Fall Camp Report #20: Newcomers Shine At Scrimmage
The Redbird offense, wearing its customary red jerseys, squared off at the defense in white jerseys for two, 30-minute halves under the lights. Big plays were made on both sides of the ball, but the Redbird freshmen on offense impressed all in attendance. Hunt led all rushers with eight carries for 49 yards and also scored a touchdown from two yards out late in the second half during a red zone drill. Neblett paced all the receivers with four catches for 71 yards, which included a 32-yard completion from Matt Lancaster.
Running back Cliffton Gordon got the scoring started for the Redbirds, when he took the ball off-tackle and rumbled for a six-yard touchdown run midway through the first half. After an extra point by freshman placekicker Nick Aussieker, the red team was up 7-0. The defense held the offense down for a little while longer, until Steven Fetzer nailed a 37-yard field goal to put three more points on the board and send the team into the locker room at halftime with a 10-0 score.
Early in the second half, tight end Jayme Comer caught his first career touchdown pass, a 10-yard strike from Matt Lancaster. Comer was moved to tight end midway through training camp, after spending his first two season at ISU as a linebacker. The first-team offense camp back out and on the first play from scrimmage on the next series, Matt Brown aired out a 58-yard bomb to Tyrone Walker, who cruised under the ball for a long touchdown catch which brought the fans to their feet at the stadium.
Later in the half, Hunt rumbled for two yards for his only touchdown of the game, and Matt Mose capped off the night with an impressive tightrope catch against the sideline in the end zone from freshman Cameron Meredith to give the Redbird offense a total of 38 points on the night.
In total, the offense racked up 429 yards of total offense and the Redbird quarterbacks passed for 355 yards through the air. Brown finished the night 6-for-9 for 113 yards and a touchdown, while Drew Kiel was 7-for-15 for 101 yards. Lancaster completed 8-of-11 passes for 97 yards with a score and Meredith was 2-for-2 for 24 yards and a touchdown
The Redbird defense showed a very balanced attack, as 10 different players record at least three tackles each. Marcus Johnson led all players with five tackles, which included a pair of sacks on Lancaster. Senior defensive tackle Xzavier Stewart also had an impressive night with four tackles and a sack and newcomers Bo Flowers, Colton Underwood and Pat Dougherty each added four stops. Linebacker Mike Hiestand recorded the team's only turnover of the night, an impressive diving interception deep in enemy territory, to go along with three solo tackles.
After taking a few days off for rest and to start school, the Redbirds will return to the practice field Tuesday to begin preparing for the season-opener Sept. 2 against Central Missouri.
Fall Camp Report #19: Rain Washes Out Final Workout
"We thought were going to get the practice in without any problems because the storms were over in Quincy, but this one popped up quick, and we had to get off the field in a hurry," Spack said. "We had an idea about midway through that something was on the way so we tried to speed things up, skipped a couple drills and still managed to get most of our work in. We decided to have a lighter practice tonight without pads on so they could come out tomorrow night fresh and have a great scrimmage."
Before the rains came in, the team worked during the blitz period in the red zone. Matt Brown connected twice each with Tyrone Walker and Marvon Sanders during the drill and also pulled the ball down a couple times and took off running for solid gains. Matt Lancaster then got his shot to score, but pass breakups by Matt Goldsmith and E.J. Jones quelled his momentum. Drew Kiel wrapped up the drill with a pair of solid completions to Corey Shandrick, before the whistle blew for the team session.
Brown, Kiel and Lancaster took turns leading their respective units down the field and running backs Cliffton Gordon and Erik Smith carried the ball twice each to help move the chains. The Redbird defense had two near interceptions, with linebacker Mike Zimmer just missing out on one on a Brown throw to the flat and Bo Flowers juggling one in the end zone after a Goldsmith tip. However, the interception eventually came as Ryan Givens stepped in front of a Lancaster pass and returned it for a big gain.
That's where things went crazy and the winds came with rain soon after, forcing the team off to the locker room to change to get ready for a team meeting to talk about Saturday's scrimmage. Spack hopes that his new playmakers on both sides of the ball show up tomorrow night and give everyone in attendance a great show.
"I hope our fans get to see what our new playmakers can do on the field tomorrow," Spack said. "We're not going to do anything fancy out there, but if you do the basics well in this offense it can be pretty entertaining. We will have some live scrimmage situations and if we are efficient in our time out there, then it will be a good night."
The scrimmage will take place at 7 p.m., and wraps up a fun-filled day at ISU. The day gets started with the volleyball red-white scrimmage at Redbird Arena at 3 p.m., which will be followed by the Redbird Fan Fair from 5-7 p.m. on the plaza between Hancock Stadium and Redbird Arena.
In the tenth and final installment of our Redbird Xtra Fall Camp series, we take a look at the Redbird offensive line with coach George Barnett. With all five starters returning from last season and several more players returning with extensive game experience, the ISU front five should be the cornerstone of the offensive attack. Senior tackles Dane Zumbahlen and Chris Riley anchor the line, along with juniors Keenan Wimbley, Cal McCarthy and Nick Bledsoe. With another season in the spread offense and with a new coach at the helm, the Redbird O-Line will definitely be a unit to watch in 2010.
Fall Camp Report #18: Challenge Accepted Once Again
This time, head coach Brock Spack waited until the end of practice to throw down the gauntlet when the players were tired after a tough morning workout in shells (helmet, shoulderpads and shorts). That didn't factor into the equation, as Bledsoe caught the ball without a problem and was then mobbed by his teammates.
"We gave the defense a try last night, so it was only fair to give one of the big guys on offense an opportunity today," Spack said. "We are trying to bring a little levity to the end of camp here, so the guys will stay focused and have a good scrimmage tomorrow. Hopefully, we will get out of practice tonight and the scrimmage without any injuries and then shift our focus to playing Central Missouri on Sept. 2. We've had a good camp so far, but we need to finish strong and tighten things up before the first game."
Practice Friday morning lasted just under two hours, with the team once again focusing on special teams with extensive work in the punt block and return. The team then moved on to the 7-on-7 drill, where Drew Kiel completed all five of his attempts with a pair of big gains to Marvon Sanders. Matt Brown was 3-for-5, with connections to Tyrone Walker, Corey Shandrick and Lechein Neblett, but also had two passes dropped. Freshman Cameron Meredith took the remaining snaps and was 2-for-2 with completions to Marcus King and James O'Shaughnessy.
Matt Lancaster and Ben Ericksen got into a rhythm in the blitz drill, leading the second-team offense to a clean series of downs against the defense bearing down on them. Thanks to a strong push and with Shelby Harris in Brown's face, Steve Nelson was able to leap in the air, pick off the pass attempt and then ran it in for a touchdown to fire up the sideline.
The first and second-team offenses then got a chance to drive the field during the team session. Starting at their own 42 yard line, the first-teamers were led downfield by Brown, who used a steady diet of passes to Sanders, Walker and Erik Smith to get the team down to the 22 yard line. That's where the drive stalled, courtesy of pass breakups by Eric Brunner and Kelvyn Hemphill, which forced Steven Fetzer to come out to nail a 39-yard field goal for the win.
The second team had bit more success, as Kiel led the unit on a 12-play scoring drive. Kiel found Matt Mose twice in the first three plays for first downs and found Jordan Neukirch and O'Shaughnessy later in the drive for big gains. The drive culminated in a 17-yard touchdown pass from Kiel to O'Shaughnessy on a fade route to the corner of the end zone.
ISU will hold its final practice of fall training camp Friday night at 7 p.m. The team will then take the field Saturday night in front of family, friends, fans and new students at the annual Passages Scrimmage at 7 p.m. at Hancock Stadium.
In the ninth installment of our Redbird Xtra Fall Camp series, we take a look at the Redbird running backs with coach Holmon Wiggins. Junior Cliffton Gordon returns as the only Redbird ball-carrier with experience at ISU and has a pair of Big Ten transfer running backs in Erik Smith (Wisconsin) and Ashton Leggett (Michigan State) with him to help carry the load this season. With the addition of freshman Cameron Hunt, the team will look to improve its rushing attack in 2010 to complement the dangerous spread offense the 'Birds showcased in 2009.
Fall Camp Report #17: A Little Added Incentive
"I try to give the players a little incentive here at the end of camp," Spack said. "Not having to sit in meetings all night may not seem like a big deal to people on the outside, but these players have done nothing but work, eat, sleep and study in meetings for almost two weeks straight. A thing like this tends to get them more motivated at the end of camp and take their mind off feeling tired and sore. Hopefully, they use this night to recuperate and come back Friday refreshed for the final two-a-day of training camp."
After Detmers looked natural catching the punt, he was mobbed by his teammates who were quickly brought back down to earth with the sound of a horn to signify the first drill of the day. Each unit split up and worked on their individual techniques for about the next hour, before the whole team moved up to the grass practice field behind the stadium to get off the hot turf.
Once up top, 7-on-7 work began and the defense got a big lift with the addition of senior cornerback E.J. Jones, who returned to the field after missing most of camp due to a foot injury. Jones broke up a pair of passes during the drill and displayed his veteran coverage skills that helped him rank second in the Valley in 2009 with six interceptions. Austin Davis also broke up a pair of passes, while Kelvyn Hemphill added an interception that he returned quickly for a short touchdown. On offense, Marvon Sanders, Corey Shandrick and Tyrone Walker each caught a pair of passes from the Redbird signal-callers.
The blitz dill quickly commenced, with Brown and Marcus King getting off to a hot start with a pair of completions. King would catch two more passed during the session, proving he could be a go-to receiver for the Redbirds this season. Matt Mose also hauled in a pair of impressive catches and Jones came up big for the defense once again with a diving interception off Matt Lancaster late in the drill.
A balanced offensive attack was demonstrated during the team session, with Brown going 4-for-5 in his snaps with connections to Mose, King, Sanders and Jordan Neukirch. Running backs Erik Smith, Cliffton Gordon and Cameron Hunt also took turns carrying the ball against the Redbird front, which batted down a pair of passes at the line as well. Casey Kociuba also broke up a pair of passes in the secondary and Steve Nelson just missed out on an interception on the sideline when he was hit from behind.
The Redbirds will hold their final two-a-day of the fall Friday, with practices scheduled for 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. Those practices will the last ones for ISU before Saturday night's scrimmage under the lights at Hancock Stadium.
In the eighth installment of our Redbird Xtra Fall Camp series, we take a look at the Redbird tight ends with coach Jim Williams. The Redbirds tight ends and H-backs label themselves "The Wolfpack" and are a tight-knit group, led by juniors Casey Cline and Brandon Venson. Both played a lot in 2009 and were big contributors in the new spread offense. The tight ends have seen a lot of work during fall camp, so one would expect that their role in the offense could increase in 2010.
Fall Camp Report #16: Things Starting To Wind Down
Head coach Brock Spack cut practice short a bit and laid off any full contact work to give his players a chance to recoup a bit and recharge their batteries. It was a privilege that his players did not take lightly, as the twilight practice was full of intensity and focus throughout.
"I thought it was time to give the players a bit of a break," Spack said. "We went pretty hard this morning in full pads and I wanted them to enjoy the cooler weather and less contact tonight. I told them before practice that if they abused the privilege it would be taken away, but they came out and practiced well and stayed focused throughout. That's what good teams do, so it was good to see that they can handle a challenge like that."
As has been custom throughout fall training camp, the first contact of the day came during the blitz drill. Matt Brown caught the defense on the first play from scrimmage, as he found a wide open Marvon Sanders for a touchdown. The defense then forced three-straight incompletions, before Brown got back on track with a completion to Matt Younger. Matt Lancaster recorded three-straight completions to round out his work in the drill and Drew Kiel hooked up with Sanders twice for solid gains.
During the 7-on-7 drill, the defense had the offense rattled a bit and forced some drops and incompletions. Brown, Lancater and Kiel started strong by each completing a pass, but Bo Flowers got things started with a near interception deep in the secondary. Steve Nelson then added a breakup of his own with blanket coverage and fellow freshman Tré Jones added a breakup a couple plays later. Brown bounced back with a big gain to Sanders, but Austin Davis and Casey Kociuba broke up passes on the next two attempts to finish the drill on a high note.
A 40-play team session followed and every aspect of the offense was focused on. Erik Smith, Cliffton Gordon, Cameron Hunt and Anthony Boddy took turns carrying the football and each recorded solid gains during the drill. Matt Mose caught four passes from the Redbird quarterbacks, including a long touchdown from Kiel, and Corey Shandrick recorded two big gains with a touchdown catch as well. Defensively, Shelby Harris recorded a sack on the second play and Davis corralled an interception off a tipped pass from Brown.
Practice concluded with the kickers Steven Fetzer, Mike Wood and Nick Aussieker working on their mayday field goal package, which focuses on quick kicks and alternative plays to account for bad snaps. The Redbirds will return to the field Thursday at 3 p.m. at Hancock Stadium.
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In the seventh installment of our Redbird Xtra Fall Camp series, we take a look at the Redbird defensive backs with coach Lamar Conard. With seniors Kelvyn Hemphill, Casey Kociuba and E.J. Jones in the mix, the Redbird secondary is one of the most veteran units on the field. However, the coaching staff addressed a need during the offseason to get talented freshmen and transfers in to fill those roles after the 2010 season. Those newcomers willl get a chance to play this season and how they progress could make the difference for the Redbird defense.
Fall Camp Report #15: Kicking Game Put To The Test
"We like to have at least one kicking scrimmage each fall to emphasize the importance of special teams to the players," Spack said. "Big plays on special teams can make the difference in winning or losing a tight game and we stress to our players that their work during those times in practice is just as important as the time spent in team drills. I thought our scout team did a great job of giving the various units great looks today and I was pleased with the overall intensity."
The first group to take the field was the kickoff coverage unit, as Steven Fetzer, Mike Wood and Nick Aussieker took turns booming the ball down field. The defenders flying down field were challenged to stay in their lanes and wrap the scout-team returners. The punt coverage team then took its chances down the field, with redshirt freshman Ryan Givens making a spectacular open-field tackle on Lechein Neblett to drop him in his tracks at full speed.
The focus then shifted to the kickoff and punt return units. Erik Smith, Ben Ericksen, Cameron Hunt, Kelvyn Hemphill, Todd Shorter and James O'Shaughnessy each took turns bringing the ball up field, while trying to dodge scout-team defenders in blue jerseys. Smith posted a couple nice returns over 20 yards and Ericksen had a potential touchdown return spoiled by a diving tackle by Neblett along the sideline. Bradon Prate and Mike Greenwood also posted strong stops during the drill and limited the ISU returners to minimal gains.
Punt returners Marvon Sanders, Tyrone Walker and Neblett had trouble finding a punt from Wood and Fetzer to return, as all three called for fair catches on their first attempts. Sanders eventually was able to return one offering, but was stopped before breaking open for a big gain by longsnapper Nathan Rebholz.
The final session was spent on coffin kicks, with the Redbirds focusing on downing the ball deep in the other team's end of the field. On the first offering, Givens made a great recovery and downed the ball at the two yard line much to the delight of the coaching staff. The gunners were not as successful on the next two tries, as the ball rolled into the end zone for touchbacks.
The Redbirds did spend time working on the passing game during 7-on-7 work and in the two-minute drill. The ISU quarterbacks were 18-for-20 during the 7-on-7 session, with Sanders and Marcus King leading the way with two catches each. During the first two-minute drill, the first-team offense marched down the field with precision, but Givens picked off a Brown pass at the five yard line to give the defense a big boost. A pair of sacks by Xzavier Stewart and one by Dave Rivas put a stop to the second-team's first attempt, stalling it near midfield.
The scenario was then changed, from needing a field goal to win to a touchdown for the victory. Brown led the first-teamers down field with six-straight completions to the opposing 39 yard line. Brown later connected with Neblett at the 28 yard line and called for a clock play to stop the clock with 26.3 seconds left. After another first down put the team on the 15 yard line, the clock was stopped once again with 16.3 seconds left. The offense then took two shots at the end zone, but both came up short and the defense left the drill unscathed.
The Redbirds will return to the field for their second practice of the day at 7 p.m., at Hancock Stadium.
Fall Camp Report #14: Football Weather Shows Up
The weather was very similar to most of the team's Thursday practices from a year ago, which featured similar conditions each week. Head coach Brock Spack and the players welcomed this new weather and wouldn't mind if it stuck around for the rest of training camp.
"We always tell our players that weather is one of the things they can't control on the field and this weather here lately has proven that point," Spack said. "We go from dangerous heat and humidity and two days later it's like fall out here. It's been a nice break for the guys and seems to give them a bit more energy out there, which is something we like to see. But, they have to be able to play in any kind of weather, and we've had a little bit of everything so far in camp."
Despite the gloomy skies, the Redbird quarterbacks were very crisp during their 7-on-7 work. Drew Kiel was a perfect 6-for-6, including a long gain to Matt Lancaster, who was spread out as a receiver. Matt Brown was 6-for-8, with a pair of completions to Marvon Sanders that both went for big gains. Rounding out the action was freshman Cameron Meredith, who finished the drill 4-for-4 with completions to fellow freshman James O'Shaughnessy, Lechein Neblett and Anthony Boddy.
In the blitz period, the defense got off to a quick start with a pass breakup by freshman Marcus Harris and a sack by Ray Sankey on Lancaster. However, the offense quickly shot back as Lancaster found Sanders and Matt Younger for touchdowns on back-to-back plays. Lancaster, not wanting to be left out of the scoring, capped off the drill with a touchdown catch from Kiel to give the offense some momentum heading into the team session.
The focus started with the escape drill, which pins the offense deep in its own end of the field with the objective of getting two first downs and some breathing room. The first-team offense wasted no time, as Brown found Tyrone Walker for a long touchdown pass on the first play from scrimmage to earn a win. Thanks to a big catch by Younger and a solid run by Cameron Hunt, the second-team offense also succeeded in its attempt to get out of trouble.
From there, the offense was tasked with running a successful two-minute drill from their own 24-yard line with no timeouts left and needing a field goal to win the game. Brown led the first-team unit down the field, thanks to four catches by Walker in six plays, which put the ball at the opponent's 20 yard line. After a quick rush and a clock play with 4.5 seconds left, Steven Fetzer nailed a 34-yard field goal to win the game.
The second-team offense got off to a slow start, after allowing a sack on the first play to Xzavier Stewart, but rallied with three-straight pass completions to move the ball down to the 24-yard line. However, a failed run attempt and a combined tackle-for-loss by Eric Brunner and Colton Underwood left kicker Nick Aussieker with a 51-yard boot into the wind, which he missed just left.
The Redbirds will hold two more practices Wednesday, with the first at 9 a.m., and the second at 7 p.m. at Hancock Stadium.
In the sixth installment of our Redbird Xtra Fall Camp series, we take a look at the Redbird wide receivers with coach Taylor Stubblefield. With the loss of senior Eyad Salem, who set the school record for receptions in a season in 2009, the unit will be looking for someone to step up and fill that role. Tyrone Walker, the team's leading returning pass catcher and a 2009 MVFC All-Newcomer Team selection, will look to take over that spot along with veterans like Matt Mose, Marcus King and transfer Marvon Sanders.
Fall Camp Report #13: Scoring By Design
"We were very crisp tonight, so we cut practice a bit short by design," Spack said. "The players have been grinding through camp and fighting off bumps and bruises, so we made sure to get our work in and get them off the field. We planned on going two series each, with the ones and twos in the red zone and at the goal line, and we either scored quickly, forced a three-and-out or got a turnover. That sped things up a bit so we got the players off their feet after a long day and hopefully they bring the same enthusiasm tomorrow."
The red zone work started during the blitz drill, where the defense took the early advantage thanks to a big stop of Erik Smith in the backfield by Nick Broome and Kelvyn Hemphill. The offense eventually got things rolling, as Matt Lancaster kept the ball on an option play near the goal line and ran it in for a touchdown. A few plays later, Drew Kiel threw back-to-back touchdowns to Tyrone Walker and Marvon Sanders and then ran one in to cap off the drill.
In 7-on-7 work, Brown threw touchdown passes to Scott Kuehn, James O'Shaughnessy and Matt Mose, while Kiel and Lancaster each added a touchdown strike apiece to Corey Shandrick and Walker, respectively. The defense also made themselves known in the drill, as Ryan Givens and Kendall Webb each broke up passes to quell the momentum gained by the offense.
During the team red zone drill, the offense was four-for-four in its chances. Steven Fetzer nailed a 44-yard field goal on the first series for the first-team offense to get them on the board, and Kiel led an impressive drive on the next series. On the first play, Rickey Simpson tackled Lechein Neblett in the backfield on an attempted reverse to put the offense in a quick hole. However, on third down Kiel found Matt Mose for a big gain down to the seven yard line and three plays later the pair hooked up again for a touchdown.
The first team had more success on its second try, as Smith needed just two runs from 17 yards out to put another six points on the board. The second-team's next series was even shorter, as Kiel found Matt Younger all alone in the end zone for a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage.
Goal line work followed and linebacker Mike Zimmer had the highlight of camp to date to give the defense a big lift. On the second play of the series, Broome batted a Brown pass down at the line and Zimmer corralled it out of the air and returned it 90 yards for the score. That excitement would be short-lived, however, as another touchdown catch by Younger and rushing touchdown by Cameron Hunt gave the offense the last laugh of the day.
Practice time for Tuesday is scheduled for 3 p.m., at Hancock Stadium, before a pair of practices Wednesday.
In the fifth installment of our Redbird Xtra Fall Camp series, we take a look at the Redbird defensive line with coach Spence Nowinsky. With three starters returning, including 2009 Second Team All-MVFC selection Eric Brunner, and several more new additions the defensive front should be a solid unit for the Redbirds in 2010. Transfers Albert Sparks (Buffalo), Milton Owens (Indiana) and Shelby Harris (Wisconsin) have joined the team as well, in hopes of helping ISU to a conference championship this fall.
Fall Camp Report #12: Points Galore In The Red Zone
There seemed to be a bit more pep in the team's step Monday morning, something that did not go unnoticed by the coaching staff and head coach Brock Spack.
"We had a good start to the day with the way practice went this morning," Spack said. "The offense was crisp in the red zone and I think players on both sides of the ball felt like they had a bit more energy because of the cooler temperatures. Camp has been a grind so far and the rest of the week won't be easy, but I was pleased with what I saw this morning and hope for the same tonight."
Special teams were once again the focus early in the day for the Redbirds, with punt team coverage and protection focused on heavily as well as the various kickoff return packages. Kelvyn Hemphill, Marvon Sanders and Erik Smith all took turns returning kicks and finding their way through blockers and would-be tacklers. Placekickers Steven Fetzer, Nick Aussieker and Mike Wood all took turns kicking to the return team, with Aussieker's kicks often landing a few yards in the end zone.
A short inside run drill followed, with Smith breaking off a couple of big gains for touchdowns and Cameron Hunt and Anthony Boddy also got their opportunities to carry the ball. The offense then stayed in the red zone for 7-on-7 work, with all three Redbird quarterbacks recordin touchdown passes.
On three-consecutive plays, Matt Lancaster, Matt Brown and Drew Kiel torched the defense for scores. Lancaster found Sanders in the end zone for a quick score first, and Brown followed with a short pass to Jordan Neukirch, who barreled his way over the goal line. Kiel capped off the scoring barrage with a strike to Brandon Venson in the back corner. Brown and Lancaster both threw for two more touchdowns during the drill, with Brown finding freshmen Bryce Kiser and Matt Younger, and Lancaster hooking up with Neukirch and Tyrone Walker.
The defense fought back and put pressure on the offense during the blitz drill. Austin Davis started things off with a tackle-for-loss on Smith and Ray Sankey batted down a pass at the line a few plays later, something he has been doing frequently during camp. Davis then broke up a Lancaster offering and freshman Matt Goldsmith recorded two-consecutive breakups to end the drill on a high note for the defense.
Brown got the offense back on rhythm during the team red zone drill, finding Matt Mose for a touchdown on the first play and Venson for another just two plays later. Hunt showed off his running ability a play later, as he reversed field twice from sideline to sideline before finding a seam in the defense and winding up in the end zone for an impressive touchdown.
The defense rallied with some big plays of its own at the end of the drill, highlighted by a tipped pass by Davis that was hauled in by Josh Howe in the end zone for an interception. Albert Sparks then added a sack on Kiel and Bradon Prate tallied a pair of tackles-for-loss to cap off a strong finish.
The Redbird will return to the field at 7 p.m. Monday night for their second practice of the day at Hancock Stadium.
Fall Camp Report #11: Defense Returns To Dominant Form
The Redbirds were in full pads once again, but did not have any full-contact drills during the practice. The focus after two nights of scrimmaging shifted to prolonged individual sessions with the position coaches, and three extended special team's periods that concentrated on punt return, kickoff coverage and field goal blocks.
Head coach Brock Spack told the players after practice that he could see the light at the end of the tunnel and hopes they continue to work as hard over the final week of training camp as they have during the first.
"We've had a pretty tough go over the last week due to the heat and we scrimmaged quite a bit," Spack said. "I felt like we needed to back down a little today, but I liked the intensity and focus the defense showed. The last couple practices, and really throughout the whole camp, the offense has shined but today the defense came out with a bit of swagger and rattled the offense a bit. That was good to see, but tomorrow will be another test with two more practices scheduled."
The Redbird quarterbacks looked sharp once again during the 7-on-7 period, with Drew Kiel leading the way with a 7-for-7 effort. Kiel hooked up with Matt Mose twice for big gains and spread the ball out to five other receivers on the rest of his repetitions. Matt Brown was 6-for-7, with a pair of completions to Lechein Neblett and Matt Younger each, and Matt Lancaster was 3-for-6, but had two balls dropped.
From there, the defense took over and had the offense retreating in the blitz drill. Brown completed his first pass attempt to Tyrone Walker, but was pressured over the next three and did not complete a pass. Lancaster then took over and Jermaine Malcolm broke up his first pass attempt to force the fourth-straight stop by the defense. A play later, Bo Flowers sacked Lancaster and Dave Rivas and Austin Davis both recorded sacks on Kiel in the final plays to put a cap on the drill.
The sacks kept coming for the men in white jerseys during the team drill, as Rickey Simpson, Brandon Westphal, Ray Sankey, Nick Broome and Bradon Prate each recorded stops on the quarterbacks. Prate and transfer Shelby Harris also added pass breakups at the line of scrimmage to stop the offense's momentum. Freshman Matt Goldsmith got the final say of the afternoon, when he broke up a Brown offering on the last play of the day.
The team will hold another two-a-day workout Monday, with the first practice scheduled for 9 a.m. the second set to take place under the lights at Hancock Stadium at 7 p.m. After Monday's workouts, the team will have just six practices left before holding its annual Passages Scrimmage Saturday, August 21, at 7 p.m.
Fall Camp Report #10: A Surprise Up Spack's Sleeve
The practice was the second of the day for the Redbirds, who took the field during the morning in shells for an abbreviated practice following Friday night's 142-play full-contact scrimmage. Spack wanted to see what kind of fight his players had left in them after a grueling schedule due to extreme heat temperatures that forced practices to evenings all week.
"I was impressed with how the players gutted through today," Spack said. "This has been a really tough week, due to having to move practice to nights, and then come right back in the morning and practice hard like they did this morning. They came out tonight and you could tell they were a bit sore and tired, but they fought through it and played with intensity. Now they have a bit of rest tomorrow before the afternoon practice tomorrow and the weather looks like it will cooperate next week, which will help out a lot."
After a brief individual period, Spack blew his whistle and pulled the respective units to the sidelines for a live scrimmage. The first-team offense took the field at the defense's 38-yard line and mounted a quick six-play scoring drive. Matt Brown found Erik Smith out of the backfield for a nice 18-yard gain and Marvon Sanders caught the next pass from Brown for five quick yards to start things off. After a short run by Smith and a catch by Casey Cline that picked up a first down, Smith toted the ball for seven yards to the two-yard line and proceeded to plunge into the end zone on the next play to cap off the impressive drive.
The second-team offense then took the field, looking to keep the momentum on its side. Starting from the defense's 42-yard line, Drew Kiel found Cameron Hunt out of the backfield for a solid 5-yard gain and then connected with freshman Matt Younger for 13 yards to put the ball in the red zone at the 24-yard line.
Hunt toted the ball on the next play and was rudely met by Bo Flowers, who put him down in the backfield for a two-yard loss. After an incompletion and a false start, Kiel found Younger for 11 yards but it forced a fourth-and-five situation. Freshman kicker Nick Aussiker then came out and nailed a 37-yard field goal with plenty of leg left to make it two-for-two for the guys in red.
Blitz drill was next on the agenda and the defense came out firing, as Ray Sankey picked up a sack and Dave Rivas batted a ball down at the line to put the offense in its first hole of the day. However, Kiel answered quickly with a big touchdown strike to Tyrone Walker and Matt Lancaster later found Corey Shandrick for a long touchdown. A short 7-on-7 period followed, with all three Redbird signal-callers displaying their effectiveness. Brown finished 6-for-7, finding Matt Mose and Lechein Neblett twice each, and Kiel and Lancaster each finished 4-for-6 during the drill.
A 42-play team session wrapped up practice, marking more full-contact work for both units. Hunt carried the ball six times during the drill, getting some reps with the first-team offense to give Smith a rest. Lancaster also looked good a couple times using his legs, breaking one run for over 40 yards while making defenders miss with a spin move and a hurdle over a diving defender. Mose hauled in a couple more big gains for the offense, while Marcus Johnson, Rickey Simpson and Shelby Harris each recorded sacks for the defense.
The Redbirds will return to the field Sunday at 3:30 p.m. for their lone practice of the day.
Fall Camp Report #9: Hard Work Wins Championships
At the end of practice, head coach Brock Spack told his team if they want to be the best team possible, then they had to give it their all at practices and never give up.
"I told the guys this morning that championship teams are made in practices" said Spack. "If they work hard and can face the elements that they are put in during practice, then there wouldn't be anything they haven't seen come game time. It is essential that they give their best effort in practice to make this team great."
In the blitz drill, Brown connected with Tyrone Walker for a large gain, but Ray Sankey got the defense fired up when he broke through the offensive line and recorded a sack against Brown. However, Brown and Walker connected again for another big pass play to give the momentum back to the offense. Matt Lancaster connected with Mose twice in the drill and also with Lechein Neblett, but couldn't get away from Nick Broome, who recorded the second sack for the defense in the drill. Next, it was Kiel's turn to take snaps, and he successfully connected with Ben Ericksen and Smith, but Sankey continued his strong play and recorded a pass break up to end the drill.
Then, the Redbirds moved to the team drill where the offense had to work on getting out of its own territory. The defense was able to control the offense in the drill, as the offense was unable to put any points on the board and only recorded two big gains. Smith was involved in the first three plays of the drill, but the offense went to the air as Kiel connected with Anthony Boddy. The defense forced a fumble, which stayed with the offense as Cameron Hunt recovered the ball. Hunt got things going again for the offense on a run up the middle. Cameron Meredith found James O'Shaughnessy for a big gain and seemed to rally the offense.
However, the defense forced another fumble, while a play later, Jermaine Malcolm tipped Meredith's pass into the hands of Patrick Dougherty, who recorded the pick. The offense got back on track as Brown completed three consecutive plays, including a reverse to Sanders. As the drill neared the end, the defense continued its strong play performance, as Brandon Westphal sacked Kiel and Broome recorded a tackle for loss.
ISU also spent time Saturday morning working on kickoff returns. Steven Fetzer, Mike Wood and Nick Aussieker each took turns kicking the ball to Ericksen, Neblett, O' Shaughnessy, Sanders and Smith, who were down field to return the ball, while the returning team worked on their protection coverage.
The Redbirds will return to the field Saturday night for their second practice of the day beginning at 7 p.m., at Hancock Stadium.
Fall Camp Report #8: `Birds Fight Rain During Scrimmage
"Yesterday, the offense had the upper hand, but tonight I thought it went back and forth and guys made plays on both sides of the football," head coach Brock Spack said. "We wanted to scrimmage a little earlier this year because we are a veteran team and we wanted to see which of the young guys will help us this year. We got a lot accomplished tonight and we had to deal with elements and a delay, so it was kind of a cool, game-like setting."
Practice started with a brief individual period before each of the three offensive units got their chance to take the field. Each group's goal was to get a couple of first downs deep out of their own end and the first-team succeeded in just three plays to get their first down. Then, just as the focus shifted to working on punt protection, the clouds and wind rolled in and the lighting and rain came soon after to force the team inside the Kaufman Football Building.
When they came back out, the Redbirds were greeted by a steady rain and cooler temperatures, which must have been a pleasant feeling after warm, humid weather all week. The rest of the scrimmage was spent on situational football, with the team working on driving the field and with work in the red zone. The `Birds were particularly effective in the red zone, going 6-for-6 with three touchdowns and three field goals.
Sophomore Matt Lancaster led the team to three touchdowns while he was on the field and finished the night 9-for-16 for 103 yards passing. He connected with a pair of freshmen receivers for touchdowns, the first a 19-yard strike to Lechein Neblett and the second an 18-yard fade to James O'Shaughnessy in the back corner of the end zone to put a cap on the scrimmage. Matt Brown also threw for over 100 yards and a touchdown and freshman Cameron Meredith was impressive in his first action, going 7-for-9 for 104 yards and a touchdown.
Ben Ericksen led all receivers with four grabs for 76 yards, which included a 34-yard touchdown strike from Brown over the middle. O'Shaughnessy finished the night with four catches for 68 yards and freshman Matt Younger, who is a quarterback by trade, caught three passes for 49 yards including a 36-yard scoring strike from Meredith. Erik Smith led the Redbird running backs with 76 yards and touchdown on 12 carries, while Cameron Hunt added 65 yards on 13 carries with a score as well.
After a couple of tough nights, the Redbird defense rebounded Friday with a balanced performance. A total of 10 Redbird defenders recorded five or more tackles, with linebacker Mike Hiestand leading the way with seven stops. Leonard Hubbard, Marcus Johnson, Casey Kociuba and Jermaine Malcolm also added six tackles apiece and Nick Broome finished with five tackles, two sacks and two tackles-for-loss. The ISU secondary was also busy, with Ryan Givens and freshman Todd Shorter each recording an interception during the scrimmage and the trio of Alton Hairston, Marcus Harris, Shorter each breaking up a pair of passes each.
The Redbird kickers also got their chance to shine in the rain, with senior Steven Fetzer leading the way with a pair of long field goals. Fetzer connected from 40 yards before missing from 48 yards a few drives later. However, he capped off the night with a 49-yard boot during the red zone drill to finish the night strong. Freshman Nick Aussieker connected on both of his field goal attempts from 36 and 29 yards, respectively, and also tacked on three extra point attempts.
The Redbirds return to action Saturday for their second two-a-day of the fall. The morning practice is scheduled for 9 a.m., with the team in shells (helmets, shoulderpads and shorts), and the night practice will begin at 7 p.m., at Hancock Stadium.
In our fourth installment of our Redbird Xtra Fall Camp series, we take a look at the Redbird quarterbacks with offensive coordinator Luke Huard. 2009 MVFC Freshman of the Year Matt Brown returns as the man to beat, but Drew Kiel is fully recovered from a season-ending wrist injury and will look to win the starting job back. Throw in Matt Lancaster, who led the game-winning drive against UNI in the season finale, along with talented newcomers and a lot of points could be put on the scoreboard this season for the Redbirds.
Fall Camp Report #7: Offense Makes More Big Plays
Post practice, head coach Brock Spack complemented his offense for their hard work and success during tonight's drills. However, much like this morning, he quickly challenged the defense to step up their game for tomorrow night's scrimmage.
"Today, we got a lot of work done, but we had a lot of guys on the defensive side of the ball sitting on the sidelines because of minor injuries," said Spack. "So, the defensive guys left had to take a lot of reps, and they paid the price for that towards the end of practice. The offense had their way with the defense in the red zone, but tomorrow is a new day, and I look for the defense to bounce back tomorrow night."
Quarterbacks Brown, Kiel and Matt Lancaster were effective during the 7-on-7 drill for the second time today. Brown was 4-for-6 on the night with touchdown passes to Ben Ericksen and Tyrone Walker. After missing a pass intended for Jordan Neukirch, Kiel made four-consecutive passes including a pass to Matt Younger, who took it to the house, ending the drill 5-for-6. Lancaster wasn't left out of the fun, as he connected with James O'Shaughnessy for the fourth touchdown pass of the drill.
Then, the Redbirds picked up where they left off this morning and worked on scoring when in their opponent's half of the field. The defense couldn't find a way to stop the offense's scoring drives, as the guys in white uniforms only stopped the offense one time during the drill. The first scoring drive was a pass from Brown to Walker, who would also catch two more touchdown passes in the drill giving the offense a large advantage over the defense.
Jordan Church had a huge run for the offense and was finally brought down at the 4-yard line. Mose ended the drive after he snagged a touchdown pass from Kiel, which was for the second touchdown of the drill. The defense stopped the offense in the third series, as the offense was not able to score six points and missed a field goal. Later in the drill, Anthony Boddy, Casey Cline and Cameron Hunt tallied touchdowns before Steven Fetzer hit a 40-yard field goal to end the drill.
The Redbirds ended practice in a race against the clock with a two-minute offense drill. ISU started in their own territory and had to work down the field and score with only 1:58 remaining on the clock. The first set of players successfully scored when Brown connected with Walker with less than 20 seconds on the clock, but the second group ran out of time before they could get the ball in the endzone.
The Redbirds will return to the field Friday night at 7 p.m., for a scrimmage, which will be closed to fans and media.
In our third installment of our Redbird Xtra Fall Camp series, we take a look at the Redbird linebackers with coach Jay Peterson. Led by junior Josh Howe in the middle, this formidable trio solidified the ISU defense over the final five games of the 2009 season. Outside backers Austin Davis and Mike Zimmer were both named to the MVFC All-Newcomer Team as freshman and return with Howe to form a young, but experience group of talented tacklers in the middle of the field.
Fall Camp Report #6: Red Zone Takes A Beating
Post practice, head coach Brock Spack praised his offense for their tenacity in the red zone and challenged them to be like sharks that smell blood in the water. However, he quickly challenged the defense to step up their game before tonight's practice under the lights.
"Our offense was very impressive in the red zone today," Spack said. "I know our coaches have worked very hard on putting together our red zone package in the offseason and it looked finely tuned today. Our physicality offensively really showed up today, but being a defensive coach that's a little concerning. We'll see if the defense will respond in tonight's practice, but the offense definitely had the upper hand and scored in just about every way possible on the ground and through the air."
The defense showed its teeth again in the blitz drill, as Casey Kociuba started things off with an interception off Brown and transfer defensive end Shelby Harris added a sack, just before fellow transfer Leonard Hubbard recorded a tackle-for-loss on a foiled screen attempt. However, it didn't take long for the offense to get its momentum back in the team session.
Kiel found Ben Ericksen for a touchdown on the first play of red zone work and Brown later connected with Shandrick for his second touchdown catch of the morning. On the next play from scrimmage, sophomore transfer Erik Smith took the ball off-tackle and raced 25 yards for a touchdown to get everyone on the sideline fired up.
Kociuba got back into the action and broke up a would-be touchdown in the end zone quickly after and Austin Davis recovered a fumble on the ensuing play to help the defense get back into the action. That would be the last big plays for the defense though, as three-straight touchdowns ended the work in the red zone for the offense.
Redshirt freshman tight end Jordan Neukirch got the scoring started when he hauled in a touchdown pass from Kiel, and Smith followed with another impressive touchdown run. That paved the way for freshman tailback Cameron Hunt, who took the ball off-tackle and ran over a teammate at the goal line to put a strong exclamation point on the workout for the offense.
The Redbirds will return to the field Thursday night at 7 p.m., for their second workout of the day.
Fall Camp Report #5: "WE ARE LIVE"
Wednesday's workout marked the first in full pads for the Redbirds, a practice that the players and coaches alike look forward to. In addition to the team's normal drills, Wednesday's evening practice incorporated full contact football the way it should be played, according to Spack.
"The first full-pad practice really separates the men from the boys," Spack said. "We bring in new drills that some of the newcomers and transfers have never participated in, and they get a real feeling of the type of tough, physical football we play. I tell the players on days like this to not listen to the voice in their head that's telling them they are tired or hurt and instead to focus on the process of becoming a champion."
Quarterbacks Matt Brown, Drew Kiel and Matt Lancaster were all very effective during 7-on-7 work, as they went a combined 14-for-17 against the Redbird defenders made up of linebackers, cornerbacks and safeties. Lancaster hooked up for a big gain with James O'Shaughnessy and Brown found Tyrone Walker streaking down the sideline for long touchdown.
Then, Spack boomed out his favorite phrase and the Bird Drill ensued. The drill pits four defenders against three offensive blockers and a ball carrier. The objective is for the offense to get a first down in the ten-yard drill zone and for the defense to force a three-and-out. The drill was fairly one-sided, with the defense controlling for the most part and with big hits everywhere, but Ben Ericksen energized the offense with a whirlwind, spinning carry for 10 yards and a touchdown to get the offense on the board.
In the ensuing blitz drill, Brown connected on his first three pass with the third finding Ericksen for a long touchdown over the middle. Freshman Marcus Harris quickly answered with a pass breakup and Ray Sankey batted down a Kiel pass at the line to begin a string of impressive plays by the defense. Two plays later, Mike Hiestand fought his way through traffic from his linebacker position to record a sack on Lancaster and fellow backer Austin Davis added a breakup shortly after.
The team drill was cut short with one set of plays each for the first-team and second-team offensive units. Freshman Todd Shorter put an end to the first-team offense's drive with an impressive diving interception and Mike Piton and Sankey forced a safety on the drive by the second-team unit to cap off an impressive showing.
The offense got some of its swagger back in the goal line drill, as Erik Smith took the first carry off-tackle and bowled his way into the endzone for a quick touchdown. An interception by freshman Matt Goldsmith foiled the second-team's effort and the third effort by the offense was stuffed by Dave Rivas and Rickey Simpson.
Fall Camp Report #4: Offense Shows Off Big Play Ability
"We've got some weapons offensively this year," head coach Brock Spack said. "Last year, we were very much a drive the field type team that had to put together 12 to 15 play drives in order to score. That's a hard way to live in the world of college football and have to be perfect for that many plays in a row. We have a lot more big-play capability out there and it really showed, not only on offense but also on the defensive side as well."
Matt Brown and Drew Kiel got their rhythm early in 7-on-7 work, with each finding multiple targets throughout. Brown finished the drill 4-for-10 with a pair of completions to Corey Shandrick and one each to Lechein Neblett and James O'Shaughnessy. Kiel connected with Casey Cline and Tyrone Walker twice each and found Marvon Sanders streaking down the seam for a big gain and finished the drill 6-for-10.
The blitz drill ensued and was a rollercoaster ride of ups and downs for both units. Kelvyn Hemphill started off the drill with a pass breakup, before Brown connected on three-straight passes with the last finding Ben Ericksen for a big gain. After Matt Lancaster found Neblett for a quick touchdown, Ray Sankey and Steve Nelson recorded back-to-back pass breakups. Kiel quickly responded with an impressive screen pass to Erik Smith, who took it to the house for a touchdown, and the found Walker for a long touchdown pass. Casey Kociuba and the defense got the last laugh, as he ended the drill with a sack of Kiel.
After the back-and-forth play in the team drill, the offense took over for good in the final team period of the night. Brown kick-started the action with a big pass play out of the backfield to Smith and Sanders caught four passes for solid gains throughout. Kiel connected on a long touchdown strike to Matt Mose midway through the drill and the two-headed monster of Cliffton Gordon and freshman Cameron Hunt each added three carries apiece to cap off the stellar session for the Redbird offense.
The defense did not go unnoticed, as Jake Detmers tallied a tackle-for-loss and a pass breakup in a span of three plays while Xzavier Stewart and Sankey combined for a sack on Kiel. Freshman Matt Goldsmith capped off things with a solid breakup, before the kickers took the field for field goal work to end practice.
The Redbirds will hold their first full-contact practice of the fall Wednesday at 7 p.m., before holding the first two-a-day workout on Thursday at Hancock Stadium.
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In our second installment of our Redbird Xtra Fall Camp series, we take a look at the Redbird special teams unit with coach Dan Shula. The unit was affected most in the offseason with the losses of kicker Zach Kutch, punter Kevin Mazur and longsnapper Joe Doyle to graduation. However, senior Steven Fetzer returns to the field with experience from sharing kicking duties in 2007 and 2008 and redshirt freshman Mike Wood has a full year of practice under his belt to help fill the punting void. Junior longsnapper Nathan Rebholz also returns and will look to solidify the position as well as help mentor the new additions to the squad.
Fall Camp Report #3: First Contact Ramps Up Intensity
The Redbirds put on their shoulderpads for the first time and will have one more practice in shells before the first full-contact practice Wednesday. Head coach Brock Spack was impressed with what he saw on the first night of contact drills, but expects the team's intensity to keep increasing once full-contact work begins.
"I told the players after practice that I like what I saw out there tonight the first time they had pads on," Spack said. "This was a very tough practice with the heat and humidity and I thought the team responded well and kept their intensity and enthusiasm throughout. With these hot temperatures, it's crucial for them to get hydrated and get their rest, because the practices are only going to get more physical as we progress through camp."
As is becoming a common practice early in camp, the special teams unit was focused on and given several periods to work on returning kicks and punts and work on their punt protection. Ben Ericksen, Kelvyn Hemphill and Erik Smith all took turns returning kickoffs from placekickers Steven Fetzer and Nick Aussieker, before the focus shifted to punting.
After the special teams work, it was the quarterbacks' time to shine in the 7-on-7 drill. Matt Lancaster was the most efficient of the Redbird signal-callers, going 6-for-7 and spreading the ball around to six different players. Drew Kiel was 4-for-7 and connected on a long touchdown strike to Tyrone Walker, while scrambling out of the pocket. Matt Brown also connected with Walker, as well as Marcus King and Corey Shandrick, and continued that momentum into the blitz drill.
In Sunday's workout, the defense had the offense completely rattled in the high-pressure session, but the offense redeemed itself Monday night. On the first play of the drill, Brown connected with Smith out of the backfield for a touchdown and then found Walker for a big gain down the sideline. Later in the drill Kiel found Marvon Sanders deep in coverage for a big gain and capped off the drill with a solid strike to King. The defense did make a few plays however, with pass break-ups by Leonard Hubbard and Otis Merril and a sack by Mike Hiestand.
During final period of the day, the focus was on the newly-designed rushing attack. Freshman Cameron Hunt toted the ball three times for solid gains and Cliffton Gordon broke his last carry for a big gain up the gut. Lancaster also added a couple of impressive scrambles out of the pocket and Ericksen and Sanders each recorded carries on reverses. Merrill was around the ball all night and added another breakup and freshman Steve Nelson picked off Kiel from his safety position and returned it for a big gain. The linemen also got into the act, as Colton Underwood and Shelby Harris each added tackles-for-loss off the end.
The team will return the field at 7 p.m. Tuesday night for another twilight workout to beat the heat.
Redbird Xtra: Fall Camp Report Day
Fall Camp Report #2: Defense Making Strides
"I saw a lot more focus and intensity out there today," head coach Brock Spack said. "Yesterday, the offense took control of practice and the defense never responded. Today, the defense turned the tide in the blitz drill, but the offense showed that they are a veteran group and rebounded at the end of the team period. College football is about ups and downs, so it was good to see the team respond to some adversity this early in camp."
There was a strong special teams focus to Sunday's workout, with the team splitting up to work on punt protections and the workout concluded with the field goal and field goal block units taking time to put in packages. Marvon Sanders, Tyrone Walker, Steve Nelson, Matt Goldsmith and Todd Shorter all took turns returning punts from Steven Fetzer, Nick Aussieker and Mike Wood as the rest of their teammates focused on their blocking assignments at the line.
Freshman Lechein Neblett burst onto the scene during 7-on-7 work, catching four passes for solid gains from the Redbird quarterbacks. Drew Kiel was 8-for-9 in the drill, with the only incompletion scored as a drop, while freshmen Cameron Meredith and Matt Younger each took reps with the receivers and tight ends. The defense began their dominance on the day during the drill, as Jermaine Malcolm and Brandon Westphal each recorded interceptions and Kelvyn Hemphill and Jayme Comer added breakups.
That momentum carried over into the blitz drill, as the defensive unit forced four-straight incompletions to start the drill before Kiel connected with Neblett over the middle for a big gain. Nelson and transfer Shelby Harris added a breakup and sack, respectively, on the next two plays before Matt Lancaster found Neblett wide open for a touchdown down the seam. The rest of the drill was controlled by the defense, highlighted by interceptions from Hemphill and Goldsmith and batted passes at the line of scrimmage by lineman Ray Sankey and Nick Broome.
The offense eventually settled down in the team period, showing off a couple of big screen plays with Cliffton Gordon and Erik Smith breaking the plays for big gains. Nelson continued his strong showing with another interception and returned it for a touchdown, right after Lancaster hooked up with Jordan Neukirch for a touchdown down the middle of the field.
Monday will be a big day for the Redbirds, as the team will hold its annual Media Day at Hancock Stadium beginning at 9:30 a.m. Fans wanting to be a part of the day can follow a live blog and video chat on GoRedbirds.com and submit questions for Redbird players and coaches throughout the morning. The team will then take the field at 7 p.m. for a twilight practice to avoid the sweltering temperatures expected in the area.
Fall Camp Report #1: The Journey Begins
Head coach Brock Spack, who is in his second year as the Redbirds' mentor, was all over the field surveying each group with a watchful eye. After the first full workout was over, Spack liked what he saw and was impressed with some of the team's newcomers
"I think today was a good start," Spack said. "The guys came in conditioned and I thought they maintained focus throughout practice. I challenged them at the end to ramp up their intensity for tomorrow's practice and come back ready to continually improve throughout the next two weeks. I saw good things on both sides of the ball and liked what I saw out of the young freshmen and transfers. It's a completely different feeling than last year at this time, but we have a long way to go to become to the championship-caliber team I believe we can be."
The bulk of the first session was spent in individual position stations, with coaches stressing technique and fundamentals in each drill. New players got their first taste of a collegiate practice and fell into rhythm as the workout progressed. Following individual work, the team worked on kickoffs, with an emphasis on staying in their lanes and bursting down the field.
Quarterbacks Matt Brown, Drew Kiel, Matt Lancaster and Matt Younger then got their first work with the wide receivers against defenders in the 7-on-7 drill. Brown finished the drill 5-for-7 and found freshman James O'Shaughnessy and Marcus King twice each for solid gains. Kiel was 5-for-7 and connected for touchdowns with Corey Shandrick and Ashton Leggett, and Lancaster was 4-for-5 in the drill. Younger finished 1-for-2, but was rudely welcomed to the team by E.J. Jones when he intercepted his second effort and returned it for a touchdown.
Jones came up with big with a pair of breakups during the ensuing skeleton period, while Ray Sankey, Austin Davis and transfer Shelby Harris each recorded sacks to swing the momentum in the defense's favor. The final team period was evenly matched, with each unit making big plays. Leggett, Erik Smith, Cliffton Gordon and freshman Cameron Hunt each got their turn carrying the football, with Smith breaking one of his carries for a long touchdown. Tyrone Walker hauled in a pair of impressive diving catches, showing he is ready to fill the void left by Eyad Salem, while freshman Matt Goldsmith and Xzavier Stewart added big stops on the defensive side.
Placekickers Steven Fetzer, Mike Wood and freshman Nick Aussieker capped off the first day with field goal practice with each connecting from 35 yards out or more. The Redbirds will return for their second workout Sunday at 3 p.m. at Hancock Stadium.