has not had the best spring, getting beat by the likes of Kenny Lawler and Chris Harper with some regularity. But as they say, steel sharpens steel, and it looks like practicing against them has only strengthened his resolve. Both of his passes broken up came after the ball was already caught, which shows some serious tenacity.
- The stats sheet won't say Darius Allensworth did much during the scrimmage, but after seeing him drop back, hop straight up and swat an Austin Hinder pass meant for much deeper down the field, I'll say this: the leg looks healthy to me. Still no idea how the cornerback rotation works out once McClure and Darius White are available, but that's a good problem to have...isn't it?
- Avery Sebastian was a light participant in Saturday's scrimmage, and was only a shell of his normal, ball-seeking player of old. Though he didn't make any errors in pass coverage, his trademark skill -- zeroing in on the ball carrier at hyperspeed and knocking him out -- definitely has been blunted a bit, as he works on regaining his game sense. We'll see where he is in the fall. For now, it's just great to see him out there again.
That'll do it for general observations. Tomorrow, I have some plays I broke down, and final thoughts heading into the fall. Sound off with yours in the comments.