If you go back and watch just one of the UND.com videos from yesterday's open practice, make it Charlie's presser. Don't get me wrong, the drills are fun to watch, and it's neat to see some of the youngsters in action for the first time. But to truly get a sense of where things are, you need to sit down and listen to the big man.
Coach was lively and jovial after practice yesterday, almost ebullient. There was a visible glint in his eye, and a shit-eatin' grin on his face. I daresay he's excited for the season, even though it's pretty much a rebuilding-- oh, wait, I shouldn't say that. Along the way he cast a few pearls of insight. Highlights, paraphrased:
Kickers. "Not close to making a decision on who's going to handle kickoffs nor field goals. Some guys are better than others on some days, but nobody has nailed down the job yet."
Quarterbacks. "QBs are progressing 'okay'. We're still installing the base offense right now, which will go through Monday's practices. After that we'll start tuning it and deciding what we're going to run, and with whom. Whoever it is, we'll be good enough to win. That's what I've learned. We'll be good enough to compete to win."
Receivers. "I really like the WR position. Everyone in the program is already a lot better, even from the springtime. The two freshman provide competition. Trying to find reps for everyone is difficult. We don't have time to wait around. You're either in the mix, or your ship has sailed. The receivers are feeling the pressure not just from the top down, but also from the bottom up."
Running backs. "We've got a lot of running backs that can play. You can win with any of the five of them. I'll figure out what to do as we get closer to gametime."
Armando Allen. "In recruiting we're trying to get more speed in the program. Whether it's Tate or Armando or Ragone, the one constant is that they're all very fast for the position they play. The more guys that have the potential to score when they touch the ball, as opposed to just a 10-yard gain, the better."
Freshmen playing? "There will be freshmen on the field in the first game, and it won't be in mop-up time. And it won't be just one. We're talking multiple. As you know I'm not afraid to play the best guy, and if he's a freshman, he's playing."
Why the entire defense had to do a lap right in the middle of the scrimmage. "Because we had 10 men on the field. I prefer we have 11."
Cornerback development? "The first year here I wouldn't play more than 2 or 3 guys at corner. You couldn't in good faith play nickel or dime because you were putting lesser players out there. Now if someone wants to play 4-wide against us, we can put 4 cover corners out there and feel good about our chances. Truthfully, we have even more than 4."
Standout players? "Toryan & Brockington, among others. The defensive line is physical at the point -- people are skeptical about the DL, but if you're standing where I'm standing you're not worrying as much, when you're looking at them 2-gapping and controlling the line of scrimmage. I'm pleased at the aggressiveness."
Depth? "We got a lot more players that can play. That's what I know. A lot more players that can play in a game. You ask me how well, I don't know that yet. But I do know I'm not going to blink an eye about taking someone out and putting someone else in. Because there was a time here when that wasn't the case. There was a time when the guy had to stay in because there was no one else to go. I feel a lot more confident now that there are a lot more players we can put on the field."
Position Flexibility? "It's the mentality of the coaching tree that I came out of that Corwin came out of, where you want to create flexibility. You do it with your OL, you do it with your receivers, your tight ends, other positions. Take a guy like Scott Smith. He's more valuable now because he can play inside and out. Now he doesn't need to be spectacular, it's just you're not afraid of putting him out there, because he knows what to do for both spots."
Working with Corwin? "Corwin and I are so much on the same page as far as our upbringing that when we talk, it's like we've been together for two decades."
Brian Smith going to see the field? "Absolutely. Let's talk about Brian & Kerry Neal. Both are 240-ish, strong as oxes, and lots of athleticism. In this defense you need those guys who can rush the passer and also get into coverage. Both of those guys are definitely on the depth chart."
Clausen not throwing long? "How many deep passes did we throw today? We didn't have many plays designed to be a 'Go'. Can Jimmy throw the ball deep? We'll have to wait until Sep 1 to find that out..." (and he smiled like the Cheshire Cat).
Freshman singing the alma mater? "It was marginal. It was terrible yesterday. After watching that game last year where the guys didn't know the alma mater, it's been a pet peeve of mine. I made the guys come in and practice. I made sure the captains and the leadership committee went over it, and they practiced. I think they know the words. But it was awful.
"But you practice stuff like that. We practice celebrating after scoring a touchdown, because some guys just don't get it. We practice chasing an interception on offense to go make a tackle. The alma mater might not seem like a big thing to you guys, but it means a lot to me. It's important that the guys know the words to the alma mater and the fight song. And I think they all got it."
Thanks to Matt Cashore for the photo above, and Michael S. for the video of the alma mater. Michael also took video of the rest of the team singing the Victory March.