Published August 11, 2012
Ten thoughts following YSU's first scrimmage:
1. I've covered every scrimmage of the Eric Wolford era. I've covered dozens of practices. I've covered all but two of his games in person. And I've never seen his defense look like it did on Saturday.
Defensive coordinator Joe Tresey spent most of the spring screaming himself hoarse, force-feeding his system (and, more importantly, his approach) to a very young group. There was some incremental growth, but on Saturday, you could see how far the unit has come from a scheme and talent standpoint.
Afterward, Tresey gave the usual coaching points, saying "I need to look at the video" and "We're just focused on getting better" but it was clear he was pleased, as he should be.
"The big thing is we wanted to pick up where we left off in the spring and grow through each scrimmage," he said. "I think just looking from the scrimmage today, my gut feeling is we did grow."
2. I liked how Tresey mixed up his defenses, bringing pressure from different angles and different players.
Last year's defensive coordinator, Rick Kravitz, had a blitzing background but he stayed pretty vanilla in his schemes, particularly in the first half of last season.
In fairness, Kravitz didn't have as much talent as the offense — and much of the talent he did have was young — but he often seemed incapable of making the necessary adjustments, whether it was helping a struggling corner (which happened at the end of the Missouri State game) or defending a simple play (like Indiana State's sweeps to Shakir Bell or the quick slant used by several teams).
So far, Tresey has the team looking more aggressive and more organized.
3. OK, OK, it was just one scrimmage. But Wolford & Co. have clearly upgraded the speed and athleticism on that side of the ball.
And, in classic Wolford style, he was quick to take credit for it.
"It's very clear we've recruited well, no question," he said.
4. Based on the first scrimmage, YSU's starting defense looks like this:
Defensive line: Luis Quinones and Josh Fenderson (ends), Nick DeKraker and Aronde Stanton (tackles).
Linebackers: Dom Rich (Sam), Teven Williams (Mike), Travis Williams (Will).
Defensive backs: Dale Peterman and Julius Childs (corners), Josh Garner and Jeremey Edwards. Parnell Taylor appears to be the nickel cornerback.
5. Peterman is the only newcomer to that group since the spring. Considering he sat out last season with academic issues (he did watch most spring practices from the sidelines), and has only played junior college ball, it's pretty impressive that he was able to earn a starting spot in two weeks.
Wolford likes to say that, the further you are from the ball, the better your chances of playing early. And while Peterman will no doubt face some growing pains, he showed off his ability on Saturday, intercepting on pass and breaking up an end zone fade to Kintrell Disher, who is 6-4 with terrific leaping ability.
6. Peterman (Ursuline) and Rich (Canfield) are the only two Mahoning Valley natives expected to start the opener. (Punter Nick Liste of Niles will also start.)
Rich is ahead of Ali Cheaib for the Sam linebacker spot but I expect both to play quite a bit. If you missed my story on Rich from earlier this week, you can read it here: http://www.vindy.com/news/2012/aug/08/ysus-rich-overcomes-poor-odds/?newswatch
7. Rich and Liste are among 11 players remaining from the Heacock era — my story in last Sunday's paper said seven, which is incorrect — and six of them are starters.
- Junior QB Kurt Hess and senior RB Jamaine Cook have been best two players of the Wolford era.
- Senior tackle Andrew Radakovich has started 31 of 33 games in his career, including every game for the past two. Senior tackle D.J. Main started 10 of 11 games last year and seven two years ago before getting injured.
- Junior WR Jelani Berassa is one of YSU's two best receivers.
- Junior TE Carson Sharbaugh has played in 21 of 22 games and will see lots of playing time as the second tight end.
- Junior RB Torrian Pace, junior guard Fred Herdman (who is out with a concussion) and junior DT Kyle Sirl are backups.
8. Based on the scrimmage, Pace is No. 2 on the depth chart and Adaris Bellamy No. 3.
(You can read more about them here: www.vindy.com/news/2012/.../on-pace-for-some-more-playing-time/)
Demond Hymes, who is out with a concussion and missed part of spring practice, probably would have been No. 2 had he stayed healthy. With Jordan Thompson off the roster, the Penguins desperately need someone to step up and take charge of that backup spot so they don't wear out Cook again. The coaches, particularly Wolford, have admitted as much.
But when I asked RB coach Louie Matsakis earlier this week if he had a depth chart at RB, he said this: "However many backs can prove to us during the course of the week that they can do what we ask and we trust them with ball security and the right protections and the right reads, we'll play them. If there's one guy we can trust, one guy's going to play the whole time. If it's two, two. If we trust all four guys, obviously Cookie will start and the next guy will get in the next series or two. That way we've got fresh guys in the fourth quarter."
That sounds good but the truth is, Cook can't take another year like last year. He wasn't the same player in the second half.
9. This isn't a huge deal, but I'm told the Redskins were in town on Thursday scouting a few players. Tight end Will Shaw, one of the team's most athletic players, was on their radar, as were a few of the offensive linemen.
YSU has two players in the NFL right now: Bills WR Donald Jones and Packers CB Brandian Ross (who spent last season on the practice squad). Both were undrafted free agents.
10. At media day, Wolford talked about how losing to Missouri State in last year's finale — which cost his team a playoff spot — may have been the best thing to happen to YSU because it made his team hungrier.
This is coaching spin at its finest. I happen to think it's baloney.
For one, YSU missed a huge opportunity to recapture its casual fans. That loss cost the Penguins a home playoff game and a huge amount of revenue. (I'm told at least $100K when you factor in Penguin Club memberships and a bump in this year's ticket sales.)
For another, you can't replace playoff experience.
Wolford was smart to change the narrative but I have a hard time believing his team — or his program — was better off sitting home at Thanksgiving.