I dropped by practice today and spoke with coach Rob Ianello. My notes follow...
This was the fourth of 30 practices in August for the Zips. They won't be in full pads until tomorrow.
I made a conclusion while watching. Here are the premises that led to it: 1) Patrick Nicely looks great. 2) Nicely is a pro-style pocket passer. 3) Matt Rodgers looked just OK in pocket passing situations, like you normally see when players don't wear pads. 4) Rodgers' greatest asset (his scrambling) is jeopardized by his serious knee injury. 5) Ianello runs a pro-style offense. ... Now here is my conclusion: Nicely will have to really blow it this month not to be the starter.
Nicely hit Jeremy LaFrance in stride on a beautiful post pass. By the end, LaFrance went for about 50 yards. Not surprisingly, Ianello is happy with LaFrance's work so far. The question will be, can a few other receivers step up to give Nicely other options. Ianello mentioned that Jalil Carter and Gary Pride also are part of his top three. "Carter is a better player than he was in the spring," the coach added. Anthony Meriwether will play, too, but he was set back by a hamstring injury in the spring.
On the injury front, there is one important piece of news: Broderick Alexander is out for the year with a torn Achilles' tendon. He will redshirt. In the spring, he had a freak injury to his pectoral muscle while lifting weights. Having just recovered from that, Alexander tore the Achilles before camp began while running. He started the later games last season as a true freshman.
Luckily for Akron, Alex Allen is churning at top capacity. Nate Burney, too, is earning praise from Ianello. Allen broke through the defense on two long runs while I was there. Burney and Larry Dawson also had carries deep into the secondary.
Mike Ward (OL) and James Harvey (DL) both had their knees cleaned out recently. They should be back soon, though.
Tight end Rhyne Ladrach looked good today. He caught two balls in traffic. The sophomore appears to have good hands. Akron hasn't had much tight end production since the Merce Poindexter/Kris Kasparek years. I was surprised to see that Will Fleming has been moved from linebacker to tight end.
It was another tight end who was involved in the last (and most fascinating) play of the day. Jon Root, a freshman, found himself wide open. He caught the ball 20 yards from the line of scrimmage. He ran for 30 more yards until a cadre of defenders brought him down like a wildebeest on the African plains. Root coughed up the ball and the group of defenders aimlessly tried to scoop it up (rather than just falling on it, like TV analysts always preach). This gave freshman fullback Austin Bailey a chance to catch up to the pack. He snatched the ball and rumbled to the goal line before he was tripped up. Coach Ianello pointed to this play as an example of execution needing to tighten up. Today "wasn't as crisp as I had hoped for," he said.
On the whole, Ianello has been "impressed" with team effort. He has liked the front seven on defense, as well as the running game.
Three players who signed in February are not here. Zach D'Orazio (QB), Marvin Staten (RB), and Carl Washington (DB) will not enroll until January. The NCAA gives players five years to play four from the moment they enroll full-time in college. By not enrolling until January, these three players delay the clock from ticking.
Four scholarship players will take their place. One is Antoine Russell, a true freshman receiver who signed late. I don't know much about him, except that he made it a mission to be the fastest in post-practice sprints. The second is Jawon Chisholm, a 6-foot running back from Harrisburg, Pa. Chisholm did not have any other scholarship offers. Like Russell, he signed later. The third is Marquelo Suel, a 6-3 juco wide receiver who signed this June. Suel, whom Scout.com calls "one of the more explosive juco wideouts in the country," has three years left to play two.
The fourth is the most intriguing. Oren Wilson is a defensive tackle transfer from Michigan State. He started 12 games last season for the Spartans. He will have one year remaining after he sits out per transfer rules in 2010. He is transferring because of an incident before Michigan State's 2009 bowl game that landed him 21 days of jail time. This article suggests that Wilson wanted to return, but Spartans coach Mike Dantonio said otherwise.
Last month, I got on Ianello's case for not connecting with fans. He took a great step in the right direction by starting a Twitter account that he updates quite frequently. Click here to view it.
I plan to report from a few more practices in the coming weeks. In the mean time...