by BigBlueInteractive.com Contributor SwirlingEddie
I could hardly call this a full report as I will leave that to the experienced fans who bring the proper tools and technique – binoculars, voice recorders, scribes, etc. Suffice it to say, I saw some great things tonight.
I missed the first half hour of practice but arrived in time to see the running backs practicing throws to the endzone corner from a goal-line pitchout. Who had the best throw, and the best catch? Brandon Jacobs, of course, who made a nice knee-high grab from Ahmad Bradshaw and who threw a nice spiral to a well-led Decori Birmingham.
Intensity picked up throughout the practice as the offense and defense merged onto one field. Amidst cries or “Tango” and “Omaha” I got to witness the speed of WR Sinorice Moss as he blew by CB Corey Webster on a go route. But Webster later made a nice interception when he adjusted well to a slightly underthrown ball. Our CBs are on their own often and the risk-reward was evident when WR Kevin McMahan made a nice catch on a long route down the sideline over CB Travonti Johnson’s head.
I watched the defense practice on its own for a while and noticed them working hard on passing off players underneath. LB Mathias Kiwanuka was getting close-up coaching from Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo here. But this work seemed to pay off when later, for example, I watched LB Kawika Mitchell cover TE Jeremy Shockey tightly in the two-minute drill, forcing Eli to look elsewhere and I saw LB Chase Blackburn read the play nicely, turn and help cover the deep middle on another.
Speaking of Shockey, he continues to demonstrate enthusiasm, chasing FS Gibril Wilson off the field after an interception (more on that later) and then ten yards beyond. Then when TE Kevin Boss made a nice grab for six it was Shockey again who was praising him up and down.
I was impressed with the activity of our defense. I watched DT Jonas Seawright looping around right end, blitzes from LBs, corners and safeties and I saw two blocked passes by defensive linemen, including one by Kiwanuka when he appeared to be lined up on DE Osi Umneyiora’s side again.
The line play is the hardest to evaluate for me in a practice, but I did focus on LT Guy Whimper for a few plays and he handled himself OK. First pass play the DE tried to beat him wide and Guy took him out there, but may have been pulling him down at the end. On the next, the DE made a strong outside rush then spun to the inside but Whimper moved right with him. The third play he blocked down nicely as other linemen pulled around behind him.
Shockey again caught my eye when he split out wide, but we ran a running play there, but on the next play Jacobs(!) split out wide. The throw went instead to a crossing WR Amani Toomer who caught the sharp pass in traffic from Eli which drew positive comments from the crowd. Speaking of Jacobs – that light at the end of the tunnel Gibril, is it really just an oncoming train? Gibril filled a hole nicely on one play only to have Jacobs lower his shoulder a little. A clap of thunder, an “OOOOOHHH” from the crowd and Wilson looked like a bug on a windshield.
I haven’t seen the other practices so I can’t say if this was indeed Eli’s “worst practice” as was written elsewhere. Indeed, as I watched the final “green zone” – goal line drill, I began to think that Eli had actually looked fine and that I hadn’t heard the usual up and down comments from previous seasons in a while…
It was then that Eli threw the ball in the endzone right into Gibril’s gut. Now maybe the receiver broke the wrong way, or something else went wrong, but it was one of those moments when all the bad thoughts come back into your head.
Fortunately this same drill included a great Dwight Clark-like leaping grab by WR Steve Smith and ended with a lovely Manning pass to Moss in the corner for six.
All in all it was a very energetic and upbeat practice and the players came off the field with some smiles. I had a smile too for after months of pessimism about this team I have begun to feel creeping optimism. Not that I expect great things this year, but our defense looks invigorated and will definitely make plays this year as will the offense. It may be a boom-or-bust kind of year, but I’m beginning to think at least it will be exciting, which may also mean heartbreaking – once again. But who knows, it’s only August!
Lastly, I’d like to say thanks to Marty in Albany who shared his smile and a bit of shade with me for a few moments. No pilgrimage to Albany would be complete without an audience with the master and it was a pleasure to meet him and shake his hand.