It was a beautiful day at InfoCision Stadium. For 2.5 hours, Akron conducted its fifth practice of the spring, which also included its first full scrimmage lasting 30 minutes.
On the whole, coach Rob Ianello was unhappy with the results: "Neither side of the ball came out with the urgency that you'd expect for a scrimmage," he said. "I was disappointed with the enthusiasm of the team."
With the departure of Jared Wackerly, Akron found its third quarterback in Marc Pedro, a walk-on from Kettering, Ohio. Matt Rodgers participated some, but Ianello still considers him to be injured. So for now, until Rodgers is ready and the two true freshmen arrive in the fall, Pedro is the No. 2 quarterback.
It was neat to watch Frisman Jackson coach the receivers, after watching him play receiver for the Browns. He is an energetic coach who loves to teach. He seems like a great addition to the staff.
That said, his receivers were having trouble catching the ball during drills. On five-yard curl routes to the sideline, Akron's receivers weren't hauling in many of Patrick Nicely's crisp passes. Nadir Brown dropped one that landed at my feet. I tossed it to him, and that too went through his hands.
Passing-wise, Nicely looked a lot like last year. He was throwing fastballs for strikes with that big arm of his. One weakness still persists: He has a difficult time on passes that require touch. In a goal-line setting, Nicely misplaced a ball to Curtis Brown, who was wide open in the end zone. It should have been a painless touchdown.
As I said, Rodgers participated in some throwing drills. He has a brace on his left knee. You could tell he was not quite able to roll out with the ball. Brian Wagner picked him off on a one-on-one drill where the linebacker must come up and cover a back out of the backfield. Wagner would have taken the ball in the other direction for six points.
The coaches won't start to talk about whom they prefer at quarterback until Rodgers comes back fully. Ianello does not intend to decide on the starter until the fall. As to Nicely, the coach said: "I think he does a nice job managing the operations of the offense."
The coaching staff was NOT happy with the center-to-quarterback snap transactions today. Nicely took shotgun snaps during high school and last year as a freshman. Now he's under center in Ianello's pro-style offense. The last play of the scrimmage was a goal-line play where the snap was fumbled. That caused the offensive players to enjoy extra calisthenics. "It's a transition for him to take snaps under center," Ianello said. Nicely and center Mike Ward continued to "transition" after practice ended with extra snap drills.
Alex Allen looks explosive. He is not sporting a knee brace. Nor does he appear to be limited in any way. With him and Broderick Alexander, the Zips have a nice tandem at running back. Alexander made some nice catches coming out of the backfield, too.
When the Zips practiced special teams, the players who were on the return team wore red swimcaps to separate themselves from the team covering the punt. This, I suppose, is more convenient than having everyone change jerseys. Zack Campbell did all of the punting. Jeremy LaFrance seemed to be the primary returner, with Nate Burney helping out.
Before the team broke drills to scrimmage, Ianello shouted, "It's college football. This is a great thing!" It demonstrated how much fun he's having (and how much he expects his team to have). Ianello wore warmups on the sidelines during practice. He didn't speak as much (or as loudly) as his assistants during the practice, but he certainly gave a booming post-practice speech. I mean, WOW! I told him that he had me pumped up and ready to play.
I spoke with Almondo Sewell after practice. He said Ianello runs the program a lot differently than J.D. Brookhart. "It's a lot more strict," Sewell said. Ianello said he has four simple rules: 1) Do what you're supposed to do when you're supposed to do it. 2) Be early to everything. 3) Communicate. 4) Do what's right.
I don't envy a coach who wants to be a disciplinarian with players he did not recruit -- players who, perhaps, liked the previous guy better. It will work for a time for anyone, but it takes a special leader to keep the team swimming the right direction without a minor mutiny for 12 games.
Ianello has not considered who might serve as team captains. Sewell, a likely candidate, told me that the defensive line is working to adapt to the new 4-3 defense. "We're taking it step by step every day," he said. "Most of us played in the 3-3-5 for three years of our lives." Sewell added that he believes the new defense will allow him to make more plays because he'll deal with single blocks, rather than doubles.
I will try to report from one more practice before the Spring Game on April 17.