I can certainly say that today's afternoon practice went much smoother than my luck with technology this evening which has decided it wants to hate me. Anyway, here's today's recap.
Tyler Williams kept the media members entertained in the press box as the kickers do much of their individual workouts before the other members of the team take the field. Williams, who finds himself on the Ray Guy award watch list, stood at his own 20 yard line and sent kick after kick to the opposite 20 with hang times averaging 7 seconds. His biggest boom was a kick that traveled 75 yards in the air, sending Angelo Jean-Louis scurrying backwards to make an over the shoulder catch at the 2 yard line. While Williams was happy with the distance, he said he would've traded about 20 yards off the kick for a bit more hang time.
"It's all about good preparation," Williams said. "It doesn't matter if I kick 10 balls or 100 balls, my preparation is still the same. I work on the little things that most people never think about but I know those are what I have to better myself at to become a better player."
Justin Haig worked in the afternoon season after being the morning session yesterday and showed there is plenty of leg to use should Coach Holliday need it this season. Haig booted several 40+ yd FG's including one from 47 that split the brand new uprights in half.
Receivers were sharp for the most part today. Davonte Allen had a big afternoon including a great grab from Gunnar Holcombe that excited Heisman Trophy Candidate Rakeem Cato so much that he sprinted to Allen's position on the field to let him know he was pleased. Freshman Emanuel Beal had a better day today including a spectacular grab from Cato into tight coverage by Swagg-D (Roberts). Shuler was Shuler today, doing what he does everyday, raising the bar and forcing someone else to step up. After burning the defense and catching a deep touchdown pass from Holcombe, it was Demetrius Evans who decided to answer the call as the senior made an aerobatic catch from Cato into double coverage to end practice. It was a good ending for Evans who has had a slow start to camp.
"I'm excited for how the receivers have been playing," Holliday said. "They are a talented bunch and just keep getting better. We need all of them and the great thing about competition is it makes them push each other to get better. This is probably the best receiver play I've seen since I've been here."
Cato looked sharp again today and commanded his offense like the captain he is expected to be. Near the end of practice in the 11-on-11 drills, Cato turned a busted play into a positive gain but as soon as the whistle sounded it was Cato that was chewing on a defensive player who blew his assignment, allowing Cato to get in position to make the player rather than being dropped for a loss.
"I've always said when players take ownership in the team you've got a chance," Holliday said of Cato's coaching antics. "That started happening about midway through the season last year and its continued through the summer and its better now than its ever been. But to see him (Cato) do that, its what good players do."
Cato hooked up with Allen on several targeted passes as well as Angelo Jean-Louis and Eric Frohnapfel. One of the biggest keys for this years passing attack is someone in the receiving core stepping up to replace Moo-Moo from last year. Allen appears to have brought all the positive strides from spring camp with him this fall. Should Allen be able to fill that void, it would put a 6-2 target on the outside rather than the 5-7 target of Smith that Cato threw to last season. Allen seems to have gained a tremendous amount of confidence which could be a good thing to push the red-shirt junior to step up and perform to his potential.
Frohnapfel had his first chance to work with Cato in camp as the senior is forced into the morning sessions Monday and Wednesday due to a class conflict. The senior said the biggest difference was the speed of the sessions.
"Everything is much faster and there is less time standing around teaching and more of just calling the plays and going," Frohnapfel said. "Everyone knows what's expect so the pace is really moving fast."
At the conclusion of practice during the 11-on-11 drills, the offensive and defensive lines were really flying off the ball and making some solid contact. Keep in mind these players are only in helmets and shorts but get to add shoulder pads to begin tomorrow's practice. I expect the explosion sound of pads crashing together to fill the Joan early and often throughout the two practices tomorrow.
Newly appointed running back Devon Johnson broke a nice run out of the backfield and introduced AJ Leggett to what opposing defenses will be seeing all season long, a 254 pound freight train on a run-away course. Johnson brings a new dynamic to the Herd's rushing attack that will force defenses to differ the way it approaches the backfield when Butler and Watson are not back there. Coach Barclay was excited for the new addition to his running backs stable mainly because it allows Johnson and Frohnapfel to be on the field at the same time.
"I think the biggest thing about having both Devon and myself on the field at the same time is it allows us to run a lot of packages without having to substitute," Frohnapfel said. "We don't want to slow down the clock and allow defenses to substitute. The goal is to keep them in one defensive package and force them to move and adjust to cover us."
Holliday spoke about the players stepping up and being a leader and it did not have to be a senior to do that. Josh Knight--who worked out with the morning group today--was one of only three players that was considered a veteran in the session. Holliday said its part of the culture this team has taken on with players coaching each other up and its always a welcome site to see.
With the shells going on tomorrow, I expect to start seeing more out the defense which I hope to report on tomorrow.
Stefan Houston worked out on the sideline again today but did so without his knee brace that was worn yesterday. He was moving horizontally and vertically with good speed but was cautious when making sharp cuts. Tiquan Lang also worked out on the sidelines today while showing visible signs of some type of lower extremity injury.
One announcement that was made today was the game time for the UAB game 11/22. Kickoff will be at 1 p.m. ET (12 p.m. CT) from Legion Field in Birmingham. Akron has yet to confirm a firm time and still operates off a 12-day window.