Coach Matt Rhule said following Saturday’s scrimmage that his team lacked energy, and he was “looking for a little more juice” in future training camp sessions.
Although perhaps not for an encouraged reason, offensive lineman Leon Johnson apparently received the message.
During a pause in practice Tuesday, the redshirt freshman took a swing at fellow offensive lineman Eric Lofton in the back of the helmet. A brief scuffle ensued, which was followed by Rhule lecturing Johnson on the sideline.
Rhule noted that although he doesn’t necessarily want his players fighting each other, he can understand where Johnson was coming from.
“When you’re 18, 19, 20, 21 [years old], you get frustrated and have a tendency to lash out at other people,” Rhule said. “Sometimes you get frustrated at other people, really when you want to lash out at yourself.”
Rhule says this accountability is something that is not limited to the practice field.
“It’s just telling the guys the key to life is being able to self-reflect and say, ‘I’m wrong here,’” Rhule said. “And when you’re that age, you want to keep lashing out at other people instead of saying that.”
Battle for time on offensive line
Looking at the other members of the offensive line, Rhule has continually been impressed with what those select players have accomplished, particularly in terms of team chemistry.
“The O-line meets out right behind my office,” Rhule said. “I walk in there, and [offensive line coach Chris Wiesehan] has just built that into a really, really tight room. It’s been a pleasure to watch.”
Two freshmen, James McHale and Aaron Ruff, may have a chance to play this season. Both have practiced extensively with the second team, but understand there is work to be done if they are to have any chance at all.
For McHale, the jump in speed from high school to college has been challenging.
“The biggest difference is definitely game speed,” McHale said. “Everyone is that good, everyone is a top-of-the-line player. It’s difficult and a big change, but I’m ready for it.”
For Ruff, it’s much of the same. But he hopes that the coaches continue to give him a chance to show them he can produce.
“[My coaches] are doing their best to try and keep me on the field,” Ruff said. “I just need to take that opportunity.”
Ruff added that his position coach in particular has helped him progress this summer.
“Coach Weisehan has been down my neck, doing everything he can to put me out on the field,” Ruff said. “He gave me a privilege to be with the second [team], so now I need to show him I can play second string.”
Near the beginning of practice, Rhule pulled his first-string offense off the field during an 11 on 11 drill, due to several missed assignments and an overall lack of energy.
“The communication on offense didn’t look as clean as it should be,” Rhule said. “We didn’t protect the quarterback as well, or run the ball as well. I just thought the defense had a lot more intensity.”
One player that struggled in particular was receiver Jalen Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick had several drops throughout the morning, and was personally pulled off by Rhule early on in practice.
Rhule stated the reason for pulling a senior and one of his top receivers is to set a high standard for everyone on Edberg Olsen Hall’s practice field.
“It’s constantly trying to teach personal discipline,” Rhule said. “As things go on, you have the tendency to not focus on the little things.”
Today was also a competition day for Rhule’s squad, but it wasn’t just to focus on individual players vying for certain starting spots.
“I wanted to challenge the offense versus the defense,” Rhule said. “Yesterday was a little more [first string versus second string] … but today was to create that energy amongst themselves.”
Steve Bohnel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SteveSportsGuy1.