All Smiles as Class Starts
by Eric Gilmore

With his players on one knee huddled around him, Skip Holtz flashed a grin as practice concluded Wednesday afternoon. Holtz toned down his fall camp voice while conceding a sense of accomplishment for the spirited two-and-a-half practice.

Perhaps Holtz was still laughing from watching C.J. Wilson do his best Ray Charles impersonation on the keyboard or the repeated failed card tricks during the Tuesday night’s skit performance, which recognized the end of fall camp. Or the second-year head coach was impressed by a better-than-expected practice on the first day of classes. Whatever the reason, Holtz was in high spirits.

“I’ve never had a good practice on the first day of class,” Holtz said. “There are always so many distractions. Everyone is on campus going around, trying to find their classes. They come over to [practice] and everyone is tired. But we challenged them before practice to get the same type of work we had been getting through camp and we came out here and had a great day.”

The Pirates concluded with four sessions of 1-on-1 work. Holtz wanted give both starting units practice time at game speed. As has been the case all camp, James Pinkney was impressive, often checking down to receivers in the flat.

Holtz will have a light workout session on Thursday before the last intrasquad scrimmage before traveling to Navy. The second-year head coach is approaching the final scrimmage as a mock game, giving each starting unit 60 repetitions at full speed. He also said Wednesday that “99 percent” of the starters are already in place. Defensive end Scotty Robinson will likely start practicing in a limited role come Thursday.

Scout team

Air Force transfer Wayne Hunter and true freshman Dwayne Harris have been relied upon to mirror the Navy quarterbacks in order to prep the defense. Hunter, a former option quarterback in high school at Manteo, knows from his bruises that the young defense will be properly prepared Sept. 2.

“The defense is looking good,” Hunter said. “We’re excited about hitting other people instead of each other for awhile.”

As expected, fumbles and interceptions are the norm for an offensive scout team. But the key remains the defensive repetitions and the ability to adjust to certain looks.

“They’re giving great effort,” Holtz said about both scout teams. “I don’t know that you’re 3s can give the same look that their 1s can give. It’s just very hard to simulate the speed. Navy has been running this offense for four or five years.”

The less than luxurious scout team constantly battles the talent gap with consistent effort. Many current players cut their teeth on the scout teams, honing talent while amassing game-like repetitions. Hunter, who attended spring practice and impressed during the Strongman Competition over the summer, is just happy to be helping out.

“He’s what the service academies are all about,” Holtz said referring to Hunter. “He’s all about effort. He gives you everything he’s got. The combination (of Hunter and Harris) has allowed for us to always have a fresh guy in there.”

The two-week preparation should allow for Hudson’s defense to become more acquainted with the unorthodox rushing attack. Heavy game film has aided in finding Navy’s tendencies.

“They come off the ball real fast,” Hands said. “They like to cut a lot.”

The linebackers, a talented unit full of inexperience, will likely load the box in order to stop Navy’s ground attack. The crowded line of scrimmage puts more emphasis on the secondary, pressuring the corners into mostly man coverage. Assignment football, a term largely heard in defensive coordinator Greg Hudson’s first season, will try to combat some over eagerness and over commitment often associated with younger players.

Eric Gilmore