University of Akron Zips blog
Notes about the Spring Game, which the Blue team won, 27-24...
The players voted on their captains for next season. Merce Poindexter (offense) and Doug Williams (defense) got the honors. The team will announce a special teams captain later. Coach J.D. Brookhart explained the selections: "Merce is very focused on what he wants to do. He has a strong work ethic." Williams overcame academic struggles early in his career with a similar work ethic.
The Spring Game was different this year. Rather than offense vs. defense, there were two teams, each equipped with offense and defense. The coaches drafted the teams. The first overall pick? Dennis Kennedy. Ryan Bain was up there, too. As for the new format, "It was the first time we've had the numbers" to do it, Brookhart said. "It was nice not to divide the offense and defense." This jives with Brookhart's accomplishment last year of eliminating offense-defense cliques within the team.
Both teams were psyched up for the game. In the first quarter, Keith Huebner (OL) and Aaron Williams (LB) got in a shoving match.
The Blue team won after a missed field goal. It celebrated like it won the MAC Championship. Brookhart later revealed that he wasn't even employing the traditional "steak or hotdog" carrot in motivation.
Chris Jacquemain had a stretch of three straight interceptions. Two were on tipped passes. He also threw a handful of difficult, accurate passes. Matt Rodgers looked crisp and poised. "Chris struggled a little, but he came on," Brookhart said. "Jacq sets the pace, but Matt really pushes him. For (Rodgers') first spring, I was tremendously impressed." Dennis Kennedy agreed: "They're both looking great. Jacq is much improved. Matt is coming along."
Speaking of Kennedy, why the heck would he be the team's No. 1 pick? Isn't he the same player whom the coaches relegated to trick plays and perhaps a couple carries per game last season? The No. 1 pick was no bust today. Kennedy scored two touchdowns. "I'm trying to get back to two years ago -- even better than two years ago," said Kennedy, who admitted he was banged up last season. "Individual performance doesn't mean anything if we can't get it done as a team." (In my opinion, Kennedy should have been the offensive captain because of his leadership and work ethic.)
The backfield will be crowded for sure. Alex Allen and Andrew Johnson are sure to get carries. Brookhart said the running back have impressed him. Johnson has sat out the past 10 days because of a stinger.
Wide receiver is a different story. It's a mish-mash of unproven and mediocre-at-best players. The best performers today were Curtis Brown, Andre Jones and Jeremy Bruce. Brown ran a couple really good routes and scored a touchdown off a Jacquemain pass. Jones' conversion to receiver is one of the things Brookhart is most excited about from the spring. Bruce has great hands and speed, but lacks size and focus. He potentially could be a Wes Welker-type player who can burn a cornerback deep or serve as a possession receiver.
Still, these receivers are unproven. Then you have the mediocre-at-best players: Alphonso Owen and Stephon Fuqua. Hopefully, Brookhart is not relying on these guys. The coach said he is expecting incoming junior college transfer Deryn Bowser to start. If I had to guess, Jones will join him as the second starter.
Brookhart expects his other junior college recruits to earn a spot on the first or second string, too. That means there will be high expectations for Kevin Funches and Kevin Davis with the lack of depth at defensive back. "You would hope that your juco kids will be on your depth chart," Broohart said. High school senior Manley Waller might also play as a true freshman.
Speaking of defensive backs, Brookhart has been pleased with Miguel Graham and Bryan Williams.
Williams is the posterchild for the season, literally. The university blasted his image and signature on the team schedule. And it's official, Williams will play defensive back. "It's permanent," Williams said. "It felt great to get back on the defensive side. Coach Brookhart was thinking what I was thinking." Williams played cornerback in high school, but will play strong safety this season. What's the difference? "You tackle more. You are freed up to make tackles. It's more fun. I love to hit."
Williams surprised me by his size. He's not very big. While I was talking to him, I was trying to imagine him plowing over a guy like Bain, and I just couldn't. However, Williams is probably one of the conference's fastest players.
Last week, Brookhart told me that Williams on defense was just an experiment. That turned out to be false. I like Brookhart a lot. He's a nice person. He runs a tight ship. He is a good motivator. My pet peeve is how he sometimes feeds the media b.s. His goal isn't always to tell the whole truth, but sometimes it's to motivate a player or misinform the competition through the press. Heck, I'd probably do the same thing in his position. But that's why I try to attend practices myself for player observation, rather than rely on his word.
Now that the coaches are done with the spring season, they will enjoy a spring break. Hopefully somewhere 90's and sunny. Then it's back to the recruiting trail until May. This recruiting season, the coaches will strongly emphasize the stadium in their pitch to high school kids. This will be the first class that will enjoy an entire career at InfoCision Stadium.
At linebacker, Brookhart has been thrilled with Aaron Williams, who presumably will assume Brion Stokes' former linebacker position. He has "stood out from all our expectations," Brookhart said. Then you have Doug Williams and Kevin Grant as the other two starters. After that? Gulp. "If we're healthy, we'll be OK at linebacker. The other candidates for playing time are Al-Teric Balaam, Ray Siler and Amin Kabir. Viktor Rajek also moved to linebacker from defensive line. (Poor kid. That's his second position change in two years.)
The defensive line will be a strength. Take a healthy breath of relief after reading that. Last spring, the team seriously struggled to fill a two-deep at DL. This season, the Zips have nine solid linemen. Many are young, but the talent is abundant. The starters are likely to be Eric Lively, Almondo Sewell and Ryan Bain. First off the bench will be Wallace Pendleton, Dan Marcoux and Shawn Lemon. You also have Hasan Hazzime, Shane Shead and Marquinn Davis. That's not including Deni Odofin, who will probably sit out this season after the tragic car accident he was involved in.
OK. Looking at all that depth, (and acknowledging that a lot of it is young) can we ditch the 3-3-5??? PLEASE!? PRETTY, PRETTY PLEASE!??!?!? Defensive back is no longer a strength. It's a weakness. Mold your defense to your players, not your coaches. Changing to a 4-3, in my opinion, is the difference between going 5-7 and 7-5. The team has plenty of time to do it. The first few games might be an adjustment period, but the real goal is winning the MAC games, so who cares? Note to Brookhart and Jim Fleming: Don't force me to start collecting money with which to bribe you. The 3-3-5 has got to go.
Attendance at the Spring Game was pretty good. There were open spaces in the bleachers, so attendance must be lower than the past couple seasons. Parking was a pain, as usual at UA.
Igor Iveljic was perfect on extra points and made a few field goal attempts. Kicking won't be a problem in 2008.
Please feel free to share your thoughts on the team's performance.
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