OMG OMG it's football season u guyz!! Not really, obviously, but they're playing a little bit of it anyway down at the practice fields, where spring camp is underway. It'll be a little bit broken up and disjointed; you're allowed 15 practices and a spring game, but the festivities will last almost a month, meaning practices won't be on consecutive days for the most part. The roadshow continues, too, with three on-the-road practices this year, one in each of the state's three major metro areas. This is apparently quite a success; so much so, in fact, that people are starting to copy the idea. Imitation, flattery, etc.
This will be my favorite spring practice in a few years. Here's why: NO QUARTERBACK DRAMA. Blissful peace and quiet on the quarterback front. With Ross Metheny transferring, only three quarterbacks are in camp, and there's a definite pecking order. In fact, true position battles will be few and far between. I'm going to break it down by position anyway.
Mike Rocco is #1. David Watford is #2. Greyson Lambert is #3. Period. That's how I like it. Moving on.
The order is pretty well set here, too, with senior captain Perry Jones taking the #1 spot, Kevin Parks in the #2 role, and Clifton Richardson as #3. This is LoVante' Battle's first real look at fullback, so it'll be interesting to see how he and Zach Swanson share the load. Swanson is probably the starter. With only two scholarship fullbacks and one of them recently converted from defense, also expect walk-on Billy Skrobacz to compete for a spot in the two-deep, and expect that competition to be extended to the fall, too. In fact, Skrobacz is listed second on the depth chart.
WIDE RECEIVER/TIGHT END
There aren't that many scholarship receivers in this version of the camp. Kevin Royal is off the team and Bobby Smith will miss the camp, leaving just five scholarship guys. Tim Smith is gonna have to be the man this year, but he's probably proven all he can in camp; the same is partly true for Darius Jennings. It's a big spring for Miles Gooch and E.J. Scott; both are going into their third year in the program, and Scott has spent all of them at receiver. This is the time to prove they can start putting it together.
At tight end, Colter Phillips is also missing the spring camp (this is a bad year for springtime injuries) and the guy getting the first-team reps will be Paul Freedman. With Jeremiah Mathis probably also not getting on the field, the second-team guy will be Jake McGee.
This is where the squad has been brutalized with injuries. Sean Cascarano is the likely heir to Austin Pasztor's left guard spot, but he'll miss the camp, as will Oday Aboushi and RG Luke Bowanko. That means second-team guards Conner Davis and Cody Wallace (who moves from center) will get some much-needed reps, as will Aboushi's backup, Kelby Johnson.
The spotlight will be on at center, though. It's fair to theorize that Wallace wasn't up to the chore, or he wouldn't have been switched with Matt Mihalik, a career backup at guard. Mihalik is now nominally the starting center, with redshirt freshman Ross Burbank backing up, and this is probably the one true position battle on the offensive side of the ball. And don't think for a minute that another guard won't get moved over if neither of them prove ready.
With so many departures from last year, plus the broken leg on Billy Schautz, the first team on the D-line is going to look a lot different this spring. Jake Snyder and Brent Urban are the top two candidates at end, but at tackle, there isn't likely to be a pecking order at all. Only Will Hill has extensive game experience.
Look for a spirited battle, then, between veterans like Chris Brathwaite and Justin Renfrow, and a couple newcomers like David Dean and Vincent Croce. DT is a relatively healthy unit, with only Marco Jones on the sideline, so the competition will be heated. The coaches will be looking for two players to join Hill in a three-man rotation, and one more to be the "fourth wheel," so to speak. Renfrow filled that role last year, but Dean will give him a lot of push, and I still have high hopes for Brathwaite.
The other interesting question: Where does Ausar Walcott fit in after moving down from linebacker? If he flashes some pass-rushing moves, he'll make a real push for playing time.
With Steve Greer out (are you picking up a pattern here?) Henry Coley will get first-team reps at MLB; an important step in his development, because there was an unfortunately obvious drop-off in play last year between Greer and Coley. Linebacker is fairly well set; Greer will get his job back when he returns. Laroy Reynolds is a senior (hard to believe) and he's got an iron grip on the weak side. With Walcott moving to DE, the strong side is inherited by Daquan Romero, who is hopefully beginning a three-year run there as a starter. Romero was in camp last year as an early enrollee, so the coaches will look for a lot of growth from him.
Right now it's Demetrious Nicholson and three position battles. Nicholson owns one corner spot; the other looks like a battle royale between Drequan Hoskey and Brandon Phelps, and Hoskey has the edge right now. Even so, Phelps will play a big role; even if he loses to Hoskey, the third cornerback is practically a starter anyway.
At safety, just throw everything up for grabs. Rijo Walker is the likely starter at free safety, but he's got competition from Pablo Alvarez and Kameron Mack. Anthony Harris is in the inside lane for strong safety, but with a push from Mason Thomas and Kyrrel Latimer. The smart money says Walker and Harris will emerge as the starters, but right now that's written in very light pencil.
All three specialist jobs - placekicker, punter, and kickoff guy - are up for grabs. Drew Jarrett is back after a year's absence, and he's listed as second-string at both kicker and punter. Alec Vozenilek is listed as the starting punter and Ian Frye the starting kicked, but don't expect any of that to be permanent without a lengthy competition.