April 5, 2011
By Nick Frank
Athletic Media Relations
FORT COLLINS, Colo. – In what turned out to be a very competitive practice Tuesday, the offense won the day, 21-18 on M.J. McPeek’s 42-yard pass to Thomas Coffman during the last play of the morning.
With only a one-point lead going into the final play, the offense knew it could win the practice by converting a third down. McPeek found Coffman, who picked up a pivotal downfield block from Joe Brown, between two defenders for the triumph.
McPeek seems to have a firm grasp on the offense and has impressed onlookers this spring. He completed a clinic-like 4-of-5 passes for 86 yards during the live period.
Defensive tackle Curtis Wilson brought the defense back with a sack late in the competition and had help from linebacker Austin Gillmore and defensive back Ryan Heagle, who both played a big role for the defense. Gillmore finished with three tackles in the 15-play scrimmage. Heagle had two tackles of his own, including a punishing blow to running back Mark Woodbury that sent the defensive sideline into an uproar. Shaq Bell intercepted a pass during the period.
The scrimmage was tailored to third-down situations, a point of emphasis for the team during the offseason. The offense converted 67 percent of its snaps, in large part to the maturity of Pete Thomas.
“The offense went 10-of-15 on third down out here today,” said Head Coach Steve Fairchild. “We’re adding more things that he can handle, that we wouldn’t have dared do last year because he was just out of high school. It really helps having him back.”
The practice also included a new drill that pitted an offensive player against a defensive player. Both athletes would lie on their backs, a few yards from a center line. Upon a coach’s whistle, each player would pop up and hit the other. If the defense stopped the offense from getting across the line, a point was awarded. The most notable matchup was when running back Chris Nwoke, known for his tough running, took on linebacker Mike Orakpo. Both sides delivered a hard hit that could be heard across the practice field.
The team also had ball-carriers go up against defensive backs in a drill that focused on open-field tackling. Nwoke, a ThunderRidge High graduate, lined up against Ken Hulbert, also a ThunderRidge graduate. After initially wrapping up the running back, Hulbert lost grip of Nwoke, who ended up scoring a touchdown. Defensive back Dominique Vinson left the drill after sustaining a shoulder injury while attempting to tackle Tony Drake.
“Shoulder popped out,” said Fairchild. “We’ll go in and take a look. He’s been having a good spring. He’s going to play for us next year. He’s in the plans for sure. I want to get in there and see where his shoulder’s at. Hopefully, he’ll be back this spring. If not, in the summer.”
Former foe: For the past three years, Fairchild and his staff game-planned against Dan Hawkins while he was at CU. Tuesday morning, Hawkins was at the Rams’ practice. Hawkins also attended CSU’s mat drills earlier this spring along with San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers to offer additional advice to players.
“Dan and I talk all the time,” said Fairchild. “I like Dan. I think he’s a hell of a football coach. I just like him as a person, him and his family. His wife’s great.”
Both of Hawkins’ former teams are on the 2011 schedule for the Rams. CSU will square off against CU Sept. 17 and play host to Boise State Oct. 15. The game against Boise State will mark the Broncos’ first Mountain West game after they elected to join the conference this past year.
Coaches clinic: Saturday, the CSU coaches will host their annual clinic with Tyke Tolbert, the Denver Broncos’ wide receivers coach as the keynote speaker. Space is still available and reservations can be made the day of the clinic. Those coaches interested in attending the clinic are asked to please RSVP to associate head coach Larry Lewis (firstname.lastname@example.org) or director of football operations Tom Ehlers (email@example.com). Coaches can register by completing the form in advance.
Football 101 for Women: The Rams’ staff is also holding its second-annual Football 101 clinic for women. The clinic is geared toward teaching women the basics of football and includes instruction from CSU coaches. The event will be held April 14 and the deadline to sign up is 5 p.m. Friday. The clinic is $25 per person for Ram Club members and $30 for everyone else. The price includes a T-shirt, dinner, and drinks. To RSVP, contact the CSU events office at 970/491-4601.
Third-down scrimmage statistics: (Offense converted 10 of 15 attempts): RUSHING – Good 2-18, Nwoke 2-10, Whitson 1-3. PASSING – Thomas 3-2-24, McPeek 5-4-86, Grayson 2-1-5 (INT). RECEIVING – Greenwood 2-17, Coffman 1-42, McKay 1-23, Steele 1-21, R.Carter 1-7, Yemm 1-5.
Scrimmage highlights: McPeek had a 23-yard completion to Jarrad McKay, a 14-yard conversion to Lou Greenwood, and a 42-yard backbreaker to Thomas Coffman, to end the scrimmage. Good had a 13-yard carry on the first snap. Brown made a nice downfield block to spring Coffman for bonus yards on the scrimmage’s final play. Bell made an athletic play to pick off Garrett Grayson. Pete Thomas found Byron Steele for 21 yards early in the contest.
Tight ends update: Kivon Cartwright was out of the red jersey he had worn all spring and fully participated in practice Tuesday morning. Starting tight end Ben Tedford missed practice due to illness but Fairchild said he has been impressed with his spring so far. Jade Pender, a transfer from the University of Texas at San Antonio, has left the program.
Saturday practice: The Rams announced that Saturday’s practice will begin at 9 a.m. and will be their first of three major scrimmages of the spring. The practice is open to the public and will be at Sonny Lubick Field at Hughes Stadium.
Other Fairchild quotes…
On whether the team will practice in the morning or afternoon once classes begin this fall:
“We’re going to go in the afternoons. I really like this (morning practices). We’ll do this again next spring. I’m going to consider doing it in future falls; I just couldn’t get enough information on some things in terms of class schedules to feel comfortable.”
On updated information regarding the injury to MLB Michael Kawulok:
“We won’t know that probably until the end of April. He’ll do a follow-up. He’s getting treatment now, with a follow-up at the end of April. That’ll determine what we do. He’s done for spring and it appears to be serious.”
On DT John Froland running with the first-team defense:
“I think he’s earned it. He’s been playing well. But, again, we’re going to try to get a good rotation to where we’ve got a lot of guys playing.”
On SLB Mike Orakpo:
“Last fall, whether it was practice or games, whenever we put him in there, he’s a playmaker. He makes things happen. Very, very talented young man, and now he’s in a starting role. I’m hoping he’s as good as I think he is, because I think he’s going to be a very good linebacker for us.”
On the offensive line, and whether last year’s experience has started to pay dividends:
“Yeah. I think two years ago we probably had one of the better offensive lines in the country. I think this one could be as good or better than that line. Obviously, we had some breaking-in growing pains to go through last year, but they came on. We’re not there by any stretch of the imagination, but this is going to be a good offensive line.
“The line’s like quarterback; it’s a hard thing to develop. Obviously, good football teams develop those areas. There’s a lot of expertise to it. But I do think we’ve got some good, young offensive linemen that are going to be very good players around here. If you notice, in the fall, there are usually two team-segments, two groups. Now, we’re going three. So, we’re getting a lot of guys in there. Hopefully, that’s going to pay off.”
On C Weston Richburg:
“We were making a decision last August whether we trusted him to snap in the opener as a freshman, or play him at guard, what we were going to do with him. Here we are nine months later and he’s not only one of the leaders on the line, he’s one of the leaders on the team, and the offense. He’s a real impressive young man.”
On QB Pete Thomas this spring compared to last:
“It’s just completely different. Last year, he had to think about snap count, where to line up in the huddle. He’s a lot more familiar with what we’re doing, a lot more familiar with what the defense is trying to do to him, a lot more honed in on his technique. Everything’s better. When you have a quarterback that’s played 11-12 games and then comes back in the spring, it makes life easy.”
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