There was an impressive crowd turnout for the second session (I imagine many people stayed nearby and grabbed lunched between practices.) One of the grounds crew said it was about 3000 for the morning practice, and about 1000 for the afternoon practice.
I set up shop near the Defensive Backs this time around. Coach Stewart was doing some individual coaching with his group, and they ran through various drills - mostly involving catching passes and footwork. They also lined up in various formations and made adjustments at the LOS.
One of the drills involved 2 DBs pairing up. One DB stands behind the other. The ball is throw overhead with the DB in front acting as the WR. The DB in the back is supposed to react to the 'WR' without turning his head to look at the ball. He is simply to put out a arm/hand and break up the pass. Neither DB moves, it is all reaction based.
Jammer looked great in this drill, as did Florence. Cromartie has extremely long arms, and broke up most of the passes easily. Overall, Jammer and Drayton Florence looked great in the drills. Cromartie flashed brilliance, but often times appeared to not take practice as seriously as the veterans. He seemed to have an attitude that reflected it was all easy for him. On multiple occasions he tried to show-boat and make one-handed catches that he dropped. If he used both hands, he would have had more catches. However, he did make some circus catches snagging the ball out mid-air with one hand. His range is incredible, and I imagine the coaches will drill the focus and technique into him. Marty was hanging near the secondary group and would often take Cromartie aside and coach him. At this point, Antonio Cromartie is clearly a rookie and looks every bit it. There is a long way to go, but I do not imagine he will beat Florence for the second corner position. Drayton looked crisp and focused throughout practice. Jammer would spend down time working on minor technique by himself. It is this kind of dedication that gives me hope about the secondary.
Marlon McCree (FS) already seems to have assumed a leadership role. He was calling the defense within the DB unit, and worked with Kiel (SS) in the starting group. McCree doesn't have the height that some of the other DBs in the unit have, but he is well built and thick like a linebacker.
During the 7 on 7 drills, Cromartie was often matched up against one of the big receivers like Osgood or Floyd. This is an early look, but Wade Phillips might be planning to use Cromartie against the opponent's biggest WR. Obviously this game is all about matchups, and Antonio Cromartie provides excellent size and athleticism to the secondary.
As for the offense, Gates looked excellent. He is an amazing player, and has some incredible moves for a Tight End. He was lined up out wide and caught a few passes near the sideline. Rivers worked the defense and Whitehurst was also good. Feely was bad, again. He is clearly hit or miss. He can make a great pass on one play, and a horrible one on the next. From afar, AJ Smith seemed to be disappointed in Feeley. As scary as it may sound, we will be going into next season with a new starting Quarterback and a rookie backup. From a size and skills standpoint, Whitehurst is easily the superior to Feeley.
New TE Brandon Manumaleuna is huge. He has the size of most NFL linemen. He can run and caught the pass thrown to him. The flexibility he brings to the offense in terms of being a pure blocker, and possibly a surprise red-zone threat either catching the ball or running it in from a fullback position is intriguing.
LT was LT...again, didn't do much but what he did was pure LT.
Sproles had some great run-backs during the special teams drills. Cromartie almost busted one, and Florence also took some kick returns as well.
Kurt Smith has the distance and hang time. He was kicking into the wind so it was encouraging to see that he put the ball with the wind about where Kaeding puts it without the wind.
DT McKinney is massive. He has the size of a 3-4 DT and could play a big role with this defense in rotation with Jamal.
I yelled out to Cromartie and Jammer frequently. Jammer acknowledged the love and returned a peace sign.
After practice, I had a chance to quickly speak to some players as they were signing autographs:
Foley looked great and said he is about 265 right now. When I said we want a Superbowl, he said "That's what I like to hear!" I told him we expect 10 sacks and a pro-bowl season. He seemed to like those expectations.
I went over to Castillo and gave him some props. I told him we want a pro-bowl season from him and 5 sacks. He replied "Five?! Five? - wow." I told him he could do it. He was still thinking about that number and repeated it once more with a smile "Five?!"
Drayton was signing autographs and I told him he was the man, and that we needed him. He said "Thanks" and I told him 5 INTs. He replied similarly to Castillo "Five?!" I told him he has the ability and could make the pro-bowl with a big season.
Philip Rivers was great with the fans. He signed about a mountain worth of gear, even with people being pretty demanding of him and not as nice as you would expect. Both he and Merriman step into a feeding frenzy with these fans. Its crazy, but they seem to have the patience for it and all the sob stories about 'Its my sons birthday' or 'we flew all the way from such and such.'
To Rivers, I told him he was our savior. I asked him to take us to the Championship game. He seems like such a leader out there - you really get the feeling that he is already a championship QB, even though he hasn't started a game.
Merriman looks great. I imagine he is around 260. He is slimmer but still has all that bulk.
The players hung around a while after practice and did all the media stuff and autograph/pictures stuff. It was great to see that they appreciated all the fan support and would hang around and interact with the fans.
Check out my report tomorrow for Sunday's practice.
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