The Ralphie Report was able to view Saturday's practice and partake in media day. Here are some of the highlights:
Yesterday's practice certainly had a different energy to it compared to year's past especially from the head coach. Jon Embree is always watching and holding each player accountable regardless of position or seniority. His energy is contagious within his coaching staff.
Embree's post practice media day press conference was also refreshing. He has taken ownership of this team, this program and the way they do things. He wants to put his imprint on this program and he isn't afraid to change things up. He is also confident and articulate. He isn't afraid to say the culture needed to change, that he may not have the best players but is working on building the best team, and that he expects his team to hit the opponent in the mouth, that his players are going to compete. He wasn't afraid to compliment players as well as mention if a player needs to step up. It was refreshing to say the least.
We talked to TE Ryan Deehan after practice and he had a great quote about Embree and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy instilling a consistent pro-set offense geared towards running the ball. He said this year the offensive players know what they are set out to accomplish. He said last year, the Buffs ran a pro-set and the spread along with many other variations of the offense so they lacked consistency and never quite knew what worked and didn't work.
Embree confirmed that offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy will call the plays this season but he wouldn't be afraid to offer some suggestions. He joked that he will call all the touchdowns and Bieniemy would call all the rest of the plays. He said the plan now is for Bieniemy to be up in the booth during games. He also said this about his coaching staff: "I am going to let my coaches coach. I am not going to be this guy that micromanages things. I don't have enough time to do everything. I have to trust the guys I hired to do the job I hired them for."
The Buffs ran a good amount of full team scrimmage and 7-on-7 which are definitely crowd pleasing events. They were in helmets and shoulder pads only so not tackling to the ground. The first day of full pads and contact is Monday, that will be a better judge of the players. The defense got the better of the offense Saturday. Being so early in camp, the coaches are still heavily rotating all players to see what they have so making too much judgment at this time wouldn't be wise. The defense looked a lot better than they did in the spring, though, with the offense struggling at times especially in the passing game.
Starting in the trenches, it looked like the starting offensive line was: LT David Bakhtiari, LT Ethan Adkins, OC Daniel Munyer, RG Ryan Miller, RT Jack Harris. I believe this will be the starting group when they take the field in Hawaii. True freshman Paulay Asiata looked good. He still has to learn some technique but he is put together better than I thought he would be. Behind the starting group, there is a little bit of a drop off in talent so keeping these players healthy through all of camp will be important. Center is one spot where a guy like Shawn Daniel or Gus Handler can make a move but Munyer, a redshirt freshman, certainly held his own. The good news for Munyer is he is going up against some quality defensive tackles in Nate Bonsu, Conrad Obi, Will Pericak and Curtis Cunningham. The starting offensive center should get good preparation for the upcoming season with that group of experienced linemen returning.
Speaking of defensive line, the Buffs have depth on the interior. There was a good rotation between Conrad Obi, Curtis Cunningham, Will Pericak and Nate Bonsu. At defensive end, Josh Hartigan and Chidera Uzo-Diribe were starting with David Goldberg and Nick Kasa getting a good amount of time as well. I came away impressed with true freshman Juda Parker. Parker has good size and speed. Like all freshman, he needs work on his technique but did show some great moves that caught defensive line coach Mike Tuiasosopo's attention. I would be surprised if he didn't see some action this year if he continues to progress. Stephane Nembot is absolutely massive and well built. He needs work staying low and how to read an offense but what I like about him is he plays full speed and is quick and when he makes mistakes, he does it going 100%. Having a motor at his size is a good thing to see.
The tough news of the day was CB Jered Bell tearing his ACL and out for the year. The Buffs are heavily rotating players at cornerback to try and find starters to replace Jimmy Smith and Jalil Brown. Bell, Deji Olatoye and Tyler Sandersfield were the players who took the most turns with the first team. Losing Bell is big considering the uncertainty at the position. Embree was very vocal with the cornerbacks; it is clearly a position of interest for him. He knows it is their weak spot on defense and he needs someone to step up. It is certainly the position that anyone can win the job. With Bell out, Deji Olatoye will probably be one of the starting corners.
QB Tyler Hansen was not as sharp yesterday as he was in the spring. The timing of the offense just seemed off and the ability to hit the first read in the passing game was, for some reason, lacking. I thought Nick Hirschman had a solid day yesterday. He has gotten bigger from last year and made some good throws. The rest of the quarterbacks have a little ways to go to contend with Hirschman for the second spot.
The talk of camp thus far is 6'5" true freshman WR Tyler McCulloch. As Embree said yesterday in his press conference, "he makes mistakes at full speed when he does make a mistake and that is not a lot. And he is very aggressive catching the ball. He is probably all of 6'5" and he has a way of getting behind people." For a tall player, he is much smoother than you would expect. Embree gave him #87 because he reminds him of Ed McCaffery, former Denver Broncos great. If he continues to progress and learn the playbook, he is a viable candidate for the third receiver spot. Being 6'5", he poses mismatch problems for opposing cornerbacks especially in potential fade route/jump ball situations.
Paul Richardson clearly looks like the best receiver. Talk about a smooth player. When he catches the ball, he gives you the feeling he is going to make a play. He had a drop which Bieniemy got on him for pretty good but also had a few nice grabs out there. I hardly noticed Toney Clemons yesterday, only remembering one time he caught the ball on a slip screen.
TE DaVauhgn Thornton caught a few nice passes early in practice, going up the seam and splitting the defense. Ryan Deehan looked big and consistent. The tight end who emerged yesterday was running back convert Cordary Allen. He showed good hands and the ability to make plays.
Rodney Stewart never disappoints. Embree brought up a great point about Stewart that he runs with an attitude and as a smaller back that is a necessity to succeed. The biggest pop of the day was Stewart lowering his shoulder 40 yards down the field to finish a run on a safety. I can't wait to see what he does in this offense. Brian Lockridge looked solid in his return from an ankle injury this spring. He looks strong and explosive. Tony Jones had a very strong spring and was taking many snaps with the first team yesterday.