I have personally chugged gallons of orange and purple Kool-aid with all the optimism coming out of camp. Coaches are genuinely optimistic and media folks are adding fuel to the fire. I want to try to pump the brakes a tiny bit and attempt a moment of objective clarity before I go "All-In" and start yelling "spot the ball" to random people on the street (I'm this ready for football).
These are a few nuggets of optimism before I go full pessimist mode.
You want the name of a true freshman no one is talking about who has been good--really good? TE/H-back Garrett Williams. Williams is quickly and quietly asserting himself. If you remember back when he was recruited, we said he would be the first true H-back Chad Morris recruited who could block, run, and catch. In high school, he did a lot of blocking and running but has proven a viable passing threat. It is still the first week, but at times Williams is the best blocking TE on the field and with the #1 weakness (spoiler) being problems with the offensive line--you want a good blocking TE to help out. He should redshirt, but it is going to be awfully hard if he continues to perform as well as he is currently.
We actually have some talent at TE this year which is progressing. Jordan Leggett seems to be putting things together (although we heard this last year, I think it is actually true this year) as Leggett is more dedicated to blocking and isn't dealing with some minor lingering injuries. Cannon Smith and Milan Richard are in the mix and Jay Jay McCullough keeps rising out of the doghouse. I wouldn't expect much from Stanton Seckinger. He isn't completely healthy and tweaked his knee the other day in practice.
WR Trevion Thompson continues to impress. As I said at his commitment, I thought he was a take, but he is playing ridiculously well. Mentally he has put it all together after becoming overwhelmed early in camp last year. Deon Cain is third string, but it is because he has two guys playing like NFL WR's in front of him.
Did I say Christian Wilkins is a War Daddy? PAW Drills favor defensive lineman over offensive lineman, but Wilkins was once again impressive. He is very comfortable and doesn't hesitate to let the offensive lineman know just how well he is doing.
1. Offensive Line Struggles Continue
You don't lose Isaiah Battle and not have major questions at the Tackle position. Yes, Mitch Hyatt is going to do just fine, but he is having a bit of an adjustment. He doesn't like it and is tough as nails so he will let you know about it--but the question is how quickly can he acclimate and improve. Same with Jake Fruhmorgan. Hyatt and Fruh are well above average underclassmen when it comes to technique, which is half the battle, but they still need to improve their strength levels and adapt to the quickness of play. They will also likely shed ten pounds before the season starts.
Depth is again a major issue at the tackle spot. Gore is still up and down--thankfully we have Fruh. But Hyatt has no one behind him who you want taking meaningful snaps.
Don't for a second buy any of the "Eric Mac Lain can play there in a pinch" talk. Arms are too short and not enough quickness on the edge (largely due to sloppy technique and footwork on the island). He is steady on the inside. Maverick Morris is kind of an option but got moved inside for a reason as well. Taylor Hearn, surprisingly, has performed decently when he has moved to tackle, but this shouldn't be more than emergency spot duty.
Norton hasn't done anything to suggest he will improve this year--he was routinely pushed around his entire career thus far and weighed in 10 pounds less this year. Falcinelli is serviceable and Guillermo keeps working back into shape. Guillermo will keep rising the depth charts and will definitely work in the two deep by the time camp starts. Crowder needs to pass block better. Noah Green and Giella still need time to develop.
Same issues as in the past that have yet to improve. The first week in shorts definitely favored the defense, but the 11 on 11 drills haven't been good for the offensive line. Deshaun Watson is not getting any time in the pocket. They are making him look human, which is not a good sign. I don't think our defensive line is that insane (though they are much further along than I thought), but rather a reflection of the usual weak links in the O-line chain and a lack of cohesion.
Good thing we open with two powder puffs because we surely need them.
2. Kicking Game
When I said back in the Spring it was bad--it was no exaggeration. These guys make Ammon Lakip look like an All-American. Alex Spence isn't getting it done. Christian Groomes doesn't have any consistency and Greg Huegel may be our best option, but this isn't saying much. Lakip would step back in and immediately take the job back if the season started today. The question will be how rusty is Lakip after the layover and can he kick well in pressure situations on the road. Lakip is going to have a severe suspension--anywhere from 3-6 games--with the most likely being 3 games (it makes the Louisville game that much tougher). The current guys are below 50% overall on kicks so far in camp. Catman was near perfect, even in his freshman season.
Kickoffs are going to be an adventure. No reason it shouldn't go out of the endzone every single kick with the shortened distance. Amateur hour.
3. Depth Issues and Injuries
This is a problem for every team, but we are extremely thin in some spots. Obviously the offensive line is the main threat but you have issues at QB, LB, and DE. There is no one behind Watson right now. Nick Schuessler has an obvious ceiling and hasn't had a good fall camp. He was playing much better in the Spring. Kelly Bryant is a work in progress but one with a high ceiling. He needs to learn how to control his cannon of an arm to improve his accuracy and touch on passes. He also is developing more mentally. He will get there, but it will take some time. One thing which makes Watson special is the kind of touch he puts on passes. Some are bullets, but he also knows when to put more air on a ball or softly throw to the flat--not an easy thing to learn.
LB depth was hurt when Kendall Joseph got sidelined by an AC joint sprain. One of those lingering injuries you play through, but doesn't get a lot better. Joseph seems to be recovering, which is important because we really need him to have any quality depth at MLB. Korie Rogers is still a work in progress. Chad Smith might be called upon as a true freshman, which you never want. Jalen Williams has some moments.
We have a ton of depth at the Nickel/Strongside Linebacker position with Blanks recovering from injury and Wiggins and O'Daniel battling it out.
Defensive end is looking better than I expected entering camp. This is all because Austin Bryant and Clelin Ferrell aren't show signs of lingering injury issues with their knees. Richard Yeargin has also looked like a viable back-up candidate. If we had Ebo on the roster then there wouldn't be any cause for concern and we would have a legitimate two-deep with quality freshman able to step up if needed.
Seckinger and Choice are favoring tweaks to knees. Dye is still not back to his explosiveness that he showed two years ago, achilles injuries are unfortunately the worst. He also has had a couple of fumbles in practice. Brooks had a heel bruise and hasn't been able to stay above 200 pounds (biggest recruiting miss of the decade was taking Brooks first when Todd Gurley was still on our board). He still runs way too high and doesn't have natural instincts as a RB. Gallman looks about 5 pounds heavier from last year but will be about the same RB--good at a lot of things but not really an elite skillset. Davidson has regained some speed and Fuller runs well inside in short yardage and PAW Drill situations. Doesn't have any breakaway speed or great top end speed, which limits his effectiveness overall but runs pretty tough and could have a role.
***To finish on a positive note--Cornell Powell was basically told what I told you would happen: if you take official visits then you are going to have to decommit and we won't wait around and save your scholarship since this is #WRU (it wasn't that crass but that was the bottomline). He, of course, cancelled his officials (most of those official visit destinations had already filled up their slots and would think of Powell as back-up insurance to toy with as we approached signing day) and made the wise move. He is a quality WR that the staff targeted early and has invested a lot of time in. I think he remains solid.