First things first: Today's Spring Game was an entertaining affair that was full of big plays for the offense (including a Shaw-to-Byrd TD bomb to open the game), some nice-looking interceptions, and a 51-yard FG as time expired. That's what's important, because the game is principally intended to entertain fans who are looking for a good time during the off-season.
Of course, the obsessive fan in many of us drives us to try to determine what we can know about this fall's team based on the game. As I've said before, the game should be taken with a grain of salt. Half the team sits it out, many of the projected starters only play a handful of snaps, and the play-calling on both offense and defense is about as simple as it gets. But still we try to make something of it, so here goes with my impressions:
--Quarterbacks. Connor Shaw didn't play much at all, but he did play well while he was in. The TD to Byrd was underthrown a bit (Byrd got way behind the defense and had time to slow down to make the catch and then sprint into the end zone), but Shaw's passes were fairly crisp and accurate and he didn't put the ball in danger. Of course, we know he can do that, and the real question is whether he's learned to know when to stand up in the pocket, and we didn't get a look at that today because there wasn't much attempt to put pressure on the QBs.
Dylan Thompson was the QB who got the most work today, and he looked very solid. Nothing spectacular (his attempt at a long pass was picked off, but that was more of a great defensive play), but he worked his progressions well and moved the chains consistently. I could see myself not being totally freaked out if we had to go with him due to an injury to Shaw, as long as it wasn't one of the tougher games. Seth Strickland, reportedly Thompson's rival for the backup spot, didn't play particularly well and didn't get much work. Tanner McEvoy got a lot more attempts, and, albeit mostly against unknown defensive players, he looked good, particularly considering that he hasn't played well for most of the spring. Based on today, I'd say he's Thompson's competition, but then again, that's just based on an overglorified practice.
--Offensive Line. Again, we're talking about a game where there weren't many defensive wrinkles shown, but I thought the offensive line looked solid. Brandon Shell looks much matured and played a good game, I thought. I also noticed that Will Sport won an award from the coaches for having improved over the off-season. Unfortunately, I didn't really get a look at him during the game, but it's good to hear some of the backups are maturing.
--Wide Receiver. We were without some of our best secondary players in this game, but still, I thought the wideouts looked good, too. Nick Jones, K.J. Brent, and especially D.L. Moore looked especially good. Ace Sanders looked great while he was in, and of course Damiere Byrd had the big breakaway catch. I don't know if any of these guys are going to be the next AJ1, but now that we have a QB who goes through progressions well, maybe that's not such a big problem.
--Runningback. Spurrier generally doesn't run the ball much in these games in order to protect his backs from injury, as well as because he likes to put on a passing show for the fans. Therefore, we didn't get to see a whole lot here, and most of the carries we did see were from guys who won't get meaningful carries next year. That said, I didn't see anything from Kenny Miles or Brandon Wilds that was worrisome, and both did some nice work catching passes, too. I really hope Miles comes back for next year, as it looks like he'll be given every opportunity to the second-string back.
--Defensive Line. The main thing I noticed here, and one thing I was hoping to see, was that Byron Jerideau looked good stuffing the run. Of course, that was against a pretty flavorless running game, but still.
--Linebackers. Nothing really caught my eye here. Reginald Bowens had a nice forced fumble.
--Secondary. As the numbers suggest, the secondary got roughed up a bit today. The best thing it can say is that it featured the five leading tacklers, which of course isn't a good thing at all. There was a walk-on named Jared Shaw who had an extremely impressive interception and some other good plays, and Spurrier singled him out for praise after the game. Before you get freaked out, though, don't forget that we were without some of our projected starters, and the secondary had to work without the benefit of a pass rush.
--Special Teams. Adam Yates looked very nice, I thought. Did well on kickoffs and knocked through a nice 51-yard FG.
One other thing to mention is that our team looks to be in excellent shape. Jerideau looks like night-and-day from when he arrived a couple of years back, and the coaches singled him out for praise for his work ethic in the weight room. Miles also looked like he had been hitting the weights pretty hard. Same for Shell, among others. Everything I've seen so far suggests that S&C coach Joe Connolly has picked up right where Craig Fitzgerald left off, and that the players are clearly buying into what he's selling. After seeing S&C make such a big difference for us late last season, this is really great to see.
That's a wrap for me. What are your thoughts, GABA readers?