It’s not helpful when an offense loses part of its attack because of the weather.
Appalachian State’s first open scrimmage showed flashes of both new and old on Saturday while gusts whipped around Kidd Brewer Stadium.
Eli Drinkwitz, the Mountaineers’ first-year coach and offensive coordinator, said he’s focused the offense on establishing rhythm, attacking the defense and execution within his system. But that mission was slightly harder to execute the morning of practice.
“When you’re attacking the defense, it’s with a dominant downhill run game, it’s with vertical passing and horizontal spacing,” Drinkwitz said. “And so you’re going to get the ball to playmakers in space.
“Today, there were some 25 mph winds so throwing the ball vertically down the field was a little bit of a challenge, so we decided we were going to come out there and space them out and try to get the ball to playmakers in space and see if we could establish the run just a little bit.”
The day was highlighted, scoring wise, by two Chandler Staton field goals and touchdown runs by Camerun Peoples and Jackson Gibbs. The short scurry by Peoples, however, was preceded by easily the best catch of the day.
Collin Reed, a senior tight end, and safety Desmond Franklin both went up for the ball on a pass down the middle of the red zone. Franklin looked to have the play broken up, but Reed reached out and caught the ball behind Franklin’s back. Naturally, the offensive side of the field whooped.
“It really shouldn’t have even happened,” Drinkwitz said. “It was a fourth-down call. I made us go for it, so it really wasn’t fair to the defense, but it’s a great play catch by that young man. It’s always good, gets exciting when you see a guy make a play.”
The offense showed off a heavy diet of short passing plays, including to backfield players. Darrynton Evans, Marcus Williams, Peoples and Daetrich Harrington all appeared in steady rotations, and all of them got work out in the flats. That was something former App State coach Scott Satterfield did as well, but much less frequently than just pure handoffs.
Evans said he feels comfortable with the group’s pass-catching ability, and he is confident it will continue the grow by the way coaches are teaching their new roles.
“They’ve done a good job installing stuff,” Evans said. “Like with getting time to where it’s not too much at one time, and it’s spaced out good enough to where we can pick up on whatever we need to learn.”
Saturday’s receptions became another example of Harrington’s quick recovery. A redshirt sophomore, he tore the ACL in his right knee last February but still managed to appear in two games late in the season. Now, a full calendar year past his setback, and Drinkwitz had no complaints with Harrington.
“Trainers say he’s full go, he says he’s full go,” Drinkwitz said. “Other than that, it’s just position coach rotating him in and trying to get him back into full speed and trusting himself and trusting the game again.”
The offense’s focus was initially disrupted by the defense. The first series for the for the first-team offense lasted only two plays. The first, a pass, was broken up by Shaun Jolly on the right side of the field. The second featured quarterback Zac Thomas threading a pass to Malik Williams, which bounced off the slot receiver’s hands and into possession of lurking safety Josh Thomas.
The unit, which returned seven starters from last season, worked out of the 3-4 base that Ted Roof, App State’s defensive coordinator, promised.
Drinkwitz was asked how much freedom the defense had to pressure the transitioning offense. Drinkwitz indicated the team wouldn’t improve as a whole if he tried to hold the defense back.
“We’re not putting limits on anybody,” Drinkwitz said. “We’re trying to improve on fundamentals and technique. And we’ll get to the scheme. We’re laying the foundations. We’ll get to the scheme when we get into the season. But right now, we’re just trying to improve individually, which is the goal in the spring.”