There were moments when I thought this day would never come. You've all seen the lengths to which I've gone to keep us occupied these last few months: a drinking game, the entire Summer Filler and Better Know the Units series, fake news stories, a farewell to Boise State, a history lesson and even an attempt to make "gimmick" a dirty word. Now, after all of that foolishness, the time has come to invoke the holiest of names to signify the end of summer and the beginning of fall practices: in the name of Saint Motley, the Holy Kaepernick and the sacred day of Saturday...college football season is BACK!!!
I don't care if it's pretty much the same as spring practice -- it's something substantive to report on. Let's have a look at the Cliff Notes version of Coach Ault's recent address to the local media from the other day.
~ As you've likely heard from elsewhere by now (breaking news still isn't our strong suit here), the program was able to procure external funding to hire for two new-to-them positions: Jon Haskins for Director of Player Personnel and Dave Brown for Director of Football Operations. No word yet on whether the football staff will be asked to continue working by candlelight to save on electricity.
~ In all seriousness, both of these hires are fantastic -- if LONG overdue -- developments. They will both take a significant work load off of Coach Ault and the other members of his staff, particularly with the coordination of recruiting efforts that Coach Mastro was formerly tasked with, which will now fall to Haskins. Ault is always palpably excited at these events, but it was particularly evident just how grateful he was to have filled these two positions.
~ He went into some detail about Haskins' playing and coaching background and the role he played in building a recruiting network for Jim Harbaugh's staff at Stanford (interesting that they went to Stanford again after Coach Buh's first year here). On what the DPP position will mean: "Our recruiting will take a different complexion now. We will be much broader, much much more efficient, and now all of my coaches can get on the road and recruit."
~ For further evidence of the impact Haskins has already had in the five weeks he's been here, Ault mentioned that their recent senior day event -- a camp traditionally held for high school seniors and their parents to take a trip up to Reno and be evaluated by Nevada coaches -- had 111 players in attendance. Their previous high was 61 players. The two hires were called "one of the biggest moves we've made in football."
~ Also as you may have heard elsewhere, Brandon Wimberly is re-enrolled in summer school and on track to graduate in December. He will be on the sidelines assisting with coaching duties in various ways, but also giving the other players a reality check simply by being there. In Ault's words "I expect him to be as inspirational about this football program as I am."
~ DeAndre Boughton will miss the season with a broken leg, and Lampford Mark is still recovering from mononucleosis and will not be pushed too hard in practices just yet.
~ At one point, Ault went on another small tangent in which he could barely contain himself from gushing even more over the two new hires, particularly Haskins, adding (paraphrasing him slightly) "We used to turn over rocks, but now we're turning over boulders." He used the word "rejuvenated" to describe what the hires have done to him personally, and if this presser was any indication I would agree.
~ Continuing on one of his themes from the WAC media day, competition at running back will be intense. For this unit, at least, they had a great summer of conditioning and weight lifting. There will be more two back action similar in certain ways to what we saw last year.
~ Another theme reappearing was the depth and speed in the defensive backfield, with Ault now saying that this is the deepest the secondary has been in five years.
~ He feels very confident in the first-string offensive line, but says it's time for the younger players to start stepping up. The line as a whole is every bit as athletic as last year's line and possibly a little bit quicker than they were.
~ Zach Sudfeld was referred to as "the Luke Lippincott of this football team," citing his upper class status and the amount of work he's put into finally making an impact on the field. Interestingly, Kolby Arendse was called the best all-around tight end of the group. They lack a player with Virgil Green's speed, but are just as strong on the block as they were last year.
~ He reemphasized Tyler Lantrip's strong performances in spring practices and said he has "paid his dues" and earned his role as the starter. Devin Combs could apparently be easily mistaken for a linebacker, but is very raw and would be redshirted if possible so he could have three years of eligibility starting in 2012. He left open the possibility of pursuing another freshman quarterback in the near future, citing the quality of the quarterback camp they recently had on campus. He doesn't have plans to move any current quarterbacks, but said this recruiting class is similar to the one that produced Kaep in that the players are so talented you could find a spot for them somewhere on the team even if it isn't at quarterback.
~ The replacement to fill Wimberly's starting spot is still unknown, but Shane Anderson is penciled in at the position right now. He mentioned two players he'd like to bring in at camp -- both remaining unknown at this time -- who could possibly contribute to the two-deep there.
~ Regarding Zack Madonick's recovery, he says he looks and feels fine, but they're not counting on him at this time and would prefer to see him in contact drills first. Between Roy, Faataualofa and the younger players behind them, there is a good upgrade in inside strength from last year to this year.
~ Defensive end is a lot like the tight end spot in that it's a conglomeration of different kinds of athletes that they're nonetheless optimistic about. Albert Rosette was mentioned first, then Kaelin Burnett, but not in a way that convinced me either of them are starting just yet.
~ JMJ and Brandon Marshall are exceptional starters at linebacker, but the depth behind them is unproven at this time. Burton DeKoning was brought up as being a really intriguing new player, but one who has to actually get out there first before any anointing happens. Along with the younger offensive linemen, this was highlighted as an area needing an infusion of depth and playing experience as soon as possible.
~ Anthony Martinez is kicking, but others have been brought in to compete with him, while Chase Tenpenny is more or less the best of the punters right now and just completed his share of summer school to become eligible.
For the sake of having a preview picture for those of you who came here from Facebook, here's a party hat to reflect my mood.