“Glad we’re not playing tomorrow,” Mike Goff said summarizing where the offensive line is after two days of practice. “Anytime you’re replacing three starters and everyone in the two deep, three deep doesn’t really have any valuable playing time, I think it’s the growing pains of understanding that it’s just going to take time.”
Two weeks from Saturday the Aztecs are scheduled to play a scrimmage at Snapdragon Stadium. Goff said “last I heard” upwards of 20,000 people are expected to attend. It should be an invaluable experience for a group that only has two or three members who have ever played in front of that many people. In an ideal world, Goff would have his starting unit before that game, hoping to find them “as soon as possible.”
The line is set at three spots. Barring injury, Alama Uluave, Brandon Crenshaw-Dickson (BCD), and Ross Ulugalu-Maseuli should line up at center, right tackle, and right guard, respectively. The trio was the first to start every drill yesterday. Uluave might be the most important player on the offense. BCD is entering his second year as a starter. Ulugalu-Maseuli is the enforcer on the team.
At Friday’s practice, safety Adonis Brown made a play on a ball that resulted in a collision with a wide receiver. From the sidelines, the redshirt freshman yelled unprintable things at the senior corner, who returned them in kind. It is a role not many players his age have.
“I am excited to watch him play because, in my mind, he’s a traditional old-school football player,” Goff said. “He loves the game and that’s what you’re looking for. So, you’re looking for the guys that are going to gravitate that way and take the opportunity and make the most of it.”
With these three in place, the next two weeks are about finding two starters and developing depth in the event of injury. Goff said they have reached the point in camp where mistakes will result in opportunities for those lower on the depth chart. The first two days he employed the same lineups in his two deep.
Zavier Leonard started at left tackle and Cade Bennett led the way at left guard. The second team consisted from left to right, Jonathan Harrison, Christian Jones, Tommy Mirabella, Joey Wright, and Josh Simmons. The key for all these young players will be to learn how to play a full game consistently.
“That’s a ‘throw them in the deep end’ kind of thing,” Uluave said after the team’s second practice. “You just have to get thrown into it. There’s nothing like a full game back into it. I didn’t play my first two years. My first game, it was fun, and I was just thrown into it and told, ‘go play.’ It felt like high school.”
Uluave is ultimately correct that the best linemen will not be known until they play a handful of games. The coaching staff, though, does not have the luxury of waiting that long. They scheduled practice with endurance and consistency in mind.
Sprinkled in between special teams work and a host of drills were a pair of 11 on 11 segments between the offense and defense. The players wore shoulder pads on Saturday making this part of practice the closest to actual football since the spring game. The offense won the first half when the teams were freshest. The defense, which rotated a lot more players, comfortably won the second. The offensive line was noticeably better early on.
“It is easy to come out day one and be energetic and be ‘woo hoo,’ Goff said. “That’s easy. Now, it’s day two. Yesterday was a hard practice. It was hot. … Now, … people (are going) to start to separate themselves and that’s when you’ll start to see (who will be the starters). Especially when we put the pads on and they have to go out there and they have to grind. Again, our defense is good. It has been since I can remember. They got some good players on that defense so it’s an opportunity for me to see how am I when I’m hot and tired, how I am when I’m fresh and how do I finish a practice.”
Aiding Goff is Uluave, who returned for a second senior season to improve his draft status. Uluave said he felt like last year was his coming out year and this season he is ready to take the next step. His priority as the only senior on the offensive line is to do everything he can to bring the young players around. Uluave said the offseason was one of the best in a few years because they were free to get back to Aztec football, which is “down and dirty toughness, mental toughness, physical toughness. That’s just all there is to it.”
Beyond his senior anchor to the offensive line, Goff has a team of coaches working to support his work. Offensive analyst Gary Bernardi has coached offensive lines for most of his career, which began at the college level in 1980 at Arizona. Graduate Assistant Ryan Krum is in his second season supporting Goff. Occasionally, football recruiting coordinator Nik Embernate stops by to lend a hand.
“They’re my eyes and ears because I cannot see anything and everything,” Goff said. “With a coach Gary Bernardi, this is his 47th football camp and he’ll forget more about football than I’ll probably ever know. When you have someone like that and his wealth of knowledge. He’s the guy who might pull me aside and say, ‘hey, talk to this guy.’ Him being that overall analyst, observer, he’ll come over and say, ‘hey this is what I think we need to get a little more work on.”
“Ryan Krum as a young coach is awesome because he played here. He knows the culture. He knows what’s expected, the ins and outs. He’s won a conference championship here. Nik is another one. He was here … he’s just so familiar with the culture. He’s so familiar with the program that even though he’s working in the recruiting department, he’ll come over and say, ‘this kid’s set has gotten really good.’ … when you have that kind of nucleus around you, it’s like a security blanket. … What I love about them is (their feedback) is not always what I want to hear. They are not ‘yes’ men.”
This and That
– LB Caden McDonald is known as a person who will do what it takes to win. Apparently, this includes trying to long snap. He and safety CJ Baskerville tried their hand at the trade. Tight end Gus McGee is working as a field goal snapper.
– The field goal kickers opened practice. Jack Browning kicked first, followed by Jarret Reeser and David Delgado. They kicked from about 38 and 48 yards. Delgado was the only kicker who missed.
– Chance Bell looks like a star. He and Jesse Matthews look to be on a different level than the rest of the skill position players. He practiced sparingly but made a big play nearly every time he touched the ball.
– Bell showed good hands as a receiver too as did all of the RBs. The summer emphasis looks like it paid off.
– The intention and design of everything Goff does are impressive. Each drill builds off the previous one.
– Burmeister threw a couple of interceptions on the day. The first was when Kenan Christon went deep on a route that Burmeister clearly thought Christon should have broken off earlier. It was another example of the kind of work the team needs to accomplish in camp. Burmeister and Christon are both new to the program.
– Davaughn Celestine intercepted Burmeister. It went for a pick-six. Afterward, CB coach Demetrius Sumler celebrated with Celestine asking the DB, “What’s your celebration going to be?” Celestine replied with a little shimmy.
– Player safety was a huge emphasis. The coaches were loudest and angriest with any player who put their teammates at risk. It did not happen often.
– Will Haskell started the day well, using the short and intermediate routes to string together some completions. Unfortunately, he was not able to sustain that success. On four straight plays in 7 on 7, he threw three interceptions and it would have been four if Dezjhon Malone had held on to the ball.
On the first, he turned the wrong way on a handoff and threw off his back foot anyway into the waiting arms of Jalen Mayden for a pick-six. Next play, he threw a ball over the middle a little too high to Josh Nicholson. Nicholson had a chance to catch it, but it bounced off his hands into Baskerville’s. The next snap was the Malone play mentioned above. On the final interception, he locked in on his receiver and true freshman Joshua Hunter came over and made the play.
There are many ways to look at this sequence. Haskell had a difficult stretch but was allowed to stay in. He completed his next two passes. It gave him an opportunity to grow as a QB and to learn to not always look for the homerun ball but to take what the defense gives up. Another way to see it is Burmeister’s health is imperative to SDSU’s success.
– After Haskell’s difficult session, he talked it over with Burmeister on the sidelines. It was another sign that Haskell improved on Saturday.
– Burmeister looked very good during the early team drills. At the end of practice, he was not as accurate as he had been all practice and the offense stalled.
– Liu Aumavae was the third QB to throw. He through a TD and showed good accuracy, fitting the ball in tight windows.
– Forcing more turnovers was a goal for the defense. They had at least six interceptions Saturday. Every time the ball hit the turf in team drills, the defense treated it like a fumble drill.
– During kickoff returns, there was an issue with getting the ball kicked off. The practice was held up a bit. To get it going again, coach Doug Deakin picked up a ball and threw a spiral 60 yards in the air. “Here is your kickoff” he said as he let it go. There was more than one gasp from the sidelines.
– Brionne Penny and Jordan Byrd worked as the first team kick returners.
– Haskell and Burmeister both ran the ball well.
– After multiple players cramped up Friday, there was a Gatorade break on Saturday. Tubs were rolled out onto the field and every player downed one with all the coaches yelling, “get a Gatorade” like they were selling it while walking through the aisles at a stadium. It was the only stoppage during practice.
– Jonah Tavai had a great day. He had a sack and numerous pressures.