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August 19, 2010

Kicker gets payback, Vereen gets some snaps

BEKELEY-Giorgio Tavecchio didn't have the best end to practice on Wednesday afternoon, missing a do-or-die kick that cost his team eight gassers. That's not even counting the 75-row climb up Memorial Stadium's eastern stands afterward.

But, to end Thursday's light morning practice, Tavecchio made kicks from 27, 31, 35, and 44 yards. The kicker was, to say the least, happy with his redemptive effort.

"We just did field goals at the end with the team, I had a bit of a tough day yesterday so it was really big for me to come back and have a big day today," Tavecchio said. "I feel like I had a good day, in terms of contact and execution. I made them all-obviously that's what I'm trying to focus on."

Tavecchio has no idea what went wrong the day earlier. He had done all the right preparations and motions, but the ball just wasn't falling through the uprights.

"Honestly I don't know," said the 5-foot-8 junior. "I felt really good, I had really good warm-ups and stuff like that all before and it felt really good in the scrimmage. In the end we had kicks for conditioning and I missed a couple. I have this thing where I don't look at the ball and I didn't look and the ball usually stays in.

"It's really frustrating; I made the team have to run eight gassers. As a kicker that's the worst feeling ever, when you cost the team something like that. So I had to get that day behind me and I did so today."

Head coach didn't appear to be all too concerned by his starting kicker's performance the day before.

"Actually during the scrimmage he kicked real well, but then at the end," said Tedford. "He only had a couple of kicks at the end so I don't think he was really loose, so that's not really indicative of him. We had a back-up snapper in there that hasn't snapped much and so the holds were kind of off so it was nothing to be alarmed about."

Tedford had praised Tavecchio's kickoffs in the scrimmage, as well. Tavecchio is happy with the way he has been kicking the ball off the tee, but knows there's always room for improvement.

"I felt pretty good. I feel like I'm getting more consistent but there's still a long way to go," said Tavecchio. "I'm getting the hang time I want, getting the distance I want, just want a little bit better location. There's always work to be done to get better."

Throughout camp, we've seen the special teams unit occasionally participate in tackle drills to prepare themselves for any worst-case scenario. If an opposing player manages to break throw the lines, Tavecchio knows what he will have to do.

"I got to find a way to get him down obviously," he smiled. "I think it's tough even if he's standing still and I'm going full speed to hit him, but I'm kind of on my heels and the guy usually goes full speed. It's a very important drill I think and I take it very seriously.

"Last year I was lucky enough to make a trip tackle to save almost a game-winner. So we do that drill almost twice a week. I obviously don't want to have to make the tackle, because I know our guys can cover the kick very easily if I do my job, but if it comes to it I got to make that happen."

The theme of Thursday as a whole might as well be rest. A day after "situation-practice" (Tedford's preferred name for scrimmage), the team came out in only helmets, resulting in no contact. Thursday's afternoon workout will be just formations.

"We've been hitting a lot and you get to the point of camp where, we've banged them a lot, they've run hard and so now the focus today is to get their legs back and get them fresh; be ready to practice for the next two days and then another fresh day on Sunday to be ready for Monday's practice," Tedford said. "You get to a certain part of camp. We had 101 plays yesterday, so they played hard. We had some guys who were taking sixty plays. They're really banged up, they're legs are dead-you can see they're dead-legged, that type of thing-so part of the whole deal is to get them back fresh so we can get something out of our next situation practice."

After today's morning practice, Tedford again shared a list of which true freshmen will see significant playing time when the whistle blows on Sept. 4. The list of usual suspects includes linebackers David Wilkerson and Nick Forbes on defense, and tight end Jacob Wark as well as all the new receivers on offense.

Defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast spoke after practice on his goals for the defense going forward, as the team continues to install more and more complex elements of the playbook.

"Well, we just want to play smart, tough, competitive football. Want to keep it simple for our guys so they can play really fast," Pendergast said.

On the topic of Forbes and Wilkerson getting some early snaps as true freshmen, Pendergast pointed out that the more looks and the more linebackers he can throw into the mix, the more inscrutable the defense will be to opposing offenses.

"It helps to have more linebackers on the field, but you got to have the right linebackers who can run," Pendergast said. "We're going to be a multiple defense, but you have got to have guys who can run. We've got a lot of work to do. We have made some progress, but it needs to be more consistent."

While fellow freshman Wark may see some snaps along with his recruiting classmates, the starting tight end is most certainly still Anthony Miller, upon whom Tedford lavished plenty of praise.

"He possesses some strong hands and a lot of strength, and that's evident on the line of scrimmage as well," Tedford said. "But he's a big body and he can shield people away from him. He's an every-down player. We pretty much play with a tight end on every snap, so he plays a huge role in route running, pass protection and run blocking. The tight end is an integral part of what we do."

The Bears' skipper is also very pleased with the ongoing and exciting competition between the receivers and secondary each day.

"(It's) been very healthy, very productive," Tedford said. "When you can run routes against real good corners and can cover real fast receivers, you are really simulating something that's real. So, I think it's been real healthy and a lot of competition on both sides.

Tedford confirmed that redshirt freshman Steve Williams can absolutely compete for a starting job at corner, and spoke at length about both he and Marc Anthony after the morning session.
"Corners are doing fine, I think there's some depth there. With Darian Hagan and Bryant Nnabuife, Steve Williams, and Marc Anthony is playing really well. I've been pleased," Tedford said. "(Williams) has had some great days. Again he's a little bit banged up, he had a thigh bruise, but when everybody's legs are fresh he's really doing a nice job. Marc Anthony, he had a great day yesterday. Playing the pass and playing the run; he did a really nice job."

Tedford was also asked about the academic progress of his players, to which he also had good news to report.

"I'm really pleased with the academic progress of a lot of people. I thought they did a real nice job through summer school and some of the guys for whom it's been a real hard challenge through four years are about to graduate," he said. "So it's been real gratifying to see how they've battled through some academic challenges and figured it out and become better students.

"I think they are gaining more confidence as people because of their academic success. First and foremost is for them to get their degree. Again the APR (Academic Progress Rating) came out and we're very high on the APR, second in the conference, so guys are getting it done in the classroom."

At the end of practice, the offense took turns shooting free throws at a basketball hoop in the end zone while the defense tried to throw a ten-yard pass into the center square of a passing net. In a fun-spirited relay, the offense managed to hit enough free throws to win it, followed by celebratory shouting and the entire defense doing push-ups. Tedford was quick to point out the drill's purpose afterward.

"Have a little fun," said the coach. "A little competition, have a little fun."

But when the offense and defense switched sides, the defense would end up hitting more free throws and getting to see the offense hit the turf for push-ups. I couldn't help but ask Tedford if there was any concern about his players winning in basketball two rounds in a row.

"No," chuckled Tedford. "Actually the offense got up to an early lead on the net but then Justin Cheadle got up and he couldn't come close. He got stuck for a while."

Notebook
Starting tailback Shane Vereen saw a bit of action in today's morning practice, being able to log some time in the huddle and running plays as he recovers from a tweaked hamstring that has sidelined him for almost all of fall camp thus far.


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