Monday, August 20, 2007

More Vanilla than Vanilla

Well, the fall scrimmage is in the books. As expected, the offense didn't show much beyond some basic sets and formations. Jay Norvell and Karl Dorrell are playing it close to the vest this season and we'll have to wait a few more weeks to really see what this offense can do. Even then, the Bruins will probably keep things simple against Stanford so as not to use up all their tricks and surprises.

Ben Olson had this take on the scrimage, “We didn’t really do a whole lot out here today; it was pretty vanilla. It was just for the offense to build continuity and get some confidence out there. It’s a fall scrimmage; we just wanted to get better today. The main emphasis is not to beat our defense. We’re not playing against them on Saturdays.”

Public scrimmages are more like glorified practice sessions, so you want to take the results with a grain of salt. The defense always performs better than the offense, simply because they see their counterparts in practice each day and because of the vanilla play calling. That was definitely the case on Saturday as the defense smothered drives, sacked Ben and Pat multiple times (3 each), and were in the backfield a lot.

All of that being said, there were some good things that came out of the scrimmage from the offensive side of the ball. Ben was a solid 7 of 10 against the first string defense. It was reported that he still looks a bit hesitant but at least he isn't making bad decisions or forcing passes. Pat Cowan went 5 of 10 but was lucky to not have some balls intercepted. He's a little wilder and willing to take more chances. He also looks much more mobile than Ben, which should come as no surprise to anyone who watched the games last season.

The running game had a surprising amount of success on Drake Field. Both Markey and Bell had some good solid runs behind an offensive line that has been criticized for lack of production during the fall. Bell in particular looked good, which is important given the lack of depth that has developed in the running game. Chane Moline's broken hand may keep him out of the first four games, so Ryen Carew and Craig Sheppard got a lot of carriers on Saturday. They put up some good numbers, but they were primarily against the second and third string defenses. They also managed to do well with Michael Pitre out, so the running game could be even better when Pitre's knee heals enough for him to suit up.

Overall the big positive on offense was just the increased comfort and improvement over last season. Players, coaches, reporters, and fans were all saying that the team looks sharper than it did during the last fall camp. That improvement looks even better considering that that the defense has likely improved from last season as well. We won't know exactly how much this team has grown until after a few games, but I'm cautiously optimistic at this point in the season.

A couple of interesting notes on special teams. Alteraun Verner saw a lot of reps and he made the most of his time, recording some tackles and a blocked field goal. Kai Forbath showed some strength in his leg, hitting multiple attempts from beyond the 40. Matt Slater had a very impressive kick return and he should be leading candidate for those duties this season. He possess break-away speed and some big play making ability.

Saturday's practice was the last time we'll see the team until September 1st. Fall camp will continue for another week but it will be behind closed doors and away from the public. After that the team will go into regular game-week perpetrations as they get ready for the trip up to Palo Alto.