Football Is Back!
It was really fun to be out at McLane today. The weather was beautiful, the team was amped up, and it was just an all around great time. They’re going to do it again next weekend, I’d highly recommend getting out there if it’s not too big of burden. Lot of fun seeing guys compete.
Practice started with warmups, of course. Guys go with each of their position coaches and go through drills (it looks very similar to what they do before a game if you’ve ever gotten to the stadium about 30 minutes before kickoff). After about 15 minutes of that it was show time.
Things started with 1s vs 1s. An important caveat here, though — “the 1s” doesn’t mean that much right now. They’re two weeks into spring ball with a new offensive system. Especially on offense, the positions are fluid and I wouldn’t pencil anyone in as a starter save a few guys like Galvin at LT and Tyquan Thornton at WR.
A quick disclaimer, I was writing things down quickly and am still doing a lot of this from memory. I think what I’m writing is all accurate, but it’s possible that I mix some guys up and attribute some things to people incorrectly.
With that caveat aside, the first QB to get a crack was Blake Shapen, the redshirt freshman from Louisiana who decided to not play baseball this Spring so he could focus on football. All three of Shapen, Bohanon, and Zeno got shots playing with the “first team” offense. The first play of the practice was a true play action shot to Thornton down the field—the ball was a few yards out of reach beyond double coverage. After a short run by a RB (Ebner was the starting RB), Shapen threw a nice ball on a slant to Thornton for the 3rd down conversion. They got a few more first downs before Shapen tried to hit a WR deep in the middle of the field but Jalen Pitre undercut the route for an easy interception. From reviewing some of Shapen’s full games from HS, he too often forced the ball downfield into coverage so I wasn’t surprised to see this. But he’s young so of course, time to learn.
The “starting OL” was Galvin - Gavin Byers - Xavier Newman-Johnson - JohnCarlo Valentin - Casey Phillips. However, only Galvin really has his spot solidified, there was a lot of shuffling going on. The “second team OL” was Elijah Ellis - Byers - Grant Miller - JohnCarlo Valentin - Mose Jeffery. Playing Mose at RT was interesting to see. I think Baylor will be looking in the transfer market to help at OT. And again, there was a lot of movement here. Guys like Grant Miller and Mose were getting playing time with the 1s later in practice. Btw—shout out to Jeff—Elijah Ellis is probably in competition only with Garmon Randolph for best looking athlete on the team.
In general the offense got dominated by the defense for most of the day. But this is to be expected—defenses are always ahead of offenses early in camp, and especially so when you return everyone on D and are installing a new offense. Things were moving quickly and I was taking notes on who was playing, so I wasn’t able to gather too much about what types of plays and such they were running.
The first couple of series the offense was mostly in 11 personnel—1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR—starting with Thornton, Holmes, and Sneed at WR with Ben Sims at TE. There is a LOT more under center work in this offense, It sets up good angles for the RBs on wide zone and, most importantly, sets up a great true play action game. I would suspect that >50% of the throws in practice were on true play action. There’s not as much pure dropback in this offense, at least from what I’ve seen. Some of the other WRs that got looks with the ones were Jackson Gleeson and I think I saw Jaylen Ellis in there. Josh Fleeks did not participate, he was there but was wearing workout clothes. Probably COVID protocol or something.
The second QB who had a shot with the ones was Gerry Bohanon. His first series was short lived, I think they only had four plays. I wouldn’t say the pass protection was terrible, but QBs definitely were getting guys in their face today, especially off the edges. Gerry had to hurry a deep throw to Thornton which was off target, and then was behind his target on a slant on 3rd down. They also ran a sweep, which will be a big part of this offense, to Seth Jones.
Next they had a 7 on 7 period where Drones and a walk on played at QB. This is where the true freshmen and some walk ons played. Drones had a beautiful deep ball to true freshmen freak WR Javon Gipson, who had totally burned the walk on CB covering him, but he dropped it. Elijah Bean had a great shoe string catch on a slant, but then didn’t make a contested catch in the end zone on a jump ball (Bean is a legit 6’5).
After the 7 on 7 period Zeno got his first crack at playing QB with the ones. He led them down the field, aided by some solid run game, for the offense’s first score of the day. On that drive he had a decent throw on a crossing route to Sneed off play action, and then had a good ball near the goal-line to Holmes for the TD. From what I saw (I had to leave before it was over, so possible someone else scored), Zeno was the only QB who led scoring drives. He had three of them I think. On a subsequent drive he had a great deep back shoulder ball to Jackson Gleeson who was to the wide side of the field. On the third scoring drive Taye McWilliams had a wide lane to run through and bursted through a secondary defender to get to the endzone.
I thought Jonah White was the best looking RB of the day. He’s just an insanely good athlete. He had a really good catch and run in the 7 on 7 portion that looked like his highlights out of Merkel, made like 4 guys miss on the sideline. I thought that overall Ebner and Qualan had a rough day, though Jones had one series where he had a few good runs where was able to get to the edge unopposed. Qualan also played as a FB on one drive, which is what I wanted from him when he signed out of high school.
In this offense we are gonna see a LOT of deep shots to Thornton. This coaching staff knows what they have in him. He looked GREAT today and they targeted him down the field a ton.
The biggest takeaway that I had was that new OC Jeff Grimes gets after it. He was absolutely laying into some guys, including Ebner and Qualan Jones for running outside too much instead of cutting inside. He also went after redshirt freshman Seth Jones for not blocking on a screen play. Grimes has an absolutely tremendous booming voice and could be heard throughout the stadium. New OL coach Eric Mateos was also getting after it, really coaching guys up.
As I said previously, the defense dominated the offense for the better part of the day. The 1st team defense was largely a formality due to the number of guys they returned, but it was: Utley - Chidi - Maxwell on DL (TJ Franklin and Gabe Hall were not participating), Obi at JACK, Doyle and Abram Smith (Bernard not participating in spring) at ILB, Pitre at STAR, Barnes and Texada at CB, and Woods and Morgan at S. The second team was Landry - Ika - Randolph at DL, Bryson Jackson or Ashton Logan at JACK (Tony Anyanwu was not there today), Matt Jones and Hakeem Vance at ILB (Brooks Miller wasn’t there from what I could tell), Devin Neal and Mike Harris at S, and AJ McCarty and Al Walcott at CB (Mark Milton wasn’t available today).
The run game for most of the day was pretty inept, though there were a few series where the offense was consistently able to get to the edge. It looked to me that the defense was dialing up a lot of edge pressure. And you could just tell that the D had been playing together longer and was in year 2 as opposed to year 1. Pitre called out WR motion before it even happened, and the defensive staff was FIRED UP.
The defense played with a couple of different packages. One is a package with two JACKs where they take out the STAR and get another guy on the edge. This usually involved Bryson Jackson and Ashton Logan with the twos. I don’t think I saw them do this with the ones (though I could be wrong of course), which makes sense because there’s no point in taking your best player Jalen Pitre off the field. They also played with a true PESO look where they remove a DL and add another JACK. This allows Pitre to stay in the game, you just need to have a couple of interior DL who can stay stout in the run game.
It was really hard to see how any of the interior guys—both OL and DL—were playing. They were running plays so fast and it was hard to get a handle on everything. Next week I’ll probably focus more on some of the interior guys to see how they’re holding up. I did watch Ika on a few plays and it looked to me that he might need to lose some weight. He looked gassed by the end of the practice.
Unsurprisingly the defense was way ahead of the offense at this point. I’ll be curious how the offense responds this week and if they look any better this upcoming Saturday. Hope to see y’all there!