The first practice of bowl season, technically, was in the books back on Friday. But for us media types, the first practice we were allowed to watch wrapped up tonight. We got to talk to several players afterward, who we’ll hear more from here on the blog soon, but until then, I wanted to pass along notes and observations from the first open practice since the beginning of August.
The focus of today’s practice, as well as each one for the rest of the week, is young players. The starters and seniors spent most of their time on the sidelines either cracking jokes or coaching the young pups at their position. Guys like Tyler Russell, Chad Bumphis, Sam Williams, Johnthan Banks, Chris Cameron, etc., mostly watched.
Dan Mullen, as well as a couple assistants, were out recruiting, but this is an opportunity for coaches to get a good look at the youth on the team, the stars of tomorrow, and give them some coaching.
One rough note: sophomore running back Nick Griffin will have surgery to repair a torn ACL, the second of his career, an injury he suffered in practice Saturday. The big-bodied back came on strong the second half of the season, but MSU does return its other top three runners from 2012. I talked to Griffin briefly and he was as positive as ever, confident he’ll make a quick return.
Now, onto some observations.
- With Russell spending most of his time on the sideline, freshman Dak Prescott was the main quarterback. The same talent we saw on the field this season was evident, but unlike his game action, he spent most of his time passing, rather than running. Perhaps it was just from being close to him, but he throws a very hard ball, which may be why he had a few overthrows. He did, however, throw several on the money, including a beauty to Chris Smith deep down the right sideline which he dropped in between three defenders – including starters like Banks and Nickoe Whitley – for a big gain.
- Sophomore linebacker Christian Holmes is the big experiment this month, switching form linebacker to tight end. He actually played the position in high school, so it isn’t new to him, and he seems to be adapting well. His build is similar to senior tight end Marcus Green, and Holmes is a strong, smart player. Given time to learn the offense, I think this move may stick. He had one particularly nice catch for about 20 yards over the middle and, from what I could tell, he did a good job of protecting the quarterback when he stayed back to block.
- Of all the receivers, sophomore slot man Jameon Lewis may have stood out the most, catching several big-gainers, including a 50-yarder for a would-be touchdown in which he burned Whitley and brought in the pass on the run from Prescott.
- Freshman Brandon Holloway, who is redshirting this year, may just be the fastest guy on the team. But, like we wrote about yesterday, he’s gotta work on his hands. He made a lot of catches, but dropped a few, too, even in receiver drills with no one guarding him. He’s scary quick, but he’s gotta make sure he gets the ball, too.
- Sophomore Robert Johnson, who played relatively often this year, may be the star next year.
- And freshman Fred Brown, another receiver who redshirted this year, has all the makings of a big playmaker. His teammates call him ‘Downtown’ Freddy Brown as well as ‘Smooth’ Freddy Brown. I like Downtown better, but both seem applicable. He has a good grasp of the offense and knows how to run routes.
- One play that stood out is one we’ve seen all year, but it’s just so pretty and so unstoppable. The Russel-to-LaDarius Perkins wheel route is a pleasure to watch, and was executed to perfection on a play whne both happened to be in for a 40-yard gain.
- One guy who stood out was freshman tight end Rufus Warren, both for his strength and size. He’s the biggest non-lineman on the team and the thud he made when hitting one of the blocking pads in drills was thunderous.
- Speaking of tight ends, coach Scott Sallach was one of the assistants off recruiting, and Marcus Green and Malcolm Johnson took up the mantle of instructing the youngsters, holding the pads in drills and teaching them as they went.
- Two other big runs I noticed: freshman running back Josh Robinson rumbled down the field for about 45 yards, straight up the middle, and walk-on freshman quarterback Jamil Golden reeled off a 40-yard run of his own down the left sideline, nearly reaching the endzone and exhibiting the athleticism he showed all night.
- I also have in my notebook: “Tyler 50-yd TD to Chad Bumphis, burned Banks, jumped over Slay and spun off Skinner and Whitley. Amazing.” I’m not entirely sure that play actually happened, but no doubt, Bump has had a phenomenal season and he’s hoping to reach 1,000 yards in Jacksonville for the Gator Bowl.
Practice is open the rest of the week, so we’ll have plenty more here on the blog in the way of observations and interviews.