Spring Report #3: Redbirds Go Full-Contact
March 29, 2008
NORMAL, Ill. - The Illinois State football team worked out on the Hancock Stadium turf for the first of two weekend practices Saturday, but donned full pads for the first time this spring which evolved into the first full-contact practice.
The Redbirds were on the field for two-and-a-half hours, working out for 24, five-minute periods. The team spent the final five periods in a scrimmage, which pleased head coach Denver Johnson.
"I'm just thrilled with the attitude of the guys with their competitive and team spirit," said Johnson. "It is very healthy out here right now, and we have a lot of guys trying hard to make this team and a lot of guys trying hard to make this team better. We are going about things the right way, and if we continue to do that, hopefully, it will pay dividends for us down the road."
The scrimmage ended sloppily with false starts on both sides of the ball, but junior tailback Geno Blow opened the team period with a 20-plus-yard run up the middle. Blow proved difficult to stop by adding runs of 5, 10 and 15 yards. Cliffton Gordon also showed some rushing prowess with a pair of 5-yard gains.
The Redbird quarterbacks completed 5-of-10 passes, with Kevin Brockway completing two of his five attempts. Brockway threw the lone interception when Jason Tate picked off an errant pass. Other defensive highlights included Doni Phelps 2-yard tackle for loss on a Parrish Fisher rush. Adam Blankenship added a coverage sack, while D.J. Grayson recovered a botched quarterback-center exchange. Graham Corcoran and Chris Garrett each added a pass breakup.
"We put in a couple different concepts (Saturday) and I think those were sloppy, but as far as what we had been doing the previous two days that held up pretty well," said David Ross, ISU's defensive coordinator. "I felt that their willingness to learn and willingness to be aggressive was there again. I was proud the way we competed."
Earlier during the 7-on-7 drill, Brockway completed 7-of-10 pass attempts, but again threw an interception to Garrett, who tipped the pass to himself before hauling it in. Preston Earl completed 7-of-8 passes, while Drew Kiel was 4-for-6. Jake Rourke and Eyad Salem led the receivers with three catches apiece, while Brandon Wilson shined at linebacker with two pass breakups.
Both Phelps and Wilson caught Ross' eye during the practice.
"Doni Phelps has been everything we expected him to be," said Ross. "He has shown great quickness off the line and a great ability to run. It is obviously Coach Johnson's final say, but I don't think that the Brandon Wilson experiment is an experiment any more. He's performing very well, hitting things downhill and I think he is going to develop into an awfully good linebacker."
The quarterbacks and receivers also went one-on-one against the Redbird defensive backs in the first hour of practice. Brockway completed 3-of-5 pass attempts, but Earl and Kiel combined to complete 1-of-8 pass attempts. Kevett Mickle and Kelvin Chandler were the leading receivers in that drill with two catches apiece, but Salem made the catch of the day when he laid out for a 40-yard gain on a Shaun Ratay pass.
Some other notables included Kedric Meredith's return to practice for the first time this spring. Meredith missed the first two days of practice finishing an off-campus internship.
Medically, Rourke was updated to "full-go" after opening camp with restrictions due to offseason surgery.
Sophomore Casey Kociuba is working out with the safeties after the coaching staff considered him spending the spring at outside linebacker. Redshirt freshman Nick Bledsoe moved to offensive guard after opening spring as a defensive tackle.