Greetings from damp and chilly Mobile, Ala., where rain and a slight north breeze turned what might have been a pleasant 53-degree afternoon into a potentially illness-inducing experience that left players and observers shivering and sent me reaching for the Tylenol and zinc supplements upon my return to the hotel after a 90-minute practice session.
Such conditions, though, are a part of football, and perhaps no players possess a greater appreciation for a little meterological misery than linemen. And, to be certain, no players have to adapt more, since so much of their efforts are based around using footing to gain leverage.
That was the test Monday for the seventeen South team players that I watched in “The Pit,” the area of the practice field around which many coaches and scouts congregate to capture an up-close view of the linemen’s duels, foraging for nuances that television broadcasts and tape study cannot necessarily reveal.
On this day, persistence was rewarded, because even the finest footwork could still result in a slip-slide around the dampened grass. Thus, how well could a player maintain his leverage and balance — particularly when playing to stand his ground and not to drive forward, as the offensive linemen did throughout the drills?
The answer proved to be not well, as slippage proved to be the watchword of the day. But that proved to be revealing, particularly for linemen like N.C. State’s Tank Tyler and Clemson center Dustin Fry, who maintained their balance against each other.
Quite often, the 49ers coaches would pair the same two linemen against each other on back-to-back snaps, affording observers an opportunity to see how the vanquished would respond with a second opportunity. Some, like Fry, made the most of it; he responded after getting beaten by Tyler by holding his own against the 310-pound defensive tackle, even though Tyler managed to push him back a few yards in the process. The two grappled once again in another linemen session, and again, the same set of circumstances transpired; Tyler slammed into Fry, breaking into the backfield once, but getting held off on the second try.
So it went throughout the afternoon. One player beat another, and the vanquished foe bounced back, as happened with Texas right tackle Justin Blalock and Florida defensive lineman Ray McDonald.
There were times when the pattern broke as it did with Miami defensive end Kareem Brown who used the second chance to finish the task left undone in the first. N.C. State’s Leroy Harris slipped and held him out of the backfield on the first try, but couldn’t contain him on the second go-’round.
More from the first day of practice is in the notebook, which you can read by clicking here.
Later in the week, I’ll get into the details of our wacky journey here that didn’t finally end until 7 p.m. tonight when our bags with cameras, tapes, microphones, clothes and other necessary accoutrements finally arrived, some 35 hours after we made it to Denver International Airport for a Sunday morning flight.
For now, it’s time to sleep. Next practice is in eight hours, and the alarm clock bleats in five and a half. We’ll be there.