Near the conclusion of the Owls’ practice Saturday afternoon at Chodoff Field, running back T.J. Simmons lined up in the backfield.
The ball was snapped and the freshman received an awkward handoff, causing him to bobble the ball as he ran past the line of scrimmage.
When he collided with the defense, Simmons fumbled the ball and the defense recovered.
It was just one of the multiple fumbles and miscues by the Owls’ offense and defense on the day.
“I thought it was pretty sloppy,” coach Matt Rhule said. “A lot of penalties, a lot of turnovers, defense gave up some big plays — some of them got called back — but too many big plays.”
The Owls, who will hold another intrasquad scrimmage on Aug. 22, used today to see where the players stand going forward.
“We do this first scrimmage to see to get a better idea about the positions and who is going to play,” Rhule said. “Then we try to build some cohesiveness from here on out.”
Rhule said junior quarterback P.J. Walker did not turn the ball over during the scrimmage, which is something the coaching staff has emphasized heading into this season.
“That is our No.1 focus with him right now,” Rhule said. “That is crucial for him.”
As for who will be backing up Walker, there is no front runner.
“We look at it like they tell us,” Rhule said. “Their play tells us who is the No. 2 and we don’t have that right now.”
But Rhule said redshirt-freshman quarterback Frank Nutile has impressed the coaching staff this summer.
“Frank Nutile has had a great camp so far,” Rhule said. “He has done a nice job throwing the football and minimizing the mistakes. So he has taken some steps for us.”
When watching the freshmen, Rhule said he is looking for a specific style of play and defensive back Delvon Randall caught the coach’s eye on Saturday,
“Delvon Randall really stood out to me,” Rhule said of the freshman. “We are looking for a certain level of toughness with freshmen and Delvon is really physical and made some big plays.”
Daishaun Grimes and Chapelle Russell were two freshman linebackers that stood out not only Saturday, but all summer.
“It is a little overwhelming for them at times,” Rhule said. “They definitely have a lot of talent. You turn on the film and watch Chapelle [Russell] and you say my goodness. You watch Deshaun Grimes, my goodness, they are flashing. But the consistency and the way we practice can be overwhelming at times.”
Rhule also said that two freshman offensive linemen may have an immediate impact this year.
“I can see them playing this year — Benson Israel and Jovahn Fair,” Rhule said. “They have come in and really given us the depth inside.”
Safety spot continues rotation approach
The safety position brings back four players who saw significant time last year. Redshirt-seniors Will Hayes and Boye Aromire, senior Alex Wells and redshirt-junior Nate L. Smith all saw playing time in nine or more games last season.
As they did a season ago, the Owls will use a rotation of the four and possibly others at the position.
“We roll them,” Rhule said. “Just like we kind of did last year in the games we rolled them. Will’s banged up. Alex Wells is banged up, so we’re trying to constantly roll them and bring the young safeties along.”
With some experience playing together in 2014, the safeties have become a tighter unit this summer.
“Alex Wells, Boye, Will Hayes and myself and we also have the young guys coming up, we’re starting to gel together,” Smith said. “When we’re on the field we communicate more and we just know what’s going on like what each other are going to do.”
Jyquis Thomas, a redshirt-freshman who Rhule said has “a lot of talent”, stood out to Smith early on this summer.
“Jyquis, he’s a good kid,” Smith said. “He’s still learning. He’s still maturing, but under our guidance he’s going to be a good player.”
In their first game-like action of the season, Smith said the main focus for the safeties and the rest of the defense was effort.
“Running to the ball, hustling,” Smith said. “As you can see you never know when the ball’s going to come out or when somebody is going to catch an interception…You run to the ball that’s pretty much it. You have a chance to get it and give it back to our offense.”
Rhule said that sophomore wide receiver Adonis Jennings has a “lingering knee that has limited him a little bit” … Along with being a wide receiver, redshirt-senior Robby Anderson will return punts and junior running back Jahad Thomas will be the team’s kickoff returner … Redshirt-senior offensive lineman Eric Lofton did not participate in the scrimmage due to an injury … Rhule said freshman defensive lineman Josiah Bronson left the scrimmage because of an injury.
Michael Guise and Owen McCue can be reached at email@example.com