1. The first-team offense (white team) started slow, getting called for a hold, dropping a first-down pass, fumbling two snaps, fumbling a mesh and failing to gain a first down on its first three drives. But after that, the unit, piloted by quarterback Tim Byerly, started to get moving.
On the fourth drive, Byerly broke a tackle to gain a first down on 2nd and 5. Another keeper, a nine-yard gain, extended the drive on 3rd and 1. Finally, on a 3rd and 3 from the gold 40-yard line, Laskey broke a run up the middle 40 yards for a touchdown.
“He’s a tough kid,” coach Paul Johnson said of Byerly. “He doesn’t mind running the ball and putting his head down and doing that, so I think he’s got a chance to help us.”
The white offense followed that by going no-huddle and moving the ball from its 18 to the gold 20, where Byerly lost the ball, which was recovered by safety Isaiah Johnson and taken 86 yards to the end zone.
Byerly and Johnson spoke together at the post-game news conference. Johnson explained how the defense had kept score for turnovers throughout the spring.
“I believe that one put me in the lead,” said Johnson, quite satisfied with himself.
Said Byerly, sitting next to him, “You’re welcome.”
Byerly was at his best on the first drive of the third quarter, a 16-play, 77-yard touchdown drive that lasted nearly nine minutes. Byerly helped keep the drive going with good reads on a number of option plays.
“The second half, that first series, we ran it pretty much exclusively down the field,” Johnson said. “We did a pretty good job with that.”
(Before we go all crazy, Byerly fully understood the gravity of fumbling, particularly in the red zone.)
2. No. 1 quarterback Justin Thomas did not play, held out because of a shoulder injury suffered in last Saturday’s scrimmage. Johnson said that Thomas wanted to play, but was kept out as a precaution, particularly given the weather conditions. Despite that, Thomas dressed out and Byerly said was in his ear, asking him about what he was seeing.
“I think that’s great and a testament to Justin and his character that he’s not out there participating in the spring scrimmage and he’s still there helping me out,” Byerly said.
B-back Travis Custis did not play, held out for an undisclosed injury.
3. Among those who stood out: Gold-team defense (first team) linebackers Quayshawn Nealy (seven tackles, one tackle for loss), Tyler Marcordes (seven tackles) and Paul Davis (six tackles, one sack and two forced fumbles).
One aspect of going to a nickel defense as the base – which is really something more dictated by the offense than anything else – is that Davis likely won’t play as much as a second-string linebacker, if that’s how it shakes out. He is a fun player to watch, which is not to say that Nealy and Marcordes aren’t, just that Davis is.
“’Q’ was everywhere,” defensive tackle Shawn Green said. “Every time you look up, you see Q on the play somewhere.”
For the white team (No. 2 defense), defensive end KeShun Freeman tied with safety John Marvin for the team lead with four tackles. Johnson brought him up again after the game.
After saying that he noticed lineman Jimmie Kitchen, he added, “The other kid who keeps making plays is KeShun Freeman.”
The competition with him, incoming transfer Kenderius Whitehead and first-stringer Jabari Hunt-Days (Johnson said his move from linebacker is “probably” permanent) ought to be pretty healthy in preseason camp.
Johnson also was rather complimentary of Green, who has had considerable challenges staying healthy. He was able to make it all the way through the spring.
“Shawn had a good spring practice, I think,” Johnson said. “He’s quick, he’s a hard guy to cut off, he rolls his hips. If Shawn can stay healthy, I think he can help us. He looks like the player we recruited a few years ago. I think he’s kind of getting healthy and playing like we thought he could.”
Unrelated, but Green is looking for a marketing internship for the summer.
4. Among backups, quarterback Ty Griffin showed some elusiveness, running 15 times for 75 yards for the gold offense. B-back Matt Connors had nine carries for 32 yards. Wide receiver Corey Dennis made a nice over-the-shoulder catch on the sideline from Byerly for 28 yards. Linebacker Beau Hankins had three tackles for the white defense, including a sack.
5. I applaud the fans who made it out to the scrimmage. It was pretty miserable out there, with heavy rains that made it seem a lot colder than it was. That showed some pretty serious loyalty. I asked Isaiah Johnson what he would have done if he were a fan.
“It was on ESPN3, right?” he asked. “That’s all I’ve got to say.”