Western Michigan's football team practiced in pads for the first time on Tuesday, and the defense came away looking impressive as the passing game took center stage.
The secondary would appear to have an advantage at this stage, as the relative experience of the unit may give them a leg up against the wide receivers who are still finding their way. In particular, cornerbacks Lewis Toler and Donald Celiscar and safety Justin Currie stood out in sticking to their receivers. Nonetheless, receivers coach Thad Ward is excited about his young group and their potential.
"We have talent. What we're trying to do is cultivate it," Ward said.
The first team of wide receivers includes freshmen Timmy Keith and Kendrick Roberts, indicating the two may have a leg up at this early stage and setting up a potential battle.
"Timmy Keith is going to be a great player here, he brings that run after catch attitude," Ward said. "[Roberts] is going to be a special player. He's very coachable, he'll be a big time player in this conference."
Also included with the first team when going to five wideouts was Darrin Duncan, a lesser known junior college transfer out of Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, Calif.
"Darrin Duncan is a speedster. He can run, he catches the ball well, right now we're just bringing him along with the playbook," Ward said.
Other notes from spring practice so far:
-Paul Hazel has practiced almost exclusively as a linebacker so far. However, he has also blitzed nearly every snap, so this is probably not an indication of how he'll be used every down.
-Ronald Zamort is getting in on his first live action, and playing as the nickel back in many sets. He shows great flat speed, but there were a couple of plays against Timmy Keith where he was outmuscled.
-Flenard Whitfield was not present on Tuesday because of a class conflict. It will be interesting to watch if his development on the field is slowed by this.
-Eric Monette and Jarrell McKinney are the most notable weight-gainers. Monette should be better able to withstand hits and McKinney, up to over 230 pounds from 215, is looking more like a classic defensive end and less like Paul Hazel.
-Keith on his signature hair: "The dreads are a four year commitment. I've had them for four already, so I've got to give them four more."
-The special teams are still very much in flux, with the exception of the punter. J. Schroeder took by far the majority of the reps Tuesday and showed great hangtime.
-Punt returners getting work include Duncan, Courtney Bynes and Dareyon Chance. Coach Cubit has mentioned hoping Chance will take the reigns for the job, though he did drop a couple of punts on Tuesday.
-Though it is too early to make a real judgment on this, Tevin Drake spent most of his reps with the second team, as Brian Fields and Antoin Scriven were the first team backs.
-Johnnie Simon is emerging as a real vocal leader on defense. There were multiple times that he felt the defense lost focus or was going through the motions, and he took it upon himself to remind them how important every down is, even in practice.
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