The defense was, by far, the highlight in 11-on-11 live action, especially on the third-down drills. By my count, around half of the plays were tackles for loss.
The defensive line got constant pressure in the trenches, despite the absence of many key players, most notably redshirt senior defensive end David Gilbert, who is sidelined after having foot surgery last month. Within the unit, redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Jesse Hayes certainly stood out.
There are some new faces in the linebacking corps, between redshirt senior Ethan Armstrong’s shoulder injury (which will keep him out for the entire spring) and the graduation of Mike Taylor. Redshirt senior Conor O'Neill was slotted in Armstrong's position, while junior Derek Landisch and redshirt senior Nick Hill split time aside redshirt senior Chris Borland.
The secondary is a group that faces the most turnover in terms of player personnel, but redshirt sophomore cornerback Darius Hillary and redshirt junior cornerback Peniel Jean held their own in pass coverage. Also, redshirt freshman defensive back Reggie Mitchell is a name to keep an eye out for at the safety position opposite redshirt senior Dezmen Southward.
While the defense dominated the line of scrimmage, redshirt junior running back Jeff Lewis made the most of his carries, including a long run off the edge on the far side of the field, which was the longest run of practice.
The four quarterbacks?redshirt freshman Bart Houston, redshirt sophomore Joel Stave and redshirt seniors Curt Phillips and Danny O'Brien?got fairly equal repetitions throughout the practice portion available to the media. Some plays that stood out from the signal callers included Houston’s completion on a corner route to redshirt sophomore wide receiver A.J. Jordan and O'Brien fitting the ball into a tight window on a route across the middle to redshirt senior tight end Jacob Pedersen.
The energy of Wednesday's practice was quite electric, given that it is in the middle of spring practice. Sure, the music added to the vibrant environment, but the defense really seemed upbeat, both on the field and on the sidelines.
Defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Dave Aranda on key players missing (e.g. Beau Allen, David Gilbert) and the development of younger players in their absence: “You're always going to miss playmakers like that. On the flip of it, also, the guys who are replacing them are younger guys?very talented [are] the kids that we're going with now?but not as experienced. [They are] a little bit new to football at this level, so there's things that you have to develop and steps that you have to take to get that … We've been able to take some of those steps, especially the last couple of practices, and we've improved leaps and bounds. The hope is that we can continue on that path.”