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News and Notes from Lions’ practice: Lions’ WRs — pick your poison

September 3, 2009

In eager anticipation of a likely shootout against the team’s pass-happy NJAC foe Buffalo State (1-9 overall; 1-8 conf.), it was no surprise to see players pushing their teammates during a high-spirited Wednesday afternoon practice session, understanding that each passing day takes with it a precious opportunity to make final improvements prior to its Sept. 5 season opener.

But if you’d seen the way the wide receivers looked during the team’s one-on-one segment against the defensive backs, you’d have reason to think there was some kind of behind-the-scenes wager bankrolling (pun intended) the competitive atmosphere amongst the group, themselves.

Though I looked at my notes from time to time, scribbling a vague description of what looked like an upperclassmen-run clinic for aspiring wideouts everywhere, I can’t say I witnessed a ball intended for either Cam Richardson, Mark Gardner, Colin Weber, or Erik Hendrickson touch the turf.

In the few days prior to facing the nation’s 210th-ranked overall defense in 2008 (235 in Division III) four of the Lions’ projected starters dominated their opposition during the approximately 15 minute period. The display evidenced the extent to which the group has fostered and further expanded upon last year’s chemistry with its quarterback, Chris James, who enters his third season as the team’s primary passing option, exclusive of the limited action during his freshman campaign in 2006.

If this afternoon wasn’t a fluke, that won’t bode well for the Bengals’ defensive backfield in particular, that allowed an average passer rating of over 150 a year ago. Though the team didn’t perform statistically (or otherwise) well as a whole last season, it’s 225  ranking serves as just another item on an already long list of the team’s pedestrian (I’m being nice) 2008 campaign.

Though I wasn’t able to clear interviews with either coaches or players through the school’s SID office after today’s practice, the periodic instant-quotables (a la, “oh yeah, baby! Now that’s what I like to see!”) from offensive coordinator Bobby Acosta that echoed throughout the stadium suggested that my assessment isn’t too far from his expecations.

Here’s a brief synopsis of the news and notes from the afternoon.

  • Did I mention how well the receivers played earlier?

As far as I saw, the only player to have success stopping any of the starting-four was…well…Gardner, who dropped an obvious touchdown opportunity after he’d gained some hard-earned separation early during a go-route. Don’t worry though, he followed up his bone-headed mental lapse with a reception on his next repetition, a post-corner that left an underclassman watching the tail-end of the completion from the seat of his football pants.

  • Exclusive info: there seems to be glimpses of a JamesPicatagi touchdown production in the making

The tandem connected on every transaction during the period, most notably the first three-out-of-four, which went for six. Must be those gloves his parents got for him. I’m not quite sure yet how he’s going to be implemented in this week’s opener, but use your imagination–it seems like Pic’s that versatile and James is that talented.

  • Younger Lions aren’t showing signs of complacency

Usually after a long grind during training camp and when depth charts become more solidified, guys tend to fall off and develop some lazy practice habits. Aside from the afore mentioned highlight reel I got to see, I was most impressed with the spunk and gritty work-ethic of some of the younger guys, clawing (no pun intended) at every opportunity to maximize credibility with the coaching staff.

Wide receiver Mike Camastra continues to impress, not afraid to shake things up with some of the team’s core veterans–and sometimes getting the best of them. Though undersized, he’s a diligent route-runner and exaggerates fakes by throwing his entire body entering a cut–a more than adequate compensation for his height and weight.

Another young-buck at wide receiver, Luis Garcia, is a guy I’ve kept an eye on during camp and throughout the preseason. He’s a little on the lighter side too, but he’s got blazing first-step quickness and agility. His hands are nothing to frown upon and, dare I say it, he almost shows glimpses of similarities to a notable teammate, that guy named Richardson. I won’t be surprised if he’s given a chance to prove himself sometime soon.

  • Who says kickers get no love?

This afternoon’s practice concluded with a special teams’ segment, during which last year’s All-NJAC performer Marc Zucconi casually booted a few PATs–most of which smashed into the stadium’s chain-link perimeter about 20 yards behind the goal posts. Though punting is undoubtedly his forte–the senior from Marlton, NJ ranked 33rd in the nation in punting, averaging 38.45 yards per attempt–the kid’s got no issue kicking from the turf. He converted every last extra-point attempt of the period.

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