QuarterbacksAs expected Vandenberg is the clear starter at this point. Even in the simple passing drills he looked head and shoulders better than Wienke and Derby. He struggled a little going up against the first team defense though, especially when they blitzed. He got more comfortable as practice went on, and was really picking the 2nd team defense apart before a tipped ball ended in an interception and ended practice.
The pleasant surprise of the day at QB was that Derby has really taken a big step forward since we saw him last. Though Ferentz said that Derby and Wienke are even at this point , Derby looked much better in practice. During the situation scrimmage portion Derby was 5/7 for 73 yards. His only incompletions were a throw away and a catch out of bounds.
Wienke was okay on Saturday, but seemed to be affected by the wind more than the others. He was badly overthrowing receivers early in the practice, but got better towards the end. He was also the 3rd string punter and the holder for field goals. His punts actually looked kind of decent. The first one only went about 35 yards, but his second was a solid 45-yarder. He may be a good option for a pooch punter. It seems completely un-Ferentz like, but maybe he could come in as the punter and throw it on a fake in one of the early games just to keep teams honest the rest of the season.
Vandenberg throwing to White during drills
ReceiversWith McNutt out for spring, there was some legitimate concern about who would step up at receiver. Keenan Davis really lessened that concern for me on Saturday. He looked like a starter and was the star of the day. He made numerous impressive and aerobatic catches over defenders with good coverage. He won every jump ball and seemed to be completely in-sync with Vandenberg. There was only one pass throw in his direction that he didn't come down with--he couldn't quite hold on to it as he was falling out of bounds. During the scrimmage portions of the practice he had 5 receptions for 101 yards.
The other receivers however, need some work. Nobody really stood out to me as a reliable number 3 at this point. Steven Staggs probably had the best practice other than Davis. He had 4 catches for 53 yards and did a lot of damage against the 2nd team defense. Both Kevonte Martin-Manley and Don Shumpert struggled a little, Shumpert especially. He wasn't open a lot and dropped a couple ball when he was. He even struggled in the drills at the beginning of practice and at one point dropped 3 or 4 in a row from Vandenberg. Martin-Manley looked a little better and had a couple of receptions, but also had at least 1 drop.
Running backsMarcus Coker was in a red no-contact jersey and didn't participate in the scrimmage other than on the second team punt coverage unit. So that left plenty of opportunity for Jason White and De'Andre Johnson. Both backs looked pretty good on Saturday, but didn't blow me away. It was hard to get a feel for them during the no-tackle portion as the plays were blown dead as soon as any contact was made. Most of the time that first contact was right on the line of scrimmage. In the live scrimmage, they looked a little better and had a couple of good runs. I don't think either has emerged as a definite backup to Coker though. This will be a spot to watch during fall camp and an incoming freshman could end up winning it.
Tight endsThe one position that I walked away most impressed with on Saturday was tight end. The top three guys--Herman, Fiedorowicz, and Derby--all looked like viable options for considerable amounts of playing time. Herman is currently number one and looked like it. He had just 2 short receptions, but one was a very nice catch in traffic. He is also a bit ahead of CJF and Derby in terms of blocking at this point and will stay atop the depth chart until that changes.
Derby was a bit of a surprise to me. I notice that he was splitting reps with CJF in the practice pictures, but thought he would be more of a clear number 3. Instead he impressed me with a couple of nice catches (including one from his little brother) and looked like he is really competing for playing time.
Fiedorowicz impressed me the most though. He made his share of mistakes...had two drops early and whiffed on a block. But his upsides are so high. He is extremely smooth running routes and with the ball in his hand. He also looked very deliberate when going in motion and with his blocking. He has the potential to be a huge mismatch if covered by smaller defenders.
The coaches also used him a little bit differently than Herman or Derby. He was put out in the slot a couple of times and thrown to once on a bubble screen. He's still my pick to be the breakout player this year.
Offensive lineThe offensive line looked as good as expected. The first team really pushed around the second team during the scrimmage. It seemed like every run play the line of scrimmage was re-established 4 or 5 yards down the field. Vandenberg also had plenty of time to throw.
They were not without their problems though. During the "3rd down practice" portion the first team defense was blitzing a lot (there were even a couple of zone blitzes thrown in there). The offense as a whole was struggling to pick up the different rushers. There were also 2 holding calls that brought back some nice runs.