SIGHT SEEN: Cut blocks. They were evident during those final periods even though they can be dangerous to a defender's well-being. So we wondered about that and Fitzgerald would say, "We put rules of engagement in just for safety reasons, for health." But then he went further and explained that his 'Cats work at different tempos on days like these. There's Tag Off, which means the defender just sends the runner or receiver along. There's Thud, which means contact on both sides. There's Chud, which is the same as Thud but with cut blocking permitted. And there's Live, which needs no explanation. "I like that tempo. I like that a lot," he would then say of Chud. "I think to be a great defender of the cut-block-below-the-knee play, you've got to practice it. Is there an inherent risk of injury? Absolutely. But you know what? You get a lot better at it and you get hurt a lot less when you practice it everyday."
A SECOND SIGHT SEEN: Wide receivers, a veritable plethora of talented wide receivers. Now we don't want to get caught up here in the fever of spring, which is raging everywhere from baseball training camps in Arizona to any number of obscure schools that have played their way into the NCAA Tournament. But here is one position where the 'Cats appear well-stocked despite the loss of the estimable Jeremy Ebert. They have Demetrius Fields and Rashad Lawrence. They have Christian Jones and Tony Jones. They have Mike Jensen and Drew Moulton. They have Cameron Dickerson, Pierre Youngblood-Ary and, in the wings, the USC transfer Kyle Prater. "There's some depth. I like the bunch," offensive coordinator Mick McCall said with a smile when we asked how he was going to feed them all with just one ball.
Then we wondered if, with that depth, the 'Cats might dump the superback and go all wide. "We're going to play the best 11 guys, that's who we're going to play," said McCall. "I've been places before where it was all outside receivers. My first year here, we mostly used four wides. It could be that way again."
"Again, it's getting into the best 11. You've got to fight your butt off to get into the best 11 and, if you do, we're going to play you and then put in formations and plays according to that," Fitzgerald said when asked the same question. "It's like last year, (quarterback) Kain (Colter) played his way into the best 11. That's why he did so many things. That's (backup quarterback) Trevor (Siemian's) challenge right now. Are you going to play yourself into the best 11? Kain's there. Now are you going to play yourself into it? We'll see. Those are all the things that play out and you get answers as time goes on."
WELCOME BACK: Fitzgerald, as a rule, rarely blows smoke any individual's way at this time of the year. That is surely understandable with spring fever so rampant. But here he has bent that rule just a bit when discussing sophomore receiver (in the fall) Tony Jones, who missed all of last season with a knee injury. "I fully anticipate him being a big time player in our offense," he said of him even before practice began and then he added this after they had practiced just once.
"Unfortunately, he had to go through what he went through last year. But it was a blessing in disguise," he added. "He got in the weight room, you look at him physically, he's a totally different looking athlete. He's put on great weight. He's gotten much stronger. I think the sky's the limit. He's a very dynamic player. I'm very excited to have him back in the mix."
"I've seen a lot of changes in Tony since we've been here," Kain Colter later said of him. "We came in our freshman year and kind of knew that he was going to play. He has as much athleticism as anyone on this team. It really shows when he's healthy. Then he hit that little streak where he was hurt a lot, it kind of set him back a little bit. Things weren't going his way. But he's been fighting in the weight room, on the field, and now he's back on the field and healthy and he looks great. He's probably our fastest receiver. He's a guy we haven't had here in a while. He can take the top off of things and really give us that deep threat."
THE JONES FILE: Missed the first four games of the 2010 season, his true freshman season, after suffering a collarbone injury in training camp. But then, in his first play as a 'Cat, caught a 45-yard pass for a touchdown against Minnesota. . . Was expected to be in the mix last year, but tore his PCL 12 days before the season opener with Boston College. "Black Tuesday" is how refers to that afternoon and then he explains, "Freak accident. Coming across the middle, got pushed, landed on my knee wrong and that was my season. That's it.". . . Gained just five-to-10 pounds with his resultant work in the weight room. "I'm not much heavier, but I'm a lot stronger," he says, claiming that he know maxes out on the bench press at 325. "That's about 50, 75 pounds heavier than I was before (last) season," he goes on. "Especially with the collarbone injury, that set me back, I lost a lot of upper body strength. Now my legs feel good, my upper body's strong and I'm expecting big things out of myself and the rest of the guys. We should have a great season.". . . Says he can cover the 40-yard dash in the high 4.3s or low 4.4s. "I'm the fastest guy out here," he also says. As for the second fastest? "Venric (Mark, the kick returner and running back). I give Venric number two. You could bring him out here. We like to kid around about that a lot. We always say we're going to race. Never happens. But one of these days we're going to get it done."
CALL IT SERENDIPITY: Kain Colter is not exactly sure when he and Jones first met. It was sometime during their junior year in high school, that is all he can recall. But from that moment they found themselves on campus together, they stayed in touch and eventually committed to the 'Cats and then found themselves on the field together as true freshmen. "I've known Tony probably the longest of anybody here," he recalls.
So it is no surprise that, during this off-season, they have worked often together on nuances like timing and anticipation and reading each other's mind, and that come fall they and the USC transfer Prater will be rooming together. "It's going to be one of those things, you wake up, go throw," Colter says, looking forward to that arrangement. "We'll be able to have that chemistry. It'll be more than just a football thing. I'll know what he's thinking, he'll know what I'm thinking, we'll both be on the same page. I think we'll get after that. Same thing with Kyle."
AND FINALLY: Colter, on whether Jones has changed his approach to the game after battling injuries: "I don't think it changed his approach. But I was talking to him, I kind of went through the same thing (with the shoulder injury he suffered as a senior in high school). You've never really been injured and all of a sudden you've got to sit out. You've never had to sit out before and it's different. You love being out on the field. But I think it was good for him, it was a good learning experience. I think it just made him want it even more."