The Owls finished off their first week of training camp Saturday with an intra-squad scrimmage that pitted the first-team offense and defense against each other on Chodoff Field. The score was not kept during the scrimmage, but referees attended and the play clock was used to keep the pace up to game speed.
Head coach Matt Rhule, while impressed with some individual performances, hoped to see a little more enthusiasm from the team as a whole.
“I was looking for a little more energy, I know it’s been a grind camp but I was maybe looking for a little more juice,” Rhule said.
Despite the lack of energy, Rhule was happy with the physicality of his team during the two-hour scrimmage.
“We had a lot of good physical contact,” Rhule said. There was back and forth, we protected the ball on offense for the most part and the defense got to the quarterback.
Dixon and Fitzpatrick have big days
Running back and wide receiver, arguably the two deepest and most competitive positions on the team, just got a little more interesting.
Hassan Dixon, who started the day off with the third-team, found himself fighting back up the depth chart after numerous showcases of his ability to gain big chunks of yards.
“It was great having the opportunity to show what I can do. It’s good being able to run tough and have confidence on the field,” Dixon said. “It’s very important [to seize reps]. We’ve got about six or seven running backs so every day is a competitive day, so you’ve got to come with whatever you’ve got every day.”
Rhule believes that Dixon’s development throughout the scrimmage displayed what he is capable of.
“Hassan had some big runs early,” Rhule said. “[He’s] got tremendous speed, he’s got burst. If he breaks one he’s got a chance to go, so today was a big step for him… It was a real step for him today, to stop jittering and just using what God gave him, which is just true speed.”
In addition to Dixon, wide receiver Jalen Fitzpatrick showed out during the scrimmage, most notably breaking off a 99-yard touchdown from backup quarterback Connor Reilly.
“Jalen has been focused, he’s been going 100 miles an hour, he’s done great work inside as well as outside. That big play threat is exactly what we need.” Rhule said, “I expect him to be a leader and I expect him to be a dynamic threat. I challenge our staff to get him the ball. … I want to get the ball to him and really let him be one of the finer inside receivers in our conference.”
Fitzpatrick not only welcomes those expectations, but he shares them with his coach.
“I’ve got the same expectations for myself,” Fitzpatrick said. “I’ve been preparing the entire summer, whether it’s going out there and doing things on my own or doing things with P.J. I’ve just been preparing for it.”
Young quarterbacks show promise
While all eyes were on starting and backup quarterbacks P.J. Walker and Connor Reilly, the biggest plays were actually made by the younger quarterbacks Lenny Williams and Tim DiGiorgio.
Williams was made eligible for contact, or “live”, by Rhule early in practice, a decision that seemed to bring out a level of elusiveness from the true first-year signal caller.
“When you come out here with quarterbacks that don’t get hit, they have a tendency to sit there and tap the ball forever and it’s a bad habit,” Rhule said. “We wanted to see what Lenny could do and he showed real toughness running the ball and throwing the ball.”
“We know what Lenny is on tape from high school but it doesn’t always show up in practice because he needs that other element of running and making people miss, and he was definitely doing it out there today,” Rhule added.
DiGiorgio also showed poise with the younger group of Owls, throwing two touchdowns during the day. A redshirt freshman, DiGiorgio acknowledges the importance of doing well with the limited time he sees.
“[Lenny and I] kind of push each other to make each other better,” DiGiorgio said. “I really need to take advantage of the chances I get. Connor is locked in at the two and P.J. is locked in as the starter, so whatever reps I can get, I have to make the most of them.”
EJ Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ejsmitty17.