Rhys Williams/Staff Writer
As the football team concluded the first full week of spring practice in pads, it also held its first live scrimmage. The scrimmage certainly showed that there is still a lot of work to be done in every aspect of the game.
The kicking game, which up until the scrimmage had shown a lot of promise, had three blocked field goals, with a fourth that barely made it over and through the uprights after being blocked by the defensive line. The punt team did not fare too well either has they had one punt tipped with the rest nearly blocked.
“It definitely worries me that we had those blocked kicks,” Head Coach Ron Turner said. “We need to get stronger up front and in the overall operation; the first blocked kick was a botched hold while the second was a bad snap to start it off. They really need to block better up front and the operation of all of it needs to get better.”
Even though the offense and quarterback Jake Medlock have shown vast improvements from the first day in pads, Medlock and company did not get out to the start they intended as the redshirt junior had his first pass intercepted by cornerback Sam Miller. That interception was one of two interceptions Medlock tossed on the day, the second coming from free safety Justin Halley towards the end of practice.
“I definitely think we started off slow but we started picking it up towards the end,” Medlock said. “We made a few mental mistakes overall but that is why we watch film. I can do a lot better, receivers ran great routes and running backs did really well.”
Medlock also believes that the biggest change he’s had to adjust to so far is the difference to Turner’s system from the system ran by former Head Coach Mario Cristobal. In Turner’s system, Medlock is more under center and less in shotgun formation.
“We have worked every day, offensive line, receivers, everyone making sure we know the playbook inside and out. The coaching staff is introducing the overall playbook little by little so we can make sure that we understand it and critique the mistakes that we make to have it where we can run the offense to perfection in the fall.
The Panthers are loaded with inexperienced players, especially on offense as the offensive line consists of five new starters. A few notable returning starters included Medlock and running back Kedrick Rhodes.
The defense also lost a few key defensive players in safety Jonathan Cyprien and defensive tackle Tourek Williams, both whom are projected to be drafted in the upcoming NFL Draft. The defense returns a plethora of standouts including defensive end Paul Crawford, defensive lineman Greg Hickman and cornerbacks Miller and Richard Leonard.
Defensive tackle Isame Faciane, who started last season alongside Crawford, has not played a single down of spring practice as he’s out with a shoulder injury. Don’t expect to see Faciane on the field at all for spring football as team doctors estimated Faciane won’t be able to return to normal football activities until May.
Despite Faciane not be able to practice, the defense has shown tremendous improvement from last season. Every practice the defensive line sacks the quarterback more than once. The defensive backfield also has their fair share of highlights as they average two interceptions a practice.
According to Turner, Leonard has shown great improvement and looks to have a breakout year for the defense. Leonard is confident in his abilities and embraces the challenge.
“With the new coaching staff, they are leaving me on an island so I feel comfortable. They are letting me be me,” Leonard said. “I am confident enough to go up against anyone in the country.”