Before I get started, if anyone sees Chris Peak, tell him I'm walking so I need him to pull my car around the building. And if you see Pat Bostick, ask him if he's feeling all right. Thanks in advance.
OK, today was the first day in pads, well sort of - they had shoulder pads and helmets on - which means there was a lot more contact, some inside run drills and the intensity level and tempo increased again.
But Todd Graham made it clear in his post-practice remarks - to those of us who have not seen this style of football up close before, the speed and tempo were still not where it needs to be.
"We were at about 80 percent today, and I told the guys - playing at 80 percent gets you to eight wins. So that was an OK to good day," Graham said.
It is pretty simple, like I wrote yesterday - this is as much a mental grind for these players as it is a physical grind as they are being forced to execute at a high level, every time, and do it at a speed that is faster than they ever imagined.
And Graham's approach almost reminds me of Denzell Washington's character in "Remember the Titans" Coach Boone when he steps in front of the team for the first time and says "We will be perfect in every aspect of a game. You drop a pass, you run a mile. You miss a block, you run a mile. You fumble the football and I will break my foot off in your John Brown hind parts and then you will run a mile. Perfection. Now let's go to work."
Now, I'm not sure that Todd Graham uses the phrase "John Brown hind parts...." but the spirit of that lecture from Coach Boone, is pretty much the same as Graham's message has been all week - perfection, execution, attention to detail -- and it is non-stop, every play, every aspect of every day. He minces no words and frankly, these guys are going to have to either buy in or get left behind as he will make sure he finds 22 guys who can execute at a high level every play.
*** One word that is apparently not in Todd Graham's vocabulary, however, is the F-word, and we are not talking about football. How do we know this? Well, because he stopped practice early on and told the players if he heard that word one more time they would run for the rest of practice. And then he added "it doesn't help you and doesn't speak well of your character."
Here is what I like about that - it is not so much about him not liking that word - it is all about that attention to detail and more importantly, it is about focusing on what you are supposed to be doing. I think that is something not enough coaches do - get the players to focus on playing football and doing things the right way instead of whining about missing a ball, pouting because you got tackled or dropping an F-bomb when something doesn't go your way. Graham's right, that nonsense doesn't help them and the fact that he's harping on it -- and mind you, it is not new, Walt Harris was very strict about that kind of stuff as well -- tells me that he really believes a lot of the stuff he's been selling about playing the right way and paying attention to every detail.
Details are probably the difference between a 9-win season and an 11-win season so I've sort of enjoyed the relentlessness of this whole thing.
**** The title of the blog today is pitching and catching and that's because today was the best day I've seen, even going back to the spring, of the quarterbacks throwing the ball and the receivers catching the ball and Graham agreed. Unfortunately for the quarterbacks, some of the best catches were made by players on the defense as they had at least - by my count - four interceptions and three of them were of the pick six variety. Now, the first two days there were very few interceptions and here is what that tells me -- this was the first day in pads and the first day the defense was able to "impact the quarterback" some and that made a huge difference because the quarterbacks had to hurry some throws they had time to make yesterday.
Regardless, I thought Devin Street had a very good day as he made some great catches and some really tough catches in traffic and showed he's a little more physical of a player than he was last year. I thought he did a great job of using his body to absorb a hit and hold onto the ball a few times. Graham, however, had a different view of Street - he agreed he did some great things but again, he said he needs to work on consistency and needs to bring that to the table every single play in every single session. Attention to detail. The other guy who made a really nice catch in traffic was Ed Tinker, who is battling to be in that group of five or six who will get to play a lot this year.
And Lafayette Pitts got a lot of run with the second team at corner and it paid off as he had an interception and returned it for a touchdown. It is going to be hard to keep him off the field, especially since it looks like he must of spent the summer working out - he really looks much different than he did last year. Tyrone Ezell - who Graham has nicknamed George Foreman and if you look at him, well he does sort of resemble the former heavyweight champ - also had a pick six and he made a pretty athletic play just to catch the ball.
***** I'll tell you another guy who looks like he spent the summer in the weight room and working on his body in terms of conditioning is T.J. Clemmings. He was a monster last year - I mean, let's face it, at 6-foot-6, 295 pounds, you are towering over most people you run into - but he was a little sloppy -- this year he has slimmed down and added some muscle and really looks good. Graham said he will fit in and have an impact this year. He made a few nice plays today as well.
**** Ryan Turnley continues to man the center job and he's done a reasonable job of snapping the ball - with no pads and nobody rushing. Today there was a bit of a reality check when they went to a full-speed drill for the first time. On one of the first plays Chas Alecxih rushed right through Turnley and nearly buried the running back in the backfield. Turnley is a work in progress but he almost has to work as there really aren't many other answers for this center-guard-center issue. Cory King, by the way, has appeared to have settled in at the right guard spot as he has taken most of the first-team reps. The other guy they are giving an opportunity to at guard - though at this point he hasn't exactly seized it - is Matt Rotheram. And the Greg Gaskins to center expirement appears to be winding down as he hasn't really been very consistent at it and he seemed to take a few more snaps at tackle today than the past two.
***** Shane Gordon had another good day at inside linebacker, he is fast, he is explosive and he really loves to play football, you can tell that. He is a guy who, in this system, really should thrive. And frankly, I think Todd Thomas is going to be pretty good at that spur position as well. It is all about speed and athleticism and both of those guys have been blessed with plenty of that.
**** One of the highlights of the day was Dan Mason tackling Corey Davis during an inside run drill. Mason, who is not supposed to be doing much of anything yet, only knows how to play at one speed made a really nice play, got to the ball and made a tackle. He then popped up - to the delight of everyone and ran back to some high fives from his players and a big one from defensive coordinator Keith Patterson - who then pulled him out of the drill, presumably to protect him from himself. It is going to be hard for Mason to ease back into this slowly, he's just not built that way.
***** I'm not sure if Mark Myers really fits the mold of what they are looking for in a quarterback given this system, but it sure is fun watching the kid throw the ball. He really has a big arm and he can make all the throws. He's got good touch, he has good arm strength - he's just not as experienced and consistent as Tino Sunseri is. He can throw it around the yard with the best of them, though. And this walk-on, Trey Anderson, is tiny - he is generously listed at 6-foot - but he can throw the ball well also. He's had a couple of good days at camp as well.