Carroll’s football team checked in on campus earlier in the week, and on Thursday took the field for conditioning drills, and then got the first taste of practice on Friday, practicing once in the morning and another evening session.
“Yesterday was just about testing and insertions,” Saints coach Mike Van Diest said of the team’s first organized activity. “We didn’t do anything special. Today was our first real practice. We had two good ones today in our helmets and shorts. The thing I liked about it is you get to come out here and put players in positions and line up in offensive and defensive position. You get to film for drills. All the stuff you’re doing in the summer, talking about, now you get to see yourself on film.”
While the Saints start getting tape, it’s also a chance for freshman to get acclimated. Players get to showcase the results from their summertime work.
“I like what Tanner Gustavsen is doing with the receivers,” Van Diest said. “Paul Hart and Joe Farris I think are doing a great job with the receiving corps and catching the ball. Eric Dawson has done a great job at tight end. It’s good having him back. He’s got tremendous hands. Great balance with his running routes. I like what he does there.”
Van Diest said having the young receivers showing promise early pairs well with established pass-catchers, like Connor Fohn and Troy Arntson, to give the Saints’ defense an early challenge in practice. The Saints’ offensive firepower gives the Saints as good of a look or perhaps an even better look at the likes of offenses they will see the Frontier.
“You look at the receivers from Tech… Rocky always has some great receivers… Southern Oregon and Eastern have some really good guys,” Van Diest said. “It really challenges us on defense and it will only help us down the road.”
And perhaps most importantly, these early practices give a first glimpse at players vying for starting jobs.
With the losses of senior cornerbacks Vince DiGiallanardo and Ryan Gregory, the Saints have an immediate need two new starting corners, and, beyond that Van Diest notes, really the top four corner spots.
“It’s still up for grabs,” Van Diest said of the corner spots. “We have five or six guys we’re looking at. I think there’s a few guys that have done well in the first few days. Only doing pass skelly without pads, you know they’re going to throw the football. When we get pads on and we can go first and 10 and second and 5 and the offense can run or pass the ball, that one really tests young corners. Not just the passing game, but also coming up in run support. Yeah we’ve got our work cut out there, losing the two seniors from last year. There’s a couple playing better than others. At the same time, I think there’s a lot of guys in the mix to at least make the travel squad and see some time.”
While it’s still early, and the Saints will have many more practices before their Aug. 31 opener at Montana Tech, here are a few more observations from practice:
1. Tanner Gustavsen looked sharp in 5-on-0 and 7-on-7 drills. Gustavsen completed most of his passes, hitting on a mixture of crossing routes and a few longer passes. Gustavsen gave Farris a lot of balls throughout the drills, looking especially comfortable throwing to the sophomore. Gustavsen put one deep ball on the money, but a drop by the receiver on the play spoiled an otherwise great combination.
2. Linebacker/defensive end Walker Ray and linebacker Alex Thomas coached up younger linebackers on Friday, walking the underclassmen through proper hand techniques and positioning to pass rush.
3. Isazah King, Drew Melton and Parker Bernhardt worked as the top three corners on Friday. The unit had its moments, but certainly gave up some passes, too. It’s too early to tell which corners will come away with starting jobs.
4. One of those passes went to Eric Dawson, who looked like he’ll be giving the Saints a big-time pass-catching element at tight end this season. In the 7-on-7 session, Dawson went deep on a fly, outjumping his defender and wrestling the catch to the ground.
5. David Barnett, the defensive end turned offensive lineman, Willy Clements, Joel Kramer, Tim Pays and Chris Emter took first-team snaps together on Friday. Beyond a few positional plays together, with the focus more on alignment than generating gaps and yards, it’s hard to make much of the lineup, especially until the team puts pads on and really blocks.
The Saints will put on shoulder pads for Saturday's two practices.