The University of Akron football team looks like what is to be expected at this point of spring football practice — raw.
During Saturday’s first scrimmage, however, UA coach Terry Bowden liked what he saw, which was a team playing with intensity.
Small mistakes? They can be corrected.
Junior quarterback Kyle Pohl led the Zips on three touchdown drives, two of which would have been missed had observers blinked.
On his first possession in the scrimmage, Pohl found senior wide receiver L.T. Smith on a deep post pattern for an approximately 65-yard gain. Two plays later, he hit redshirt junior tight end Anthony Ritossa for a touchdown. Another touchdown came on a sustained drive with a running play.
The third touchdown drive came once again with a connection to Smith, who simply beat his guy down the sideline for a 90-yard score.
There is a difference in Pohl from last year that’s immediately noticeable. The ankle injury that plagued him most of the season limited his ability to throw properly, limiting his accuracy.
“He created some bad habits and we had to do some things offensively that created bad habits,” Bowden said.
The ankle injury also affected his mobility. That is the key difference. It’s not difficult to visualize Pohl, who rolled out on many snaps, giving an added punch to an offense that struggled at times last year.
“Right now, his ankle’s fine and he’s continuing to play more physical and aggressive and be stronger in the pocket. When your ankle is really hurt, you’re throwing backing up. It’s almost falling away,” Bowden said.
His offensive line — which currently consists of Quaison Osborne (right tackle), Joe McNamara (right guard), Travis Switzer (center), Dylan Brumbaugh (left guard) and Isaiah Williams (left tackle) — gave him decent protection much of the time.
Williams’ situation will bear some watching. He began his Zips career as an offensive lineman, then moved to defense. Now he’s back on offense in the most important position on the line. That represents a huge vote of confidence.
“He’s one of the guys we’re watching to say can you do it? Can you be the guy?” Bowden said. “That’s a question mark. It’s not an answer. He’s No. 1, but he’s got to show us that he can do it. He’s got to earn the position.”
If he takes the job, that makes the coaching staff’s job that much easier. If not, there’s enough depth that they will be able to shuffle some positions and figure the offensive line out.
Just one question confronts the defense. It looked impressive in every area except one.
Although the offense had those touchdowns, the defense, for the most part, did not allow the offense to develop a sustained rhythm.
The defense’s intensity showed throughout. The linebackers and defensive line both played solidly. But the defense will face one big problem: how to replace cornerback Malachi Freeman, a legitimate lockdown cornerback. Opposing teams didn’t throw his way last year for a reason.
The Zips have at least six players who can compete for playing time in the defensive backfield, but the staff isn’t sure how good they are.
Junior college transfer Kris Givens flashed skills on a few plays, including a pass breakup in the end zone, as did Devonte Morgan.
“The defense gave up a lot of big plays. They could have been behind so much early that we would have been in trouble,” Bowden said. “When it came to red zone and goal line, they took over. They whipped the offense.”
Bowden knows what Freeman gave his team last year.
“The one thing we need to look at is if one of those players can develop into a Malachi Freeman-type of player where we knew that player was going to lock up one-on-one. And that’s what those guys have to prove.”
George M. Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Zips blog at http://www.ohio.com/zips. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/GeorgeThomasABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.