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Countdown to the Opener - Hollins a Starter

Written by Paul Zeise on .

** Todd Graham met with the media today to talk about the progress of the team and specifically about the scrimmage Saturday.

I think the most important issues left to be resolved going into the scrimmage were offensive line, back-up quarterback and sorting through some of the freshmen to determine those who will likely play and who are the candiates for a redshirt.

Let's try to make some sense of this stuff but keep in mind this -- Todd Graham and company are really big about "earning your spot every day" as well as keeping the competition as heated as possible (Keith Patterson told me "we like to move guys around so they don't get comfortable, stir the pot a little" - so while we have a really good idea about who is going to start, Graham was never fully committed to anyone at some of the spots that were up for grabs late last week.

** Starting offensive line (from left to right) - Juantez Hollins-Chris Jacobson-Ryan Turnley-Lucas Nix-Jordan Gibbs.  That's an interesting group for one reason - who in the world would have thought when all of this started that Junatez Hollins would be the starting left tackle of this team - or even figure prominently in the rotation at tackle. But Graham - and offensive line coach Spencer Leftwich - said he responded well to competition and he earned the right to at least be in the discussion as a starter. He is obviously an interesting prospect because he is big (6-5, 305) and he is athletic, moves well and has pretty good feet. So it will be very important for him to get off to a good start early in the season in order to gain some confidence.

Now, almost as quickly as both Graham and Leftwich said that Hollins was the starter, both said they are also still looking at this combination as well: (left to right) Gibbs-Jacobson-Turnley-Nix-Greg Gaskins. Graham said this unit will get a lot of work this week as well and the decision will ultimately come down between Gaskins and Hollins. This is where I'm not quite buying what is being sold - I think Gaskins is the third tackle and they want to keep him pushing hard so they've left this carrot dangling out there for him.

There is no reason Hollins would be first team now - with only about six or seven practices left before the first game and the team already working on game plans for Buffalo -- if coaches were going to make a change a few days down the road. It makes no sense.

Graham said that Cory King is the next guard off the bench and Jacobson is the next center. So essentially there are seven players for five spots and the coaches will shuffle them if necessary throughout the season.

But for now, Hollins - who is from Aliquippa - is the man on the spot.

*** By the way, if you see Pat Bostick help him get his tie knot straightened out, he's struggling with that today. Thanks in advance.

***  The back-up quarterback position is also settled - sort of. Trey Anderson is still running with the second team but Graham insists it is an open competition between Anderson and Mark Myers and won't be decided until the end of the week. Again - it is obvious they want Myers to keep working hard, they want him to continue to compete and they believe the best way to achieve that is keep this "competition" open as long as possible. And while I can't prove it and I've never asked about it -- I've been around long enough to know that if Anderson was declared the second-team quarterback today, Myers would still have a few days before most schools start to transfer and only lose this season. Now, I'm not saying Myers is thinking about transferring or he is unhappy and I'm not even implying it. I'm saying that coaches are smart enough to know what the timetable is for a kid to think about transferring and in some cases, that clock is what keeps these "competitions" publicly going on longer than they actually are on the field. Again, I am not saying they are trying to keep Myers happy, but they are clearly trying to make sure he keeps working hard and doesn't get discouraged.

*** The message from Graham about the inside linebackers spots seemed mixed. Shane Gordon has taken most of the first-team reps in recent weeks ahead of Tristan Roberts. But Graham said today he'd give Roberts the edge because of his experience and that all three - Roberts, Gordon and Max Gruder - are starters. That's not a surprise as that's what we've seen all along, but I think it is going to be very interesting to watch how many plays Gordon gets as opposed to Roberts. One thing Gruder told me that I found interesting is that the defense last year was dictated by what the offense showed before each play. This year, however, the defense is designed to dictate to the offense and many of the reads and keys are the same regardless of what formation the offense is in. He said that it really makes a lot more sense because guys are just being asked to make plays.

*** Another linebacker note - Graham confirmed today that Todd Thomas is the starting spur linebacker. That isn't much of a shock, but until now coaches have been leery to refer to players like Thomas - first-year starters or guys engaged in a competition - as starters. He also said that there are going to be plenty of times when both Panther linebackers - Brandon Lindsey and Ejuan Price - are on the field at the same time. That should be a matchup problem for opposing offences, especially once Price, who is a freshman, really gets up to speed.

*** Matt Yoklic apparently had a great scrimmage and not that there was any question about it but will definitely be the starting punter. The kid has a great leg and if he is consistent, he should really be able to change the field position and a punter like that can be a great weapon.

*** I'm going to have a later post about all of the freshmen because over the past two days I have gotten a lot of quotes and info about them. But two I will single out as relevant to this discussion - tailback Corey Davis and receiver Ronald Jones as both have seemingly seperated themselves from the other freshmen at their positions.

Davis is fun to watch, he's explosive, he is fast and he is a threat to go the distance every time he touches it. He will definitely figure in some at the tailback spot behind the two veterans (Zach Brown and Ray Graham) and today he even talked about how excited he is to work in the wildcat formation alongside of Graham.

Graham called Jones the star of the scrimmage and said he had a bunch of catches and made a lot of really nice plays. That puts him into the category of "freshman who will play" and my suspicions are that we will see him get increased playing time as the season rolls on as coaches seem to be very high on him.

*** Just a quick note about former safety Dom DeCicco - he is running with the first team on all of the special teams with the Bears and is the second-string middle linebacker behind Brian Urlacher. He will get a chance to shine on Monday Night Football tonight when the Bears play the Giants. DeCicco wasn't drafted and signed as a free agent, but he clearly has a chance to make the 53-man roster and at the very least, seems like he is going to be on the practice squad. If you have any informaiton on any of the other guys who just graduated, please let me know as it is hard for me to follow them all.

I'll have a more complete look at the freshman in a later post.

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