Slowly, yes slowly, it seems some of the team's problems are fading.
The offensive line is looking less like a booth of turnstiles. The defensive line finally appears to be deeper than a puddle. The quarterbacks and wide receivers are playing better.
We'll start with the offensive line, where protecting against six-man blitzes still is a problem, but at least the line has given the quarterback time to throw under normal defensive schemes. J.D. Brookhart said young players, such as Mike Ward, Corey Woods and Zach Anderson, are progressing nicely. Watching Anderson, a tackle who came to campus highly touted but has not earned much playing time, it is apparent he has an edge to him. The line still needs to communicate better, Brookhart said. Progress should continue as the linemen become better acquainted with the new protection schemes the coaching staff implemented.
The defensive line is looking better and probably won't be a liability in 2007. In fact, it probably will be a strength in the seasons thereafter. True freshman defensive end Almondo Sewell will play this season. There is little chance the coaches will redshirt him. More than likely, at least one or two of the other true freshmen also will play. Just remember, in the 3-3-5, the defensive linemen are not heroes. They are hole fillers. A lack of sacks from them is to be expected. The main pass rushers will be linebackers Brion Stokes and Doug Williams.
Most impressive is the efficiency by the quarterbacks and receivers (whenever the passer has been granted time to throw). Matt Rodgers sat out today, and might miss an additional practice or two, with a sore right arm from throwing too much. Chris Jacquemain and Carlton Jackson both played well today. Both need to get rid of the ball sooner and know when it's best to just heave it out of bounds. For the most part, they found open receivers who are running better routes. Alphonso Owen particularly looks like a player who can help the Zips move the chains.
Both quarterbacks ran the two-minute drill at the end of practice. Jackson's team set up a 30-yard field goal with six seconds left on the clock.
Igor Iveljic missed it wide-left. The offense was effective, except for the fact that the defense kept tackling a scrambling Jackson, which cost the team a lot of time. When Jacquemain took over, his receivers went for extra yardage, rather than the sidelines. That left
Matt Domonkos with a 40-yard field goal, which he aced.
Speaking of 40-yarders, Iveljic was drilling them at about a 80-percent clip from the sideline, where you have a more narrow angle at the goal posts. He certainly spooked me by booting the first one right over my head.
Jacquemain did make one awful decision. While scrambling, he attempted a shovel pass which linebacker
Ray Siler pulled out of the air and returned for a touchdown. Siler seems to be a favorite among his defensive teammates. Everytime he does something as much as a sneeze, everyone shouts, "Ray!" With the depth and talent at linebacker, however, my guess is his duties will be mainly on special teams.
Davanzo Tate played for most of practice, although it appeared he couldn't lift his right arm above his head. As a team leader, I'm sure it's something he did to prove the importance of toughness to the younger players.
I already mentioned Sewell as a freshman who probably will not be redshirted. Brookhart expects about five freshmen will play, including wide receiver
Jerome Royal, defensive back
Jalil Carter and probably three defensive linemen (including Sewell).
Gary Pride, whom I thought could return kicks or play wide receiver, has been injured with a back injury. If he recovers quickly, you might add him to that list.
The team will hold a scrimmage on Thursday. There will be referees and big-time implications on the position battles. After the game, Brookhart and his staff will update the depth chart. From the way some of the younger players are performing, expect some surprises.
A treasured reader of mine asked me to talk a little about the running back situation. Well, you have the known commodities (
Dennis Kennedy and
Andre Walker) and the unknown commodities (
Alex Allen and
Bryan Williams). Kennedy has earned the right to start. Allen, through coming back from an ACL tear, and Walker, through a strong performance in Kennedy's absence last season, have earned carries. Then you have Williams, a local product who could help attendance and community buzz. In addition, at least one coach absolutely adores his talent.
So who gets the carries? Luckily Akron will be a "run first, run second, then run some more" offense. That means there will be more opportunities to go around. I can see Kennedy getting 20 carries per game, then the other backs splitting the rest evenly. One suggestion I have is to make Walker into a punt returner. His quickness is a great asset of which the team needs to take advantage.