January 4, 2010

Army West notebook: Back to basics

MORE: Army All-American Bowl coverage

SAN ANTONIO - A center-quarterback exchange is supposed to be one of the most basic concepts in football.

However, for the West squad at Monday's U.S. Army All-American Bowl practice in San Antonio it wasn't that easy. All three quarterbacks on the West roster come from predominately spread offense systems where they only take snaps out of the shotgun. The same can be said for the centers on the West roster.

So for West offensive coordinator and Mission Viejo (Calif.) head coach Bob Johnson, most of Monday morning's practice at the Blossom Athletic Center was spent teaching quarterbacks Connor Wood, Austin Hinder and Jake Heaps how to take basic snaps from under center.

Johnson said he had an idea that none of the quarterbacks and centers had ever taken snaps from under center before, but he didn't realize it would set them so far back on Monday morning.

"This spread stuff is driving me crazy," Johnson joked. "Last year when I was training Pat White for the pros, he didn't even know how to put his hands under (the center). I'm used to it and I understand it. I don't like it and neither do the pro guys because they're under center. The trend is there for right now, it may swing back. Most of them haven't been under center.

"I think if you were at both practices you saw a big improvement, so it doesn't take long to get them going. The centers also had problems today too, it just wasn't the quarterbacks. The centers are used to snapping (shotgun). It's a combination of both and it's not easy. We are working hard at it, but hopefully with the progress we made between practices one and two really showed."

Johnson said everyone was very frustrated with how the morning practice went, as the West offense struggled to get many plays off in their team session, but by the afternoon he saw a drastic improvement. During the lunch break, Johnson had all three of his quarterbacks take 100 snaps under center before they came back out for the afternoon practice.

"This morning it was a suicidal type frustration to say the least," Johnson said. "I didn't expect much different though to say the least because I knew the kids and I knew the centers and I knew the quarterbacks and they are all 'gun guys'. Things looked a lot better this afternoon, but we certainly aren't there, but neither is the (East) team ... or at least I hope not."

Heaps said when he saw that Johnson was going to be the offensive coordinator for the Army Bowl, he knew that the quarterbacks would most likely be in a pro style offense and not a version of the spread.

In the 10 years of the Army Bowl, this is the first time the West team has ever ran a pro style offense, but Heaps said he's excited for the challenge because that's what he'll most likely run at BYU next fall.

"All three of us were all shotgun guys predominately," Heaps said. "We've all gone under center somewhat. It was definitely a new thing for us going under center. We really struggled in the morning practice, but as you saw we adjusted and it was a lot better for the second practice.

"Coach Johnson wasn't too happy and neither were we. We are all guys that come from winning programs and failing at something isn't something we like to do. We want to make sure we shore that up so we can actually have a practice."

FEATURING THE RUNNING BACKS

A big reason why Johnson is running a West Coast or a pro style offense with his team this week is so he can feature the talented running backs on the roster.

With names like Temple (Texas) five-star Lache Seastrunk and San Diego Mission Bay's Dillon Baxter, it's easy to see why Johnson wants to incorporate his running backs in the offense as much as possible.

"We have running backs in this game too, and there's not a whole lot you can do out of the spread," Johnson said. "You can do zone read and you can do some option stuff, but in past years they were mainly throwing it. We are going to run it and throw it. We've got running backs and hopefully it works.

"We'll be running some spread offense as well. We'll be in the gun and it will start tomorrow. We're running some gun, but we just had to concentrate on what they hadn't done yet."

DEFENSIVE LINE DOMINATES

With names like five star defensive ends Ronald Powell, Jackson Jeffcoat and Owamagbe Odighizuwa up and down the roster it shouldn't come as a surprise that the West defensive line dominated up front on Monday.

However, maybe the most impressive thing was that two of the better defensive linemen at Monday's practice weren't playing off the edge. Both Tulsa (Okla.) Booker T. Washington defensive tackle Calvin Barnett and Salt Lake City (Utah) Brighton defensive tackle Ricky Heimuli had big days for the West squad. The duo was very disruptive and caused havoc in the West backfield.

"They are a good defensive line," West offensive lineman and Nebraska commit Andrew Rodriguez said. "That's the best defensive line I've ever seen. (Barnett) is just a tremendous player. He's quick and he's like 330 pounds. He's a good player.

"When I played back home, I've never faced anybody like that before. They are good players and they pushed me to play the best I can play and they are going to make me a better player."

Heaps said he also felt the presence of the West defensive line on Monday.

"It's a great group of defensive linemen out there," Heaps said. "They were flying around and playing great. They had the advantage because they get more of an opportunity to use their natural talent and just play. It's more of a mental thing on offense. Our guys will start getting everything down in the next day or so. We'll start looking a lot better and things won't be as one sided as you saw today."

JUST PLAYING FOOTBALL

For Saint Paul (Minn.) Cretin-Derham Hall offensive lineman Seantrel Henderson, the best part about this week is just playing football.

Everywhere the five-star prospect goes he gets asked about recruiting, but when he's out on the field he can do what he does best.

"It's fun just playing football," Henderson said. "Everybody has their own personalities and it's just cool to interact with everyone and just play football. That's what we came down here to do."

Henderson said he immediately noticed the stepped up competition level right away on Monday.

That was never more apparent than during one-on-one drills when Odighizuwa put the nation's top ranked player on his back with an inside move.

"He got me," Henderson said. "As soon as I planted he came inside and I kind of fell back. That's just the start of it though, I've been playing basketball and I'm getting back in the groove."

MARK SANCHEZ CHECKS IN

Former U.S. Army All-American and current N.Y. Jets starting quarterback Mark Sanchez checked in with his former high school coach Sunday night after the Jets 37-0 win over the Cincinnati Bengals.

Johnson coached Sanchez at Mission Viejo before he signed with USC in 2005. Johnson said he's proud of what his former quarterback has accomplished in his first season in the NFL.

"I talked to him last night and we talk every week at least once," Johnson said. "We are obviously very, very close. It was tremendous. They didn't ask him to do too much last night, which is fine. They have to win football games and he's a rookie.

"He's had a tough time and he's had a great time. It's been a rollercoaster for him, but he knew it would be. We prepared him that way and we knew how rough it would be and how fast it would be in some of the things he'd try to force. He's a hell of a person and I love the guy."

QUICK HITS

  • Johnson said the West coaching staff threw as much at the players as possible on Monday just to see how they'd react.

    "We threw the kitchen sink at them today," he said. "Probably too much, but that's just my way of doing things. I like to throw everything at them, then drop a few little things, then keep reviewing everything."

  • Heaps said he was very impressed with the West wide receivers today, most notably five-star prospect Robert Woods.

    "Robert Woods did a great job today," Heaps said. "Ross Apo and Nate Askew also stood out today. They were able to go and get the ball pretty well. We are just trying to figure each other out, but we'll start clicking real soon."

  • Henderson said on average he gets about 100 calls or more a week related to recruiting, but he now keeps a special cell phone that only family and friends call.

    "I've got a business line and I've got a VIP line," Henderson joked.

  • The West squad held two practices from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Monday. They'll take the practice field for the same schedule again on Tuesday.




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