First of all the two players that just leap off the film at you from this scrimmage are Ryan Williams at RB and Eddie Whitley at DB. There is no sane way the coaches can keep these two guys off the field at their respective positions. Williams shows burst, keeps his legs moving, he protects the ball well for a young player and he throws himself into his blocks - not sound fundamentally yet, but unlike Branden Ore, Williams is giving blocks full effort.
Meanwhile Whitley was a holy terror yesterday, getting his snaps against the 1st string offense, laying the boom on big hits in run support, making sound tackles in the secondary and just in general doing his best Brandon Flowers impression. Through the first part of the spring, Whitley is showing that he thinks he deserves playing time opposite Stephan Virgil in the fall. However, Cris Hill showed a lot of moxie yesterday too. He got beat badly on a Danny Coale TD early in the scrimmage and instead of getting down on himself, came back and broke up 2 passes later in the scrimmage. The sign of a good cornerback is one with no memory.
Cody Grimm and Barquell Rivers were very stout in the scrimmage at LB as was Bruce Taylor playing with the "2's". Kam Chancellor had some big hits in addition to a pick and he's poised for a huge senior year at safety (and a very likely 1st round pick in the NFL in 2010). Tony Gregory from the 3rd string showed that he will be pushing to move up the crowded depth chart at WR. He has speed to burn. In fact, overall the wide receiver play was pretty solid from Coale to Roberts on the reverse, to Gregory and Terry making plays downfield and most of the receivers were sticking their noses in there and blocking without holding which I always love to see.
There were some areas where ENORMOUS improvement is needed before playing against Alabama on September 5th. The offensive line play was inconsistent at best. There were missed assignments and getting beat one-on-one especially below the 1st string. But even the 1st string would follow up a perfectly executed pass protect with a totally blown run blocking scheme on the very next play.
Of greater concern was the pass rush from the defensive ends. John Graves just might not be fast enough to play outside. His best performances were in run support and he had several tackles for losses and a good hit on Marcus Davis on a QB draw but he was unable to generate much pressure even against the 2nd string offensive line. Nekos Brown on the other side was better but minus two good plays was mainly ineffective. Jason Worilds had better make a full recovery.
Jake Johnson has been greatly hyped (including by this blogger) and yet was nearly invisible on the footage from yesterday. He has all the physical tools but this is - as Coach Foster famously refers to it - a case of his head tying up his feet. The play from the rover position was notably poor yesterday too - Davon Morgan and Dorian Porch did nothing special. Lorenzo Williams at backup free safety was beaten on quite a few occasions in pass plays and run support.
The QB play was one of those not-too-hot but not-too-cold situations. Taylor was solid, including a very pretty ball to Danny Coale for the TD but he also missed a few guys. I got to watch his throwing motion in more detail and I maintain that despite what he or O'Cain will tell you, the hitch is still there, but it is narrower and his motion is more compact and slightly faster. It will be a non-issue this year.
At 2nd string, Ju-Ju Clayton just looks like he's getting more comfortable back there. He threw one ball up for grabs on his first series that Kam Chancellor picked off and you just can't do that, but I like how he keeps his head downfield, makes his read and delivers a good ball. Clayton won't be an All-American but anyone being nervous about him as back-up there doesn't need to be, unless he totally chokes when the spotlight is on. The coaches think he's got poise and will be up for the challenge if called upon.
Finally, Marcus Davis. Oh my, what do you do about Marcus Davis? This kid is a bundle of physical talent but he's just not destined to be a QB. When he pulls the ball down, you have a 6'5", 230 lb man-child bearing down on you and oh yeah he's fast. And Davis even threw a few decent passes yesterday, as well. But the position just doesn't appear to be a fit for him. He doesn't look natural dropping back and throwing the ball. I can see the Hokies using Davis like Florida State used Greg Carr - jump ball fade routes in the end zone. Davis would also be a major threat in the Wild Turkey after Boone graduates (although that role appears destined for Logan Thomas). Unfortunately I don't believe our coordinator has the creativity to get Davis on the field this season and therefore he will be relegated to learning signals and holding a clipboard.
There will be a lot of tackling work in practice this week and I promise you I also would not want to be an offensive lineman this week after Coach Newsome's reactions yesterday. Jake Johnson will be getting a lot of work from Coach Foster this week as well to see if he can get his mind right. I look forward to seeing the differences in the team by next Saturday's scrimmage. It is exciting to see some of the team's potential, that's for sure.