(Note, I was going to have a separate post on spring practice overall, but it seemed wiser to combine them.)
Well, it’s a few days late, but since nobody pays me to write on this blog, I can safely say it is not a few dollars short… that said, here are my thoughts:
It’s been interesting to read other commentors thoughts on the scrimmage because some of them were really similar to mine and others were widely different. Perhaps it was because I was very focused on keeping stats as opposed to just observing, but I’m in disagreement with those like Hydro who believe Sweeney had the best day. It was most definitely Mansion.
Mansion hit everything and had a couple of good medium length passes. Until that interception on his final drive, he was perfect. Not just 7-for-7 perfect, making the right reads at the right time perfect… every. single. play. He looked aweome to me. He looks like a completely different quarterback than he did a week ago. The lightbulb seems to have turned on for him.
Sweeney on the other hand, while I agree his statistics were worse than his perfomance, looked pretty mediocre and too quick to tuck the ball and run. Said another way, if you thought he looked good at that practice, you should have seen him in the last couple weeks. This was a somewhat off day for him.
Riley, well, everyone was a bit disappointed with him. It wasn’t a horrible day, but it wasn’t great and ensured that the last week or so of practice didn’t send him out on the right note. He’s still the starter at this point, but he’s not distancing himself like he was for the first few weeks.
One thing people forget is that during spring, the defense traditionally dominates. The offenses tend to come into their own later and require more teamwork to be successful. This is particularly true on the offensive line.
I got thinking about that because I was pretty hard on them in my podcast. But the one thing the O-Line didn’t have going for them this spring is that they did more rotations and experimentation with positions than any unit on the field. They substituted in guys left and right, all throughout the spring. So they didn’t have those 5 guys who had 4 weeks getting comfortable with one another.
Overall, that’s a good thing. The coaching staff knows it doesn’t matter if the O-Line is good in April, only that it is good in September. Spending the time and effort to evaluate lots of different linemen in lots of different positions both helps them setup a strong depth-chart for the fall but also ensures that the players get lots of experience, particularly those who will have to come in when the injuries come (and they always do).
So, don’t be too hard on the offense and particularly the offensive line just yet.
That said, this defense had the potential to be something special. It’s getting to the point where Syd no longer stands out as exceptional because everyone is starting to play at his level. Cameron Jordan, announcers should spend more time making sure they can pronouce his name that Alualu’s because he’s going to be getting in the backfield a lot next year.
I’m just not going to go through it position by position because I don’t want to get that excited. This defense will be good at every position and has the potential to be exceptional at at least 7 positions. I’ll go out on a limb and say that unless USC repeats last year’s incredible defensive performance, which is unlikely with the losses they sustained, Cal will have the conference’s best defense.
Minus the concerns at O-Line, I think the position to be most worried about is fullback. While I think Brian Holley will be servicable, I don’t get the feel he’s going to fill the shoes of his predicessors. I’m hopeful that some of the youth behind him will come a long way in the off-season, particularly if Will Kapp can bulk up some, but Holley is the guy with the most experience and I think it will be important that he step up a little bit from where he is now.
Finally for the offense, because I’m not going to talk about the plethora of wide-receivers who obviously are making strides and at least 3 of them are going to be more than capable next year, I think the tight-end position will be just fine. Tad Smith was out with an injury for the last week and Anthony Miller filled in great. That’s two better than servicable tight-ends which is plenty considering the youth behind them. It’s too bad the fans didn’t get to see Tad in action. He’s pretty good.
Overall, I don’t yet see a team that is poised to make a run at the Rose Bowl, but I do see one that with some modest improvement in key areas, particularly QB, FB and O-Line, could be in position to do that. They’ve got to be ready to make that run right out of the gates because Maryland would love to prove that last year’s game was not an aboration and the first two conference games are the likely challengers for the Pac-10 crown.