March 23, 2012
Houston, Texas -
Practice 2 Update - March 23, 2012
Houston Football was back in action on Friday afternoon, completing their final practice without pads before suiting up fully tomorrow afternoon (3:30 p.m. on the practice fields). The intensity was high during Thursday's initial workout and the pace was solid again on Friday. In fact players seemed a little more in the groove on Friday, not a surprise since the club worked out most of the "first-practice jitters" the day prior.
The highlight of the practice was the team segment that saw sophomore quarterback David Piland look very sharp working against the No. 1 and No. 2 defenses. Piland opened the workout hitting his first six passes, four of which went to different receivers (Isaiah Sweeney, Daniel Spencer twice, DeAndre Perry twice and Dewayne Peace).
The defense certainly didn't back down despite Piland's hot start and got their first touch on the 6-foot-3 sophomore when senior Ameen Behbahani broke through the line to record a sack. Kent Brooks jumped a route to break up a sure completion later in the team portion to record a pair of big highlights for the defense.
Perhaps the defensive play of the day came from sophomore Everett Daniels, making a one-handed interception on a pass from Bram Kohlhausen. Playing just his second day at defensive end Jon Witten recorded a sack on Crawford Jones and both Zeke Riser and Lloyd Allen batted down throws at the line of scrimmage.
"I thought we looked good today," Head Coach Tony Levine said. "I reserve a little bit of judgment until we put the pads on tomorrow. There are some guys that can run really fast, put their hand up and catch the ball over the middle that might not be able to do that so freely once the pads get put on, so I think we are all anxious to see how they perform tomorrow afternoon."
Another Cougar who performed well was junior punter Richie Leone. Leone was of course a semifinalist for the Ray Guy Award and was booming kicks all afternoon, including a long of 59 yards vs. a rush. Leone (unofficially) averaged 49.4 yards on 11 punts, including an average of 52 yards vs. a rush.
Houston returns to the practice fields on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. The club will be in full pads for the workout.
Spring Practice Overview:
Houston gets 15 total practices in the spring, including the annual Red & White Spring Game, which will be held on Friday, April 13 at 7 p.m. at Robertson Stadium. Each practice, including the Spring Game is free / open to the general public. Click HERE for a complete (updated) Spring Football practice schedule.
All practice times and locations are subject to change, so please check with UHCougars.com and follow us on Twitter at @UHCougarFB for more information.
A Spring Look At The Specialists:
Teams that win the battle on special teams often win the football game and Houston's success in special teams since the arrival of Levine had a huge correlation to the club's success on Saturdays. Levine of course has taken over the head coaching duties for 2012, but has added another special teams coaching star with the hiring of Jamie Christian, who helped develop one of the more explosive kick return units in college football at Arizona State.
Christian will also work with the inside receivers, but the California native has a knack for developing play-making special teams groups and he has a strong returning nucleus, highlighted by all-league kickers Matt Hogan and Richie Leone. Hogan was college football's most active kicker in 2011, breaking the NCAA record for consecutive extra points made (78) and finishing No. 2 in NCAA history with 91 total PATs made.
Leone was a semifinalist for the coveted Ray Guy Award (National Punter of the Year) and averaged 41.1 yards, despite seeing limited action with Houston's impeccable offensive attack. Leone had 12 boots of 50+ yards and had 15 more downed inside the 20.
Two hidden keys to that kicking success was the near flawless play of holder Crawford Jones and snapper Brandon Hartson. Jones will compete at quarterback in 2012, but did an excellent job holding for Hogan during his record-breaking campaign and catching the snaps of Hartson, undoubtedly one of C-USA's best at his position in 2012.
"It sure makes it a lot easier when you don't have to find those guys," Jamie Christian said of his returning kicking units. "Those guys are veterans, you know what they can do and it really is a foundation for helping us to get started. That allows me to focus more on scheme and technique with the guys up front. We will still work with Matt, Richie, Brandon and Crawford quite a bit, but we certainly like what those guys have done and value how important they have been to the program for the last few years."
While the kicking game is back, the return game will have some exciting new faces with the departure of Tyron Carrier, Patrick Edwards and Michael Hayes. In short, the competition is wide open at this point, but should start narrowing its way down as spring ball progresses.
"There are a bunch of names we are going to look at early on in the spring," Christian said. "I have eight or nine guys that I will have returning punts the first few days, but as we go we'll be able to whittle that list down and find that corps group of returners we really want to consider for next fall."
As for coverage and return units Christian has one tried and true philosophy:
"Keep it simple," Christian said. "If you keep it simple and your players know exactly where they need to be and know their responsibilities, that allows them to play faster. You have to play smart and fast on special teams and that has been the reason for our success over previous years."