It was a day to look forward to and a day with plenty to take away from, as the Bears ran through their 12th practice of the spring, this one being a scrimmage for the majority of it. This week was set up to be like a game week, culminating with the Saturday morning scrimmage. It resulted in a physical scrimmage, with plenty of plays being made on the defensive side of the ball.
"I thought it was better," Justin Wilcox said about the physicality, "In terms of our fall practices, I thought it was our best one yet."
He later noted that there's still a long way to go, but the physicality shown in this practice led to stops and turnovers for the defense, hallmarks of past Tim DeRuyter led defenses, and that practice continued today.
Defensively, there were a few standouts:
Jaylinn Hawkins: Had two interceptions, one a leaping interception on a deep ball intended for Demetris Robertson, the other made on a poor throw from Chase Forrest. Hawkins is competing for a starting safety spot with Luke Rubenzer, Derron Brown, and Quentin Tartabull at the moment, and his length and athleticism is coming into play.
Evan Weaver: He's fully healed from whatever kept him out during the spring. "He's a strong guy, he's a tough guy, and it's really nice to see him in the mix," Wilcox said, and that might be an understatement. Weaver batted down passes, got in the backfield to stop runs, rushed the passer well, everything that showed on his high school tape. He has an exuberance for the game that shows in his play.
Tevin Paul: He had a couple sacks on the day, and he's been good for a solid play that shows at least every practice, whether it be a stuff in the backfield or a sack.
Devante Downs: Him blitzing up the middle, delayed or not, looks like he's pulling a Miley Cyrus, coming in like a wrecking ball. I don't know why it took three years to consistently use him in the role, but it looks darn good for him.
Josh Drayden: The beneficiary of the two plays of the day, Drayden scooped a fumble caused by Chinedu Udeogu hitting the ball out of Ross Bowers hand on a fourth and goal, returning it 90+ yards for a score. The second came on the final play of the scrimmage, as Ray Davison deflected a throw to Vic Enwere, Enwere caught the tip, Davison made a hit that knocked the ball back up, and Drayden came up with it. A good case of being in the right place at the right time for the sophomore DB.
"I pushed out to my zone, I saw pressure coming, and I saw the quarterback. Every time it's a scoop, we practice scooping the ball, it's a skill. So I saw the ball, it was behind the line of scrimmage, I picked it up. You know me, I don't like to fall on it. I don't think any DB wants to fall on the ball, we always want to pick it up and run. When I was running, I was like 'huh, I know D-Rob's on the field so don't get caught by D-Rob,' but once we got there, I saw Looney blocking, I said 'we're good, we made it.' I was gonna celebrate, but you know I was a little winded." - Drayden on his scoop and score
Cameron Goode also had an interception, or it just hit the ground, depending on who you ask. Either way, our Nam Le should an will get hyped by these developments
On offense, it was a bit shakier, as Semisi Uluave was out for the day, but there were some solid plays on the offense. Despite Uluave's absence, the offense ran the ball pretty well on the day, not consistently gashing the defense, but getting 4-6 yards on multiple occasions. Zion Echols busted a 32 yard run to set up a score for the second touchdown.
A wrinkle added to the offense this year has been the read option, and Bowers made one of the best fakes, after keeping the ball, he faked a throw to the wideout, absolutely freezing Traveon Beck and freeing up space for him to scamper for 12 yards. Bowers looked like the best quarterback today, as he threw a gorgeous wheel route to Tre Watson for a score (as Watson got flagged for excessive celebration very quickly afterward). He hit D-Rob on a deep ball in between two defenders for 38 yards, and he looked the most consistent on the day.
Both Chases were alright, though Forrest did make an egregious throw on Hawkins' second interception. Brandon McIlwain made a couple of nice plays, using his feet to scramble after a bad snap, along with hitting Taariq Johnson for the first touchdown of the day on a perfect ball to the corner.
- Defense has looked eons ahead of where they were. Defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter looked very pleased coming down from the press box at the end of practice. This was a game-type scenario, using headsets and calling plays like they would for a game
- Offense still has work to do, especially in pass protection, but of the QBs, Bowers looked to be the most successful on the day
- The tackling looks so much better. I only remember one missed tackle on the day, but the game speed and gang tackling is coming together on the defensive end
- There's a lot more talent on the defense than anyone had assumed, and an aggressive defense is bringing it out.
Overall, it's the end of the second week, and this was the way to end it. A physical practice that felt like the antithesis to many of last year's games.