Today brought the first power practice at camp and the few fans that attended were concerned whether the threat of rain would dampen their day. The end result was great weather and a very good day of practice. I overheard some players discussing how much weight they have lost over the last few days of practice and how their game has evolved over the same time period.
The practice had the usual positional drills, calisthenics, unit and team drills and then special teams were put on display. The players had to be constantly given water considering the length of the practice but a few players enjoyed some time off in the afternoon to get their personal ‘things to do’ accomplished.
The common theme today was the fact that the quarterbacks looked sharper, the receivers looked to take a step forward and the linemen hung tough through the rigors of the lengthier training time. More players made a statement on both sides of the ball today and it is a great lead in towards Saturday’s Black and Gold game where they expect 35,000 fans to show up. Ok maybe not, but that might be the case one day at Ivor Wynne with the talent on this squad.
Receiver Davon Fowlkes continues to show his talent both catching the ball and on special teams. His pass catching ability was quite evident making a couple of highlight reel catches. When he returns punts or kickoffs you can see him make the first step and then glide into open area with such smoothness. Having players like Fowlkes, Quinnie and Gardner pushing the incumbents, is a coaches dream. They all can play in this league. I think the one that is really playing well daily is Brock Ralph. We will all see his pure speed getting him behind defensive backs on a regular basis this year. In addition, Flick and Kamau Peterson continue to hold their starting positions with very productive camps so far.
The secondary continued to look real good as they have all through the initial days of camp. I have mentioned Justin, Cody and Goss to date but the real battle seems to be at safety where we have Shaw, Beveridge and Gordon fighting to be on the starting unit. At this point Shaw takes precedence but the others are not far back. Yesterday I mentioned how Beveridge is just having an outstanding camp at safety, and you know he will give you a superior effort on special teams. Gordon is another special teams type of guy, and his physical presence bumps our talent level on that unit to where it hasn’t been before. Roderick Babers has good cover skills and just needs more time to mesh with the rest of the unit. Renard Cox is being tried out as a defensive back since he looks much thinner than he was last year and his cover skills have vastly improved.
The one on one drill for the linemen was fun to watch. On this day, Wayne Smith took the bull by the horns with his exemplary technique and effort. He is just one of those players that you can count on every game. Smith and teammates George Hudson and Marwan Hage figure to be the 3 mainstays on the interior, and with the expected return at one point of Pascal Cheron, that solidifies 4 of 5 spots, assuming Cheron gets back soon and in game shape. If not, we have seen great improvement from Fabio Filice showing great athleticism and Ryan Donnelly capable of playing tackle if need be. The real battle is that of the import linemen and Powell and Randall have taken positive steps towards achieving a roster spot. Randall’s footwork is improving, actually quite a bit from day one, and from today’s newspaper article, he does look like he has lost weight and it has made a difference. Malcolm Woolridge, a late signing from the team’s free agent camp doesn’t look out of place at all, and in fact is playing really well against superior competition when comparing it to his free agent camp foes. I got to see Damion Cook today and he impressed me with his agility, and he had some great battles with Cheatwood today with one of them ending in a little spat afterwards. You gotta love training camp. Cook will be a definite player in the mix going forward. He is another one to watch come Saturday.
The defensive linemen had their day in the sun too, namely Cheatwood and newcomer Claude Sanders. The latter is built for speed off the edge and he certainly showed quite a bit of it today and he constantly hustles from play to play. He represents one of the many talented newcomers brought into camp by GM Katz and his Football Operations staff.
The player that is playing really well is Demetrios Walker. He is just fun to watch. We will not lose much if we played him in a platoon system with Cotton and Cheatwood. In fact, he has the ability to be a very productive player.
The rest of the practice was a run down of the field goal and kick-off teams and even that unit is ahead of schedule. Speaking of schedules, tomorrow there will be two practices before the big day on Saturday. Bring your cameras and come early.