A cool breeze ran through the fields behind Bright House Networks Stadium and the sun shined brightly for most of the morning. The crowd in attendance had the chance to witness some memorable moments but it wasn’t what everyone saw that made the day great, but it was what they heard.
The Knights dressed up in full pads on Saturday morning for their first chance to hit one another at full speed. With a consistent amount of pops ringing through the air, it was music to every one's ears.
“I thought there was some good contact in the tackling drills,” said UCF coach, George O’Leary. “It was their first day in pads and I’ll look at tape. If it’s a good day of hitting you can hear it, you don’t have to see it and I heard a lot.”
The Knights were intense on both sides of the ball. Perhaps the most memorable moment of the day came when converted quarterback to safety Michael Greco made excellent impact with a receiver in a one-on-one drill and then lowered his hips and dropped the receiver to the ground. Greco had some whiffs prior to that, but got seemingly comfortable as the day progressed and took a nice amount of reps with the second string.
“I got to look at that and see because I’ll tell you what, he’s a good athlete and if he can get it done he can really help us, no question about that,” added O’Leary.
Emory Allen was also impressive again in the secondary, as was Derrick Hallman, who is still adjusting to playing safety. Josh Robinson had another up and down day, as he let Jamar Newsome get free on a comeback route, but Robinson did manage to get in a pass-breakup, and while he wasn’t perfect in tackling drills, he didn’t appear too reluctant to make contact. His potential is evident, he just needs to adjust to the speed of this level, which will obviously take some time.
The defensive linemen were solid as always and the starting linebackers continued to fly around to the ball. Jordan Richards continues to prove why he is considered one of the most intense players on the team, although he was a little overzealous at times as he overran a few plays and took an ill-advised shot on a scrambling Rob Calabrese. However, it was good to see that intensity and play-making ability, although Richards might have to learn how to hone it a little better.
On the other side of the ball, the offense appears to be light-years ahead of where it was this time last season. It’s difficult to tell if that’s because the group is more comfortable and experienced or because the defense has lost four starters from last year, but it’s clear that there are a lot of positives to work with on offense.
“I thought offensively it was better than we’ve seen as far as throwing the ball and running the ball,” said O’Leary.
Calabrese appeared to be the most consistent quarterback, as he progressed through practice and made some real nice throws on the day, including a bomb on the left side-line. He also made some real solid throws on the run and looked comfortable scrambling. Joe Weatherford struggled some today and Andy Slowik was solid, albeit not as impressive as yesterday. It’s a shame that L.D. Crow has to sit out a year because the Stanford transfer looks the part of a FBS quarterback and has excellent velocity on his throws. He made some nice reads today with the fourth-string offense and really should vie for time in a year or so.
Brynn Harvey certainly has a strong hold as the team’s starting running back as his vision has improved drastically from last summer. The experienced he gained late last season was clearly invaluable and now he is running with poise and is finding creases. James Poe looks like he might have the inside track as the team’s number two back as he ran with tremendous power and surprising nimbleness, although O’Leary said the 6’4”, 230 lb. back ran a little too straight-up at times.
Perhaps the reason why Harvey is finding holes is because there are actually some available, which is a drastic difference from last year when Pat Brown was the only lineman consistently paving room for the backs. That wasn’t the case on Saturday, as both guards, Theo Goins and Moose Robinson, really emerged as solid blockers. Goins was actually extremely impressive and looks like a natural after converting from the other side of the ball. Jah Reid still has monster potential and although he doesn’t always display it, he appears to be demonstrating more consistent effort, which is a fantastic sign.
Finally the wide receivers looked good yet again. There were still drops, but it’s like night and day when compared to last season. Brian Watters looks like the team’s most polished receiver and Rocky Ross looks like he hasn’t missed a beat. Marquee Williams again showed some pure pass catching ability and Richard Jackson made a handful of catches (pun intended) after an early case of the dropsy's.
Overall it was an exciting day for players, coaches and fans alike, as the team displayed a lot of intensity.
“I was pleased with everything as far as the effort and enthusiasm,” said O’Leary.