- The first team offense looks to have picked up where it left off on November 14th vs.Utah. Dalton, while maybe not looking entirely like the current winningest QB in college football, was sharp and most of his incompletions were due to receiver drops. He also looked like he’d put on a few pounds in the off-season, which should only work in his favor. It was hard to tell if the added mass has caused him to lose any steps as, while wearing the red jersey any QB run plays were called dead almost immediately, but his passing was precise and, despite a few overthrows, he should have a senior season for the ages presuming his receivers remember how to catch between now and then.
- Also on the offensive front, that stable of running backs we like to talk about? Yeah, they’re legit. Dwight Smith, despite sitting out the second part of the scrimmage with a leg injury, looked like the man we all thought he would be. He’s much bigger than I thought he would be and he runs like a greased bowling ball. On one play, he dragged 5-6 tacklers at least 10 yards before going down and, while we never got to really see his breakaway speed, looks like he could easily sneak up into a starting role if he remains healthy and is given the opportunity. Ed Wesley and Matthew Tucker probably don’t have to start looking over their shoulderpads quite yet – they both performed well, by the way – but having all three of those guys available this year is going to be a big problem for opposing teams. And I haven’t even mentioned Waymon James and there’s a reason for that – he can’t hold a candle to the three guys ahead of him, nor Aundre Dean as I'll get to later, so I’m not sure what happens to him. Jai Cavness also got some pretty decent reps but, like James, don’t expect to see him too often next year.
- Catching the ball, there isn’t a whole lot to report. The biggest pleasant surprise, hands down, was Josh Boyce who caught a 79 yards TD pass from fellow sophomore Casey Pachall, although it’s the way he scored that drew the biggest cheers. Pachall hit Boyce who was running stride for stride with the defender on a seam route and Boyce simply outran him, and the rest of the secondary, to the end zone. They later attempted a few more deep passes to Boyce with Yogi Gallegos and Pachall under center, but they were overthrown. Skye Dawson also caught a sideline pass in the game which was lofted in perfectly between him and the defender, but was still a very difficult catch to make and stay in bounds. As for our big three, nothing to really report. Antoine Hicks, as I'll get to later, had a bit of a case of the drops. Jimmy Young should do fine as a slot receiver. And Jeremy Kerley, despite not having too many passes directed his way, is going to be Jeremy Kerley. As has been the case recently, the tight ends were non-existent in the passing game.
- Speaking of Pachall, I think he will likely wrap up the second string QB role by the time the final rosters are set in the fall. Neither he nor Gallegos looked like they will put any fear into Dalton – not that anyone outside of the TCU Skiff expected them to – but Pachall definitely looked like the stronger athlete to run the Fuenderson offense. He's a bit skinny, which was surprising, but that can be fixed with a little time with the strength and conditioning coaches. Rick Settle also took a few snaps, although he looked extremely confused and will likely never see the field in a Frogs uniform. Not rude, just accurate. Gallegos was also flattened on a botched handoff by Dwight Smith during the second half of the game.
- Also on the position battle front, the left defensive end was another issue going into camp, although I’m not sure this was solved on Saturday. To my untrained eye, the decision is likely to come down to Braylon Broughton and Ross Forrest, with Forrest possibly having the edge at present, but I just want to take a minute to get my football boner raging about Braylon Broughton. For as long as he’s been a Frog, Broughton has been the token high ability/low utilization player who everyone, outside of himself, knows that he’s blowing a major opportunity. I’m not sure what it is; I’ve never heard reports of a bad attitude or low football mentality or anything like that. However, Broughton is an absolute BEAST with a capital BEAST and, if he ever turns it on, could be a more dominant player than Jerry Hughes. He showed a few flashes of that on Saturday, registering a QB sack where he simply blew up the right tackle, but he still has a ways to go. If he can’t make it onto the field by September 4, he may never pan out at all, but this should be the guy we’re most rooting for to succeed over the next several months. Seriously Braylon, I played a little defensive end for the mighty Foster Middle School Dragons during the city championship 1997 season. Let me take you under my wing.
- For those of you who were wondering how we’d fill the Marshall Newhouse void, the answer is to build a mansion where a double wide once stood. Translation: insert a 350 lb Marcus Cannon in the previously 317 lb Newhouse spot at left tackle. Going against this year’s Tommy Blake/Chase Ortiz/Jerry Hughes prototype in Wayne Daniels, Cannon held his ground competently and should provide the pass protection Sandra Bullock told us is so important. If I remember correctly, Zack Roth took a significant amount of snaps with the first team offensive line at right tackle, but don’t hold me to that.
- While linebacker depth is currently a pretty serious issue, Frog fans can rest assured that we should have the deepest and most talented secondary backing of the Patterson era when we hit the field at Jerryworld this fall. We all know Jason Teague and Greg McCoy are going to slide in seamlessly for the Priest/Sanders anchor we underestimated for the past four years, but Malcolm Williams also looked fantastic despite the lack of playing time he’s seen during his tenure as a Frog. TeJay Johnson looked on his game as well, absolutely pile driving Jeremy Kerley on a quick slant on the outside as evidenced above. Also, remember the name Devin Johnson. He’s going to be the next big thing for us at cornerback.
- I think one of the biggest off season surprises, for me at least, was GP’s decision to move Aundre Dean, a former 5A Player of the year at running back, to safety. After watching him in the spring game, though, if the staff doesn’t find a place for him in the backfield, then I’m not sure we can fully trust them ever again. I see the logic – the kid is a MAJOR athlete and has value in both the side and speed departments so he has to get on the field and, given our glut at running back, he can get more playing time elsewhere. Still, Dean got the majority of Dwight Smith’s reps after he left the game and looked absolutely like the animal he was hyped to be coming out of high school. Not that I want to openly doubt GP – he’s made no personnel decisions in his career that have made me shake my fist in anger – and I’m sure he would be a fine safety, but is it really worth wasting all that talent and ability? I love Ed Wesley, but a Dean/Smith/Tucker backfield with Wesley as a split end type would be nearly unstoppable if hitting on all cylinders. Don’t be surprised if he gets the Marcus Jackson treatment and is shunted back to his original position after the spring.
- Lastly, if anyone for some reason has worried if success has made GP lose his edge, don't be. He was just as angry during a scrimmage as I've ever seen him, chewing out refs on a pretty consistent basis, although it should be noted he really only got fired up if it benefited the offense. He seemed to have better trouser protection than usual, but, like the team on the field, I didn't expect his waistline to be game-ready this early in the process.
- Obviously miss #1 is the Tank Carder injury. There were many conflicting reports about the extent of it among the crowd, but the most recent update I’ve heard is that they only had to scope it and that he could be back in time for two-a-days. Speaking of two-a-days, most underrated reality show of all time? I think so. But anyway, the sooner we get Tank back, the better. With Kris Gardner also being out, Kenny Cain stepped into the starting role and looked good, but Carder was arguably the best player on our defense last year – I sincerely mean that – and his absence is a huge wart on an otherwise solid defensive unit.
- Miss #1A, if you hadn’t heard, is probably the Dwight Smith injury. It’s hard to say exactly what happened – Smith ran into the middle of the D line and came up lame, dragging his right leg, so you have to assume his ankle or lower leg was rolled up in the pile, I suppose. He was able to walk off under his own weight after initially being helped off by the training staff and was not attended to the rest of practice which was a good sign, so hopefully no significant damage was done. On the bright side, without his injury Aundre Dean would never have gotten any playing time, so knowing that he can become available to fill in at a moment’s notice is a huge positive to take away from all of this, although I selfishly hope he becomes more than a last option backup.
- In the “what have you done for me lately?” world of being a college football fan, Antoine Hicks will still be partially remembered for his big drop in the Fiesta Bowl that could’ve led to a Frogs win. Unfortunately, it looks like he’s still got a bit of a case of the drops, as he had several passes either go through his hands or bounce off them. Few were wide open, no brainer catches, but if Hicks is to continue being a go-to receiver, he has to catch everything Dalton throws in his vicinity as long as he has a window.
- Perhaps the most glaring deficiency – and one that wasn’t at all surprising to a vocally abhorrent lt4heisman – was the ineptitude that was Ross “Mr. All-Conference” Evans. I’m not sure how many field goals he missed, but he kicked one that Helen Keller could’ve done more with in a wheelchair. He missed short ones. He missed long ones. He missed left. He missed right. He missed extra points. Everything was seriously in play. I’m not sure what we have as far as a backup kicker – and apparently it must not be much – but this is something that should give the coaching staff a staggeringly high level of fear heading into the summer. Anson Kelton, while not nearly as gut wrenchingly off as Evans, still has work to do to get back to his 2008 level.
- To close out, one thing we really need to keep an eye on is depth along our front six on defense. Without getting back into the linebacker injuries, along the front four, no one outside of returning starters Cory Grant, Kelly Griffin and Wayne Daniels looked like they were truly ready to step into a starting role if the season started tomorrow. Although, Stansly Moponga looked awfully good and all the things the coaching staff have said about him this spring are spot on. Still, guys like Broughton, Clarence Leach and possibly even freshman David Johnson need to get their minds right during the summer and come ready to play in the fall.
And that’s about all there is to report. Sorry if my thoughts are a bit haphazard – I flew in to Longview from Augusta, GA at 9:30 Saturday morning and blasted my way to FW just in time for a few parking lot beers and some stadium sneak treats before the start, so I probably wasn’t on top of my game as a spectator. A lot of people talked about how this particular spring game was at least twice as long as ones past and there’s two ways to look at this. One, yaaay more free football! Two, GP said later that it ran long because he didn’t like what he saw. Now, you can argue that GP never likes what he sees, but I think there are definitely some things that we’ll want to have cleared up before our big 2010 debut on ESPN September 4th.
For those of you who were there, feel free to correct, comment, and add insights that I may have missed.