My group, perhaps not trusting game preparations entirely, thought it would be wise to make for the stadium a couple of hours early. For more than one reason, it wound up being a sensible choice. Included in that was the opportunity to find a seat – a real seat, with a seat back – in the shade. View of the field was good, to boot, so no complaints in that department.
Kirby famously stated earlier in the week that he wasn’t interested in putting on a show, that yesterday would be business as usual. And in that sense, he was correct. There wasn’t a single trick play. Nick Chubb was dressed out and participated in pregame workouts, but never saw the field.
Nevertheless, I think the crowd was thoroughly entertained. And not just by Ludacris.
And so, with the exception of the quarterbacks, whom I’ll address in a separate post, on to our old friends, the bullet points:
- Brother, if you wanted to see the tight ends involved in the passing game, you got the tight ends involved in the passing game with a vengeance. Tons of throws in their direction, and I would bet somewhere in the neighborhood of fifteen catches. As a whole, the group looked good. Nauta, for a true freshman, looks polished and physical.
- Ditto for the running backs in the passing game – lots of throws to Douglas and Payne. All of the above useful for keeping the chains moving on a day when the running game seemed a bit constipated.
- The downside to the above, of course, is that the defense appeared vulnerable to those plays in the flats. There were a number of times when the offense was able to sneak somebody out into an area where there was an open spot in the coverage. Sure, that’s nothing we haven’t seen before, but it would kind of be nice to see a little progress.
- It was hard to judge the running game. For one thing, injuries have taken their toll. Douglas got far more work than I would have expected, given his injury (although he played with a black jersey, so he wasn’t supposed to be tackled).
- For another, the offensive line still has a way to go with run blocking. Pittman appears to have his work cut out for him in that regard. The good news is that there is some serious size there – Cleveland and Madden, in particular, are large human beings – but consistent physicality, something the staff wants, isn’t there yet.
- The wide receivers group may have been the most pleasant surprise of the day. Michael Chigbu and Jayson Stanley were targeted early and often and made some nice catches. (Judging from the big screen and Kirby’s reaction, it looked like Chigbu was robbed on what should have been a great TD catch.) Reggie Davis showed his speed and, more importantly, his hands, in having what I think was the best day yardagewise of any of the receivers. Riley Ridley was another early enrollee who impressed, showing a great pair of hands on one impressive catch he made over the middle.
- If that was the happy spot from yesterday, the defensive line has to be the biggest cause for concern. Not because it’s talentless – Thompson was unblockable on occasion, D’Andre Walker embarrassed Baker with back-to-back sacks and Julian Rochester had his moments when he was a handful – but because there is no depth there due to injuries. Add in the suspensions, and it looks really dicey for the opener. We’d best hope there is someone in the bunch coming in the summer who can step up and take a few meaningful snaps. Otherwise, the starters are going to get run to death with a HUNH offensive gameplan.
- For all the passing yardage, I thought the defensive backs looked pretty good. And you can see the Alabama effect – Smart and Tucker know how to coach secondaries – starting to take hold. Roundtree had a nice pass breakup that looked just like they coach it, right on the border between physical coverage and pass interference. (No penalty was called.)
- The biggest surprise from special teams was simply that they decided to go live on kickoffs and punts, albeit without tackling the returners. (Boy, did that frustrate McKenzie.) There’s plenty of work to be done in the kicking game. One botched snap and hold cost Ham a clean shot at a field goal. There wasn’t a single touchback on a kickoff. The only punt that was boomed came from Ramsey, and who knows if he’ll be the punter in the fall.
- Aside from the snaps and a few understandable communication issues with the quarterbacks and Shaquery Wilson on handoffs, it was a surprisingly cleanly played affair. I don’t recall much in the way of procedural penalties and the quarterbacks did a good job getting plays called and snapped in a timely way. (Of course, some of that may have been due to their head coach standing right there urging them to get the plays off, but, still…)
- Overall, there was a workmanlike feel to the day. Job One was clearly to evaluate the quarterbacks. Accordingly, there was an emphasis on the passing game, and a complete absence of Wildcat plays and jet sweeps, the latter, at least, being something you’d expect Chaney to deploy to take advantage of skill position speed.
I got the feeling afterwards that the coaches would spend a lot of time over the next few months chewing over yesterday’s game tape. It may have been entertainment for us, but it was another day at the office for them.