Published March 30, 2013
1. The biggest thing I've noticed about the YSU football team after two weeks of spring practice? The businesslike attitude.
Youngstown State coach Eric Wolford is known for his brashness but it's been a very low-key camp so far. No big talk about winning the conference or making the playoffs or competing for a national championship. (Not that I mind. It's good copy.)
Wolford will never be mistaken for Lou Holtz but he saw what happened when he predicted playoffs before last season then failed to deliver. One of the things I like about Wolford is you can see him growing as a head coach. When something doesn't work, whether it's his defense or a specific position group or whatever, he's not afraid to change. He's done it after every season.
2. That said, if this team doesn't make the playoffs … hoo-boy. Think pitchforks at the door.
3. You're not going to find a bigger Jamaine Cook fan than me, but guys like Demond Hymes and, yes, Adaris Bellamy give the Penguins more of a big-play threat at running back.
Bellamy had a quiet practice on Saturday but he's looked very good at times this spring. Much more explosive. And Hymes had a terrific practice on Saturday, showing why Wolford plans to get him more carries. Torrian Pace, meanwhile, looks like a better version of what YSU fans saw last season. I don't think he'll be the starter but he's going to get carries.
"What we haven't had is that guy who can make one move and go house," Wolford said a few days ago.
None of the backs on the roster can do everything as well as Cook (who was also a terrific blocker and receiver), which is why I'll take him over a 40-play stretch. But Cook also wasn't going to give you much more than a 15- or 20-yard run. His replacement might.
4. Speaking of Cook, I talked to him Thursday and he was still steamed about his poor 40-yard dash time at YSU's Pro Day.
Cook ran a 4.78 — that's an average linebacker time — and needed to restart several times. He hoped to re-run the 40 at Miami (Ohio)'s Pro Day but they backed out at the last minute, so there's not much he can do for the next month except work out and pray.
Cook's biggest problem with the 40 was his starts. Because the clock begins on your first movement, he kept having to restart because he was getting off to a rolling start, rather than just exploding out of his stance. He said his first 10 yards were run at the same speed as OL Lamar Mady, who ran a 5.32. He said the scouts told him his short-shuttle and three-cone times were more in line what with they were seeing on film.
I saw the same thing. He looked good in everything but the 40. I think if he can get into an NFL camp, he's got a good chance of staying there.
5. YSU's best running back option may be walking the sidelines this spring.
Jordan Thompson, who was booted from the team last summer because of academic issues, has been at every practice so far and hopes to rejoin the team this summer.
Thompson still needs to pass his classes this spring and in the first summer session, but he's not one of those guys who should be struggling in the classroom. If you talk to him for five minutes (or 30, as I did last week), you'll realize he's a lazy student, not a dumb one.
Thompson is also a monster athlete and he really started to emerge in the second half of 2011. He rushed for 401 yards and four TDs with a 7.6 average. (He nearly had a fifth TD against North Dakota State, rushing for 38 yards to get down to the Bison 1. Kurt Hess scored on the next play.)
His return would give YSU a real home-run threat in the backfield.
6. I haven't written about him yet, but YSU's new kicker, Joey Cejudo, looks like a weapon.
Cejudo is 6-4, 215, which is about six inches and 45 pounds more than David Brown, who was the team's kicker the past two years.
Brown turned into a decent kicker last season but there's a night-and-day difference between the way the ball comes off his foot compared to Brown. Cejudo can boom it.
8. Not much to say about Kurt Hess this spring. He looks like the guy I saw last spring and summer. If his confidence is shaky after a lousy stretch in October, I haven't seen it.
9. Cornerback Dale Peterman, who has also had a nice spring, said he'd like to see Hess take a few more shots downfield and I agree.
"He's got some big-time receivers out there that can really run," Peterman said, pointing specifically to Andrew Williams and Marcel Caver. "Right now, he's just getting the checkdowns right and going through his reads the right way. That's how Kurt is. He's a perfectionist. He'll take the checkdown before gambling on a deep ball any day."
Peterman made sure to praise Hess' leadership and competitiveness, but he's got a point. With Williams, Caver and Jelani Berassa (who is coming off ACL surgery but looked good doing some straight-line running on Saturday), Hess has some deep threats. He needs to use them this fall.
10. D.J. Main, YSU's starter at right tackle the past few years, went to a practice a few days ago and looked more like a 6-foot-6 small forward. He said he's dropped 50 pounds from last year, when he weighed 315. He looked even thinner than that.
And speaking of former players, running back Allen Jones, who transferred from YSU to Mercyhurst after one year, watched Saturday's practice from the sidelines. Jones, an Ursuline High grad, was Mercyhurst's second-leading rusher last fall with 118 carries for 666 yards and seven TDs.