My notes from Saturday's practice are below...
-- Talkin' quarterbacks
I got a good look at incoming transfer Clayton Moore, whom many believe is the frontrunner to start at quarterback. I saw some good and some bad. He threw a strike to Marquelo Suel across the middle for a touchdown. On another series of plays, he showed a good deal of inexperience in accounting for where the safeties were roaming. On play 1, Moore ignored the safety blitz. If not for the protections afforded by Moore's red jersey, L.T. Smith would have scrambled his eggs and jogged into the other endzone with the fumbled football. One play 2, Doug Richardson should have intercepted a pass deep over the middle. On play 3, Smith nearly picked off a ball thrown to the sideline.
"What I'm looking for is managing the team, managing the operation -- whether it's the corner blitz, safety blitz," Ianello said. "Then you have to move the team. I thought all three of them at times did that, and all three of them at times gave us a chance to coach."
The staff required that Patrick Nicely study massive amounts of tape from last season, honing into what made each snap a success and each snap a failure. "Like anyone out here, every position has to get better," Ianello said.
Zach D'Orazio looked sharp as the third quarterback. There is no "inside information" to this, but I would like to see D'Orazio get an honest evaluation to start. If you look at the past history of the MAC, naming a freshman as the starting QB has often been the impetus for a mini three- or four-year dynasty. Maybe D'Orazio is nowhere near ready. And if that's the case, you obviously shouldn't retard your entire offense's development just to get a freshman quarterback on the field.
But Akron's offense really has nowhere to go but up. So why not give him a serious look?
-- Talkin' running backs
Establishing an every-down running back will be critical for Akron this fall. Three players got the carries on Saturday. They were also the only three tailbacks on the roster. But each had his moments.
Broderick Alexander is the known quantity. He had a solid finish to 2009 (54 yards on 10 carries vs. EMU) before missing all of 2010 with a torn Achilles' tendon. Generally, you want to be careful before raising expectations for someone returning from a serious injury like that, but Alexander looked to be at full strength on Saturday. He plowed into the endzone on one play. Later, he gained a good deal of yards after the catch on a Moore pass.
The other backs in camp are freshmen Jawon Chisholm and Marvin Staten. Staten is a speedy, shifty back. Chisholm finished Saturday's scrimmage with a spinning dive into the endzone.
"They are the three tailbacks until the reinforcements come in the summer," Ianello said. "I was pleased with those three guys. They had some good runs today."
-- The long view
I spoke with a member of the staff who told me that, from last year to this year, there has been a 100 percent difference in the demeanor of the team and demeanor of the coaches.
I saw some signs of that. Ianello and his coaches were not screaming so much. Maybe it's because there was less cause to scream. Maybe it's because they feel they can be more effective without it. I do know that "breaking" the Zips into Ianello's philosophy of harsh discipline was not easy in 2010.
This is a young team. There are 12 seniors, but most of the key components are underclassmen. Becoming younger is truly essential if a program is serious about rebuilding. The worst combination in college football is to be old and bad. That was Akron in 2010. The best players were seniors. Of course, Akron would be better off having Alex Allen, Jalil Carter, Shawn Lemon, Mike Thomas and Jeremy LaFrance back. But, in a way, Akron has to get worse before it can get better.
The team is not going to have much depth, but Ianello seeks to improve on that by having players wear multiple hats. "We are going to have depth by having guys do different things," Ianello said. For instance, your first-string guard may also be your second-string tackle. The team also plans to do that at receiver and with safeties and cornerbacks.
It's going to be a long year, in my opinion. But I think fans will forgive a losing record if the Zips are competitive and improving. Having one or two stud young players emerge would also keep the fanbase energized until the team is in position to contend for the MAC Championship.
There is also an open window for Akron to attract more fans in 2011. The NBA and NFL are heading toward lockouts. Jim Tressel is having problems at Ohio State University at Columbus. It's a chance for the Zips to grab Northeast Ohio's attention. I just don't think the talent level is nearly high enough to make a run just yet.
* Josh Richmond and Antoine Russell are likely the most athletic players on the roster, Ianello said. The coach struggled to say who was his smartest player, but his goal is for the three quarterbacks to share the honor.
* Dylan Potts is now listed as only a receiver, not a quarterback. He looks like he could be a nice possession receiver. I'm sure the offensive coaching staff is cognizant of the benefits of having another player in the huddle who knows the playbook from the passer's perspective.
* Brad Childress was on the sidelines watching Akron practice. The former head coach of the Minnesota Vikings has been here all weekend to help Ianello with a coaching clinic for high school coaches. Childress was wearing an "Akron Football" hoodie. You can tell he has a good relationship with Ianello. They clearly come from the same school, both figuratively and literally. I can't imagine Ianello being happy about Brett Favre's shenanigans, either.
* The Spring Game will be played Saturday, April 16, 1 p.m. at InfoCision Stadium. That will also conclude formal team practices until the Zips reconvene in August.
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