Today’s practice was focused on the run game on both sides. Special teams was prioritized, specifically kick-off and punts; when full pads come out tomorrow, head coach Neal Brown says that it’s the day that the team starts playing what he considers “real football”.
Factoring in depth charts, coming out swinging tomorrow is crucial for the receiving core. Brown says that for those players, it’s all about tightening up and fine-tuning. For those who came in with Brown, the priority is on maintenance, not skill building; conversely, the younger bunch has talent, and now is the time to prove it.
“We have more quality players. Now, a lot of them are the same guys who just, over two years, your body changes a lot. Those guys had to play before they were ready. You’ve heard me say that before. Now, physically, those guys are ready,” Brown said.
As for the tight ends, Brown says that Mike O’Laughlin’s boot is temporary. There’s no season-ending issue, nor is there a question of a shifting depth chart.
Coach Brown mentioned that the spot opposite Nicktroy Fortune is most likely going to sophomore cornerback Daryl Porter Jr. He’s impressed the coaching staff, especially since last season’s fall camp. Brown says that his body has matured and it’s putting him in a perfect position to succeed. Competing with him for that spot are Jackie Matthews, a redshirt junior from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, and the Illinois State transfer, redshirt junior Charles Woods.
“He’s getting used to the speed of the game, because it’s faster, but I think all three of those guys are more than capable,” Brown said of Woods’ pace coming from the FCS.
Regarding the contact of tomorrow’s practice, Brown is interested to watch the intensity with which certain players attempt to solidify their starting spots. Today’s practice, technically a “thud”, or light contact, practice, was only helmets and shoulder pads, but it reinforced the heightened importance of full contact days like tomorrow.
“I think once we get through today and tomorrow, where guys get used to thud situations, tackle situations, I expect it to be cleaner on Saturday. Tomorrow, we’ll thud again. Those two days, we get your body kind of acclimated to getting hit, it’s more up front than it is in the skill positions….
“I anticipate on Saturday, that’s the day we’re going to be in the stadium. It’ll be all-team. How much we tackle, how much we don’t… to be determined, but I think that’s the day where it will start to show,” Brown said.