Apr 062008
 
Authors: Nick Hubel

“That’s a big time play, baby! That’s a big time play!”

Gartrell Johnson ran down the left side of the field shouting in celebration, some 40 yards from where the play started. Smiling, he jumped into the air and touched backs with junior wide receiver Rashaun Greer, a twist on the classic chest-bump that everyone learns in Pop Warner.

Moments earlier Greer hauled in his second big catch of the scrimmage – a deep ball down the left side from quarterback Billy Farris. Greer trapped it on his hip as it came down, instantly taking a pad-cracking hit from safety Jarrad McKay rolling over the top to help. Greer held on, and had a 43-yard gain for the offense to show for it.

“Rashaun Greer showed up today in a big way,” offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach Greg Peterson said of Saturday’s scrimmage, the first of the spring for the Rams’ football team. “We need to keep having these guys make plays for us.”

Two weeks into spring practices, the roster is starting to separate into distinct groups. The mass of athletes separated by nothing but their numbers two weeks ago are suddenly developing into backups, starters and playmakers with every spring snap.

For the wide receivers, the progress has been steady, with flashes of brilliance marking their progression into the limelight. Of the eight receivers listed on the spring depth chart, four are starting to separate from the pack.

Junior Dion Morton, who was the heir-apparent for the top spot heading into camp, hasn’t done anything to ruin that expectation. The brother of former Ram standout Damon Morton, Dion brings the most in-game experience of anyone to this year’s corps.

Morton led the Mountain West in kickoff return average last year. His 26.8 yard average ranks fourth on the Rams’ all-time career list and was the 23rd best in the country last year.

Despite his undersized 5-foot-10 frame, Morton brings speed and big play ability to the team, in addition to his experience.

Behind Morton are Greer, sophomore Tyson Liggett, sophomore Brett Willis and redshirt freshman Matt Yemm. Greer has size and good hands, but some concerns about his consistency are still floating around the camp. Yemm is athletic and quick, and his background as a high school quarterback gives the Rams a degree of versatility that theywouldn’t otherwise have.

Willis had experience in two games last year, against New Mexico and Georgia Southern, but has yet to catch a varsity pass. Liggett, listed at

the bottom of the depth chart heading into camp, has moved up due to his reliability and effort. So are they ranked where they should be? Ask them, and they’re quick to pass the torch around.

“I think we all can bring a lot to the table,” Greer said. “At that point, we’ve all just got to push each other and be consistent and work hard so we can get everybody’s maximum.”

Morton echoed Greer’s feelings, but did say (with a big, Morton-trademarked smile) that he would like to think he is the go-to-guy.

“At any given time, depending on if your number is called or not, anybody can be in that situation. I’ve got pretty good faith in all of our receivers to make plays,” Morton said.

Coach Peterson said that when players take that torch and make big plays in practice like Greer did on Saturday, it raises the bar for everyone and makes the whole team better.

“I’ll tell you what I told (Greer) today. I told him, ‘Rashaun, you’ve raised the bar. I’m going to make those two catches a highlight tape for you and every time I see you not attacking the football, we’ve got problems,'” Peterson said with a laugh. “We’ve got some very talented kids, and he’s one of them. We’re just trying to get these guys to play fast every snap. That comes from understanding their assignments and having the confidence to go execute the plays.”

Morton said that the corps’ confidence is coming along, and that they’re getting better with every practice this spring.

“We’re making a whole lot of progress,” Morton said. “It’s a learning process. Going out there and learning how to practice, learning how to play hard every day.”

Sports writer Nick Hubel can be reached at sports@collegian.com.

Practice Notes:

Defense pulls away – Using a scoring system developed specially for Saturday’s mini-scrimmages, the defense beat the offense 35-25 in their 44-play, full contact scrimmage.

Stat line of the week – Billy Farris, the team’s first option at quarterback, looked good Saturday, posting 155 yards passing (long of 43), an 80 percent completion rate and one touchdown – all against the starting defense.

JM, the next LT? – During the live scrimmage, sophomore running back John Mosure took a sweep around the right side, pulled up short of the line and threw a wobbly pass to tight end Eric Peitz for a touchdown. The sweep pass was one of two trick plays the team worked on Saturday, the other being a direct snap to the running back with the quarterback lined up split out like a wide receiver.

Putting it all together – According to coach Steve Fairchild, the team has about half of its offense in right now, and are a little farther along on the defensive playbook. The team worked on its third down and red zone plays on Saturday, with a sprinkling of no-huddle and a few trick plays mixed in. The team will add some of their two minute offense next weekend.

Injury update – Senior defensive end Tommie Hill sprained his left shoulder in Friday’s practice and was in a sling on Saturday. Team officials said that his status would be reevaluated this week but offered no further comment. Redshirt freshman Matt Yemm did not participate in the full scrimmage Saturday due to a strained hamstring, but was running on it and said that he would be fine by next week.

So you still want to walk on? – Saturday’s “fun” conditioning drill was an obstacle course that pitted one offensive player against one defensive player. It started with a 10-yard log roll, then three laps around a giant hula hoop, followed by 12 dizzying spins with their head on a baseball bat, over five agility bags (while trying not to fall over), finished off with a 20-yard sprint to the goal. The losing player and their offensive or defensive teammates had to run a wind-sprint across the field and back.

Winning one for the little guy – For the last pairing in the conditioning competition, legendary CSU cornerback and former CFL all-star Richie Hall was paired against media relations information director Zac Gilbert. Gilbert stumbled his way through the course, but barely beat Hall when a dizzy Hall inexplicably tried to run through the agility bags twice – once on his feet, and again on all fours.

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