August 11, 2006

8/11 Morning Session: Defense Steps Up

The defense played very well overall in the Friday morning practice in pads at Camp Tontozona, led by strong efforts from the defensive backfield and several defensive linemen who have really stepped up their effort in recent days.

Following practice, coach Dirk Koetter said that the starting safety tandem of Zach Catanese and Josh Barrett were setting the tone for the defense and both players performed as well as we've seen since the team began practicing in shells nearly a week ago.

Catanese must love playing on the field at Tontozona because every time we see him out there he's heat seeking the man in maroon with the football. The guy is just special and that's all that can be said.

Barrett showcased his tremendous athleticism throughout the morning session, breaking up passes over the middle and coming up to put solid hits on guys that made their way through the first couple lines of defense.

But it wasn't just the play of the first-string safeties that deserves recognition. This was far and away the best performance we've seen out of the anticipated starters at cornerback, Justin Tryon and Keno Walter-White, in the entire first week of camp and they relished in it.

Walter-White in particular -- a player who is already among the most excitable on the roster -- was taking great pleasure in his performace, dancing around and teasing teammates on the other side of the ball.

Up front, Tranell Morant was back in action while Loren Howard appeared close to a return. But the big news in this group is the continued strong play of David Smith, who has moved to the first unit and deservedly so. Smith had a sack and would have had another had he not been held by Robert Gustavis in live 11-man action.

Another player who perhaps had his best practice thus far was Shannon Jones. Though he still has some technical issues that aren't quite ideal such as physical posture in his stance (rear end too high), Jones was very active and beating the interior linemen often enough to get noticed by most in attendance, we're sure.

At the end spots, Kyle Caldwell continues to play inspired ball and Dexter Davis is proving that understanding the fundamentals can take a player a long way. He's very sound technically and has earned the recognition that led him to be named a first-stringer following spring ball.

The play at linebacker was a bit spotty. Beau Manutai and Mike Nixon had a few nice plays apiece and Derron Ware did some nice things as well.

On the offensive side of the ball it was a bit of a sluggish performance overall. Rudy Carpenter had what we believe to be his best performance thus far -- extremely accurate and poised -- though as the session wore on he started to wear down a bit and loose a bit of sharpness.

It wasn't a very good practice for the offensive lineman as a whole, particular on the inside where Gustavis and Stephen Berg had some glaring problems.

Even so, they were occassionally opening up nice holes for the run game and Ryan Torain continued to show that he's capable of being a between-the-tackles back. He's a downhill runner with nice lean and keeps his feet moving.

Keegan Herring had about as good a run as you're ever going to see up here, with a jump cut that allowed him to kick it outside the tackle and bust it long. He looks heavier than his listed weight this year and very strong physically.

The tight ends and wide receivers looked to be struggling a bit today, both in their position work and also in live situations. We're not sure what to chalk it up to other than perhaps some understandable fatigue. The two that did play well were Rudy Burgess and Chris McGaha. The more we see McGaha the more we like him; great hands, nice routes, smart approach to the position.

We'll have much more from Camp Tontozona following the afternoon session, which will begin at 3:50 p.m. with the team working in shells.

The team will then have a scrimmage on Saturday, with the practice scheduled to begin at 8:35 a.m.

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