EVANSTON — The second day of practice for Coach Pat Fitzgerald’s team ended on a spirited note. As the team broke down at the end of the day, they came together and recited their main goal for this season: “Big Ten Champs.” Here are some other observations from an up-tempo day 2:
- The once highly-touted wide receiver prospect Kyle Prater looked dominant in one-on-one drills against the defensive backs, using his imposing size and strength at 6’5’’. But when it came to seven-on-seven, Prater looked slow and struggled to create separation for his quarterback.
- On the defensive side of the ball, the positional battle at strong side linebacker was heated. Sophomore Drew Smith had a few athletic pass breakups in the scrimmage and junior Collin Ellis looked healthy for the first time in a while. When discussing Smith and Ellis, Fitzgerald acknowledged that neither guy has pulled ahead of the other this early in camp. "If [there is] a definite separation [between Smith and Ellis], you'll probably see one guy play more than the other," Fitzgerald said. "If it's close, we'll rotate them, keep them fresh and away we go." Read more about this position battle here.
- Along with the linebackers, Fitzgerald has been impressed with the interior defensive line. He wants to temper expectations for them after two days without pads. "Helmets practices for d-lineman is really cool. I mean, the o-line can't block them. They have really small surface area. That's why you see all the guys in the NFL wear really small shoulder pads. They've had a couple fun days, but reality hits tomorrow when the big guys in the white jerseys can hit them back a little bit more," Fitzgerald said.
- Fitzgerald, along with the rest of the defensive staff, howled at their players to take the ball away from the offense by punching it out at the end of plays.
- After practice, Fitzgerald expressed pleasure with the team's strength and conditioning, complementing Director of Football Performance Jay Hooten on his program. "Our integrated approach with our athletic training staff and the way that we work with nutritionists is kind of all-encompassing in all aspects of [the players'] lives. I really like where we are headed down that road," Fitzgerald said. "I think last year was a really good indication of a full year of working through Coach Hooten and his staff's training and how we go about things."
- At the end of the day, Fitzgerald addressed his team with a calculated count of the number of smiles he saw. But, he was not too pleased with the amount of empty water and Gatorade bottles he noticed on floor of the weight room before practice, citing a lack of attention to detail.