I stopped to look at the new field both before and after the practice this afternoon. A few impressions – it looks great … the colours are even brighter than in the photos … the centre field logo is huge … there is still a lot of work to be done. Several workers were actively prepping the hill for sod (I believe). Hopefully the hill is ready for some big crowds next month.
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The news from the first day of training camp was overwhelmingly positive. Not completely positive but that’s not reality. Of the 120 players expected at camp 119 showed up. The one player missing is big Hunter Bowman, a rising sophomore DT who dressed in at least 7 games last year. I didn’t hear an explanation for his absence. There was one surprise player in camp who could contribute in a big way but there are still issues to be worked out.
I watched the afternoon session from 4 to 6 pm. [You can find the daily practice schedule here.] One of the first things I noticed was how few players were on the sidelines in street clothes. Only Jake Piotrowski, Nigel Henry and Donnie Egerter weren’t participating. By the end of the session there were several others with ice packs but no serious injuries that I know of. This is good news as last year the injuries piled up in the first few days of camp including several concussions on Day 1.
I primarily watched the offensive and defensive lines. As I said last year, as a former coach I am really impressed with the coaching styles of Brian Cluff [DL] and Mike MacDonald [OL]. They are true teacher-coaches. They focus on the details. They don’t let players get away with doing things wrong. They’re vocal but they are very positive. And they get able assistance from Steve O’Brien [DL] and Zach Pollari, Chris Portwood and Nick Woehl [OL] giving players personal instruction and correction. When I watched the RBs in one-on-ones against the LBs I saw the same thing from Neil Lumsden. He charged Off. Asst. Nick FitzGibbon with ensuring that the backs got their footwork right or that they did push-ups. Attention to detail is something I’ve heard the head coach preach many times.
Sticking with the running backs for a minute, I struggled a bit the determine who some of the new guys were. But returning starter Rob Farquarson looked good. He showed a few moves I hadn’t seen before. Mark Rutledge who is entering his 3rd season impressed me again. I’d be surprised if he doesn’t get some playing time this season. Fullback Kofi Yeboah looks much closer to being a player who can contribute than he did last year. The 245lber packs a whallop and seems to have been working on a spin move. I didn’t find out Ray Bahr was wearing #20 until late in the practice so really can’t say too much. But a coach who saw him for the first time today was impressed, saying just “He’s special”.
Getting back to the offensive line, I was very impressed with what I saw. Other than Matt Richardson the guys we call veterans really aren’t. Cody O’Neill and Lucas Meschino don’t have any more than a dozen games under their belts and that’s a lot more than Matt Nesbitt, Scott McDooling and Vlad Vesovic. All these guys plus redshirt freshmen like Matt Toppan, Chris Hutton and Zachary Bader-Shamai look to be better than last year. Add to that, the fact that none of the freshmen look out of place and I think we are going to have a very strong o-line in the future. The key question is “how far away is the future?”. This group will have some struggles early on but I expect plenty of improvement by season’s end. BTW I didn’t hear or ask what Jake Piotrowski’s status was. Finally, I should mention that two “tight ends” were working on their blocking with the o-line unit. I believe they were Paul Adamic and Martin Popiel.
With Bowman’s absence the D-line depth that seemed to be so much improved takes a little bit of a hit on the interior. But that presents an opportunity for a guy like Zack Mallough to step up. Perhaps to bolster the depth there 6’2″ 290lb freshman Josh Janssen is working at DT. I also saw a couple of the teams bigger linebackers – Cam Walker and Curtis Rukavina – working at DE. I have no reason to think this is anything more than experiment or an effort to prepare them to shift positions when the team changes fronts. There is a big advantage in being able to shift from a 4-3 to a 3-4, and back, without having to shuttle players off and on the field. With Jake Reinhart and John Rush likely to grab a lot of the playing time at LB it is another way to get these talented guys on the field more. And thinking ahead, you want to create some space a linebacker for some young guys to dress and play specials as we will lose three 5th year LBs after this season.
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Video trailer for the Univ. of Saskatchewan exhibition game: