UCF Spring Practice (UCF Athletics)
The UCF football team had a little extra bounce in their collective steps as they participated in the first day of spring practice. Energy was good, emotions were high, and the weather may have been the best part as it was cool and comfortable throughout most of the nearly two hour session.
“It was a good first day, a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of effort,” Knights head coach George O’Leary said.
Instillation was the word of the day as new offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe finally got to move some of his “chess pieces” around the football field. Although it’s difficult to ascertain how crisp both the offensive and defensive units were, as they spent the day without contact, the passing game seemed to be a little better than last season.
“Obviously, coach (Taaffe) likes to throw the ball, but you win championships by stopping the run and running the football,” O’Leary told reporters following practice. “We have to improve our passing game, there’s no question there. From quarterback to receiver, and that will be a major emphasis this spring.”
The two main guys competing for the starting quarterback job are sophomores Rob Calabrese and Joe Weatherford. Calabrese began the day a little erratic in drills, but calmed down later to have a fairly solid day. Weatherford was mostly accurate and showed good velocity on his passes. Weatherford threw the ball well on the run, where Calabrese struggled a bit, and despite working with the second team, Weatherford was the better of the two signal callers.
Although Stanford transfer L.D. Crow will not see any action for the Knights in 2009, he did practice today and threw the ball well. The big quarterback had plenty of zip on his passes and threw slant patterns to near perfection.
Another player who won’t be suiting up for UCF this year is Brian Taaffe, son of offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe. The younger Taaffe threw the ball well in spots, and the group of emerging talent at the quarterback position could make for a very interesting battle a year from now.
The running backs and the offensive line were difficult to evaluate due to the non-contact rules, but Brynn Harvey looked very fit and quick. James Poe, the 6’3”, 235 lb. bruising back that was grey-shirted last year, looked very strong and could be a very good short yardage back for the Knights.
“You’re out there without pads on and I think on Saturday we will be able to tell more (when the team is in pads),” O’Leary said.
Wide receivers had an on and off day, as they began catching passes flawlessly, then hit a tough spot in drills where there were a few drops. The receivers bounced back at the end of the day, as A.J. Guyton, Brian Watters, and Rocky Ross reeled in some throws.
“I thought there were some good things out there,” O’Leary said. “We got a lot of good things and a lot of reps with a lot of different players.”
The defensive backs went through a series of tip drills and concentration drills where players crossed in front of their eye lines as in game situations. Coach George O’Leary pointed out freshman Josh Robinson as a player who stood out today in drills.
“Josh Robinson caught my eye a little bit out there,” O’Leary said. “It’s tough, they’re freshmen and it’s the first time with the speed of the game out here. It’s different from the high school speed, it picks up a little bit. They’ll get better each day and hopefully some of them can help us out.”
The defensive line looked big, quick, and dominant, but without pads it is really difficult to get an accurate assessment.
“Obviously you can see the experience on defense,” O’Leary said.
Derrick Hallman, practicing for the first time at safety, made a fantastic diving pass breakup on a ball intended for a seemingly open A.J. Guyton. Another player who experienced a position switch, former quarterback, now safety Michael Greco didn’t look quite as comfortable in the defensive secondary as he was beat deep on one occasion by a pass from Joe Weatherford to Brian Watters.
The Knights finished practice on an interesting note, as they had a game of “tug-of-war” between some of the offensive and defensive players and groups. Each player or players involved grabbed on to a plastic orb with handles and they simply tried to drag each other over a certain distance.
“I want to keep some competition at the end of practice, with a little tug-of-war,” O’Leary said when talking about their new end of practice routine. “You’re always searching for things to keep the intensity up, and that little thing cost hardly any money, and we got more out of that than some things we pay a lot of money for.”
The Knights will practice again tomorrow morning at 9:10 a.m. which is open to the public.