The overall impression of Saturday's scrimmage was that the defense got the upper hand. Yes, when Graham Harrell was at the controls of the Air Raid it was able to ring the bell. But even with Harrell and Michael Crabtree on the field, nothing came easy for the Tech offense.
The Red Raider defense, newly revitalized under Ruffin McNeill, was sound, tenacious and aggressive. Busted plays were few and far between. Missed tackles were rare. Gaps and seams were not easy to find. Yardage after the catch was hard to come by. And when it came to the second and third team units, the defense was borderline dominant.
Also bear in mind that the Tech defense was playing so stingily against probably the greatest offense in college football. When you think about it that way, there's even more reason to be excited about the 2008 Red Raiders than ever before.
Quarterbacks: Graham the Great was his usual pinpoint, poised self. It's as clichéd as all get out, but Harrell really does make it all look routine. But then performing with such effortless efficiency against the Tech defense is anything but routine, as Taylor Potts unwittingly demonstrated. As accurate as Harrell was, Potts was equally errant. He rifled balls through the hands of receivers at very close range (Crabtree was furious about this on the sideline), chucked balls into the dirt, and was constantly behind receivers. Potts was able to hook up with high school teammate Lyle Leong on a couple of occasions, but even then, Leong's great hands made Potts look good. The revelation of the day was Seth Doege. During his lone drive at the helm of the third team offense, Doege looked like a young Harrell. He was accurate, poised and patient. Based on today's scrimmage, the 2009 quarterback derby will be most interesting indeed.
Running Backs: Baron Batch had his best day of the spring. He ran with tremendous authority from the outset to the conclusion, and did not drop a pass. At this point, he might have a slight edge on the field in terms of the first string competition. Aaron Crawford, last year's starter, started off slowly and seemed to have problems with footing all afternoon. Still, he got better as the scrimmage went along and was looking about as good as Batch during the closing plays. Shannon Woods was solid enough, but did not make up any ground on Batch and Crawford.
Receivers: Just as Harrell was Harrell, Mike Crabtree was Mike Crabtree. 'Nuff said. I will add, however, that Harrell fired a torpedo Crabtree's way that was severely deflected five yards in front of him, but Crabtree still managed to catch the pass. Amazing concentration and the catch of the day. Detron Lewis was very productive as well, and may give the Red Raiders more of a deep dimension at the Y position than previous starter Danny Amendola. Other than those two, no receivers particularly distinguished themselves. Tramain Swindall had several nice grabs, but also had some difficulty getting separation. Rashad Hawk is now in Mike Leach's doghouse for failing to look back for a pass on a hot route.
Offensive Line: Very much a mixed bag here. This unit does seem to be doing a better job on running plays than previous Tech lines, although it was hardly dominant in this area. Mickey Okafor did a superb job in pass protection, and really stepped up his performance from his previous workouts. He and Louis Vasquez rotated with the first unit at left tackle. Dominique Delpeche and Chris Olson were repeatedly victimized by Tech d-linemen.
Defensive Line: All in all, a very solid performance out of this group. None of the defensive tackles were dominant, but neither did they get dug up on running plays, either. Colby Whitlock was disruptive as usual, and Ra'jon Henley had a nice pass breakup. McKinner Dixons caused turmoil early in the scrimmage, but saw very little action later on. The big story here, however, was defensive end Brandon Sharpe. By my count, he had three sacks and was simply too much for the aforementioned Delpeche and Olson to handle. Does he now unseat [/db]Jake Ratliff[/db] for first team status? Chris Perry gets the Golden Barf Award. He took a shot to the nether regions from an undetermined player (presumably not Shannon Woods), and commenced to hacking bagels to beat the band. The ball was moved to the left hash when play resumed.
Linebackers: This unit arguably stole the show. Backup middle linebacker Sam Fehoko was all over the place. He was a monster against the run and made numerous nice plays in pass coverage as well. It seems as though Ruffin McNeill's four-letter sermons, and a lot of hard work, are finally paying dividends for the Hawaiian Hit Man. Equally impressive was Bront Bird. His ability to diagnose plays is almost supernatural, and tells mightily on pass plays to the flat. And to think he has got the defense-and the offense-down so pat as a true sophomore! Backup weakside linebacker Julius Howard made numerous nice plays as well. Tyrone Sonier continues to have difficulties.
Secondary: It was a fairly quiet outing for the defensive backs. Backup safety Daniel Charbonnet was in on numerous plays; his coverage skills are without question the best of all the safeties. His brother Taylor, incidentally, displayed excellent coverage skills himself late in the scrimmage. He could prove to be a real keeper on down the road. Second team safety L.A. Reed made a little noise, literally and figuratively. He is very vocal, and is an intimidating presence, both because of his nasty on-field disposition and his ability to bring the stink. When Reed hits a player, that player's forward motion stops and his downward flight begins. That's all there is to it. Very little news on the cornerback front, I'm afraid. Pete Richardson and De'Shon Sanders are as physical as they're cracked up to be. Brent Nickerson may a little better in coverage than those two. Jamar Wall and LaRon Moore did not participate.
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