The first Camp Notebook edition of NewsFlashes will be a double edition.
After attending practice on Tuesday and Thursday night, here are a couple insights from Dix Stadium.
For the most part, sophomore quarterback Spencer Keith looks light-years ahead of where he was just 12 months ago. Keith is by far the fastest of the bunch processing his reads and going through his check-downs. Keith has even begun alternating and calling plays at the line of scrimmage at almost a 50-50 clip, something Head Coach Doug Martin says is all a part of the plan.
I say for the most part, because usually Keith delivers a tight-spiraled throw in a spot only where his receiver can catch it. There have been a couple throws, however, that were either airmailed or resembled a flailing duck, not a the customary torpedo-like spiral we're accustomed to seeing in camp. Keith has firmly established himself as a leader both on and off the field, and his teammates are responding to his every move.
The heat is now on full in the competition to back up Keith. Neither junior Giorgio Morgan nor freshman Cedric McCloud solely took snaps with the second team on Thursday. Rather, Martin is interchanging the QB's each play to talk and review the previous play on a play-by-play basis.
McCloud, a freshman two years removed from his senior year of high school who attended Central Carolina Sports Academy in 2009, is a little heavier-footed than Morgan but has the stronger arm.
Morgan, having seen quite a bit of playing time in 2009, holds the edge in experience and mobility.
"We recruited McCloud in hopes of him competing with Morgan for that job," said Head Coach Doug Martin. "It only makes Giorgio better to have someone competing with him, and it'll make them both tougher."
Thursday night's snaps may have shed a little early light on the situation. Each quaterack ran a simulated offensive possession using six offensive players and eight defensive players. Morgan took the stage first, making a couple of nice throws, but wasn't helped by his receivers as senior Dorian Wood intercepted a pass that bounced off of Jacquise Terry's fingers. Then, sophomore Matthew Hurdle, who looked absolutely fantastic the rest of the night, dropped a nicely played throw.
McCloud entered second but didn't fare as well. He tried to sneak his first throw into a tight window over the middle which was almost picked off by several line backers in the area. His second throw as tipped a couple yards off the line of scrimmage by sophomore line backer Jake Dooley. McCloud's last throw was intercepted by senior Calvin Taylor.
That being said, Morgan mishandled two snaps out of the Shotgun formation, one of which Dooley caught and took back for a defensive touchdown.
Sixth-year uber-senior Eugene Jarvis looks 100% healthy--you can take a deep breath (knock on wood, I'd rather not be labeled as the guy who jinxed one of the best offensive players in the conference). Cutting in, cutting out, cutting to the right, left, back, forward, taking punts--whatever Jarvis and his 5'5 frame wants to do with the ball, he does it.
Behind Jarvis, both junior Jacquise Terry and sophomore Dri Archer have been productive when given their chance in camp.
All three will be extensively used in Doug Martin's West-Coast style offense, due to the combination of speed and ability to run between the tackles that each seem to possess.
In addition to finding carries for each back, Terry will be on the field as a wide receiver in 4-WR sets and Archer will hold some kick-return responsibilities.
Everyone knows about sophomore Tyshon Goode, who almost instantly became Keith's number one target last season. Goode has looked even better this fall, and on more than one occasion has made his defensive counterpart look silly.His routes look crisp, he's getting open on a regular basis and nothing has escaped his grip.
"Goode has grown up quite a bit," said Martin. "The thing last year was he'd excel then disappear and come back. I've talked to him about showing up on every play and down. That's what the Edelman's and Jarvis' do."
It's the receivers on the depth chart after Goode that have began to make such a big splash.
Juniors Kendrick Pressley and Sam Kirkland lead the way for the starting split-end job, but 6'2 freshman Ed Cazenave, the most physical receiver of the bunch, has joined the mix.
Behind Goode is sophomore Matthew Hurdle.
Hurdle looks to have the best insticnts of the entire bunch, and may also be the best deep-ball threat with his size (6'3, 185 lbs) and ability to position himself under deeper throws. Hurdle made a great catch along the sideline, using his body to shield two defensive backs. On a different drive, Keith threw a beautiful fade route off the two yard line to the back of the end zone. Hurdle positioned himself, then realigned his body again to come down with it for a score.
Depth by competition at the WR spots is now plentiful.
Other notes from drills--
Seniors Monte Simmons and Zach Williams, on different occasions, exploded through the line to disrupt any attempt of a play by the offense. On a related note, for most of the drills the past couple of nights the defensive line has looked much faster, and several times have stopped either Jarvis, Terry or Archer for little or no gain.
Later, Williams came screaming into the backfield off of the strong side again on what happened to be a bootleg to the weak side. Williams, bearing down on Keith, was blindsided by 5'7 senior Leneric Muldrow on a fantastic block.
Weak-side sophomore linebacker Luke Batton, expected to start week one, returned to practice roughly a month earlier than expected, and is slowly being integrated into drills. For much of practice he's been working mainly on conditioning to make up for lost time.
Freshman offensive lineman Robert Kearney and Max Plunkett are making strong pushes for starting spots, along with freshman guard Tommy Pizzuro.
Junior center Chris Anzevino went down for a couple of minutes with what appeared to be a left leg injury. He walked off the field under his own power, was looked at for about twenty minutes, and returned to practice.