Aug. 20, 2010
Directions to Saturday's Kenosha Scrimmage
By Skip Myslenski
NUsports.com Special Contributor
KENOSHA, Wis. -- They appeared Friday morning in black shorts and gray t-shirts and then spent the next hour doing nothing more than walking through plays. That is how the 'Cats looked at their last practice in Kenosha, where they scrimmage on Saturday before returning home. "Seven straight practices, day off, six straight. I really thought they fought through it hard yesterday," Pat Fitzgerald would later say, explaining this unusually-placid scene. "We usually do this walk-through on Friday night. But I wanted to get them off their legs a little more to have a better scrimmage tomorrow. So."
Before his team's departure for Kenosha, Fitzgerald opined that it had laid the foundation for its season in Evanston and that now, up north, it was time for it to build floors onto that. Did it get that accomplished? "I really think we have," he said.
"Number one, I think the guys have really been honest with themselves. They've worked their tails off to improve. They understand things they know and don't know, they ask good questions. I really think we've come together well (and). . .(redshirt freshman linebacker) Timmy Riley, last night, I think set the course for the future when he talked about respect. Respecting ourselves, respecting the 'N,' respecting the game. The biggest glue to all that is just respecting what we value and who we are and living by it, not just looking at it as something that's on the wall. . . So, yeah, I feel we're in a good place."
"I think we've got really-solid depth," Fitzgerald said Friday, echoing a belief he has often propounded.
"I see a lot of depth on defense," middle linebacker Nate Williams, the leader of that unit, would say minutes later.
"Unfortunately, we have a few injuries, a couple guys banged up," quarterback Dan Persa
, the offensive leader, would soon add. "But we have some young guys stepping up who might be forced into making contributions. I think they're definitely ready for that. So that's encouraging."
Those comments, so similar, sound as if they were been uttered by a trio that has drunk from the same batch of Kool-Aid. But, here, each is doing more than spouting some party line, a contention buttressed by a quick look at the 'Cat roster. It has but one fourth-year senior (superback Josh Rooks) and two third-year juniors (receiver Jeremy Ebert and corner Jeravin Matthews) and two second-year sophomores (running back Arby Fields and offensive lineman Patrick Ward) expected to make contributions this season. The rest of the expected contributors have all benefited from a redshirt year, an inestimable advantage when joining the fray.
"We've been able to embrace that philosophy, 'If they're close, redshirt 'em.' So we've been able to build this foundation of depth," explained Fitzgerald. "Jimmy Grobe did a great job of that (as the head coach) at Wake Forest. When I took over, I studied them a little bit and then read up on 'em. If they were close, you error on the side of shirtin' them rather than throwing them out there. Hopefully, it's going to continue to pay dividends."
Venric Mark, a Lilliputian receiver out of Texas, is the New Kid On The Block who will be most noticed come the fall. He's quicker than a hiccup, which is one reason for that. But, said Fitzgerald, it's "more of his attitude, his willingness to learn. Day one, one of the early practices up here, he took the ball (on a kickoff return), we call it a High School Harry move. You catch the ball, you have it in this hand, someone comes to get you, you switch hands. We don't do that in our program. That was Monday. Wednesday the same opportunity happened and he wanted to (switch hands), but he put it right back (where it belonged). Just seeing him grow and mature like that is encouraging."
More notes and observations after the week up north:
Vince Browne and Quentin Williams and Kevin Watt will all see significant time at defensive end.
The corners are still unsettled with Jordan Mabin and Justan Vaughn and Demetrius Dugar and Jeravin Matthews still sorting themselves out.
Mike Bolden is in the defensive backfield mix as well, but just where is uncertain. He is cross-training at both corner and safety.
The best pure battle (if you will) going on matches Bryce McNaul and Ben Johnson, who are contending to be the third starting linebacker alongside Nate Williams and Quentin Davie.
Arby Fields has a dinged-up shoulder and so the running back position is again being held down by a committee. But, said Fitzgerald, "It'll be Arby. He'll be back. He'll be back maybe late next week."
Last spring Fitzgerald said of sophomore safety Jared Carpenter, "We're going to see if he can be the player we think he can be." And now? "He's had a good camp, he's had a really solid camp. He's really bright. He knows everything we're doing inside and out. He and (fellow sophomore Hunter) Bates have really benefited from their kicking game-roles in the past and watching (junior Brian) Peters, and watching (the graduated Brendan) Smith, and watching (the graduated Brad) Phillips. They're on it. They know our defense as well as Hank (defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz) knows our defense. And Davion Fleming (a redshirt freshman) is starting to come in that role and I really think Michael Bolden's done a nice job this camp. He's really done a good job. So we've got good depth." (Hear the echo??!!?)
The best bet to replicate Zeke Markshausen, last year's leading receiver, is Jeremy Ebert, but with this twist. Ebert is faster than his predecessor, whose catches rarely went for more than 10 yards, and so will be able to do more with the ball. "He's going to take that role and expand it," is how Fitzgerald put it.
"He and Drake (Dunsmore, the superback) have had great off-seasons, kind of getting over some injuries in the spring that had nagged at them," added Persa. "I think they're both going to have really big years."
The opinion here is that Persa himself will have a big year as well.
They are, finally, making no small plans, which Persa proved when asked about his earlier statement that "Everyone has taken to heart that we can do something special."
"Something this program hasn't done for awhile, win a bowl game," he said Friday when asked just what that was. "But right now we're just worried about the next day. Keep our tunnel vision on and just worry about the scrimmage tomorrow and next week's practices and then game week for Vandy. That's what we're focused on now. But if we can put all the parts together, hopefully we can do something that hasn't been done here for awhile."
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