Getting some of his better players back into practice tops Cooley’s wish list. As NSU took the field at Turpin Stadium Monday evening for practice, frontline tailbacks Sidney Riley and Rob Walker along with guard Isaac Puapuaga were among those still awaiting a green light to get into action.
After Monday night’s workout, the Demons will practice Tuesday afternoon and have their final scrimmage, in a controlled format, Wednesday night at 6. Cooley is hoping to see some of his mainstays back in action soon.
“Knock on wood, we’re not looking at major injury situations, but it will really help us to get those guys back out there practicing. We’re two weeks away from game day,” said Cooley, noting the Demons open Sept. 1 at Texas Tech in a game that was finally set Monday for a 6 p.m. kickoff in Lubbock.
Having key players sidelined in preseason is a double-edged sword, because it does provide valuable opportunities for other players to speed their development by drilling alongside starters and getting more repetitions. Newcomers Corey Simmons at tight end and Matt Flores at tailback were the breakout stars in last Saturday night’s scrimmage.
Simmons, a sophomre transfer from South Carolina whose father Clyde was a two-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman, had four catches for 80 yards, including scores from 20, 8 and 39 yards. Flores, a true freshman from Lafayette-St. Thomas More starred with 129 yards rushing on 13 carries.
Those extra opportunities have certainly helped the development of some new offensive linemen, in particular, said Cooley.
“We have a few more solid backups than we’ve had, and they’ll see significant time. Our depth is as good as it’s ever been, especially on the offensive line. It’s a tribute not only to (new offensive line) coach (Allen) Rudolph, but to the effort those guys put in during the summer to come in here in good shape, working with our new strength staff who have done a great job. It’s paying off,” he said.
As the Demons were in the first day of class at NSU for the fall semester, coaches were completing their review of tape from Saturday night’s major scrimmage. Cooley saw plenty of bright spots after a sluggish start.
“Our tempo picked up after we scored the first touchdown. In the second series, all three units scored, and that was good to see. Our second unit had a great drive against the first defense and I saw some guys competing hard.
“I was real proud of the run in the goalline drill by Rumeall (Morris, who ran for 47 yards on 11 carries, including a rugged 2-yard touchdown). That was a tough run in traffic and he’s a guy who has carried a big load for us with Sidney Riley and Rob Walker on the sidelines.”
Demon quarterbacks were just 22-of-46 passing with a pair of interceptions, one returned 52 yards for a score by cornerback Imoan Claiborne. Starting quarterback Brad Henderson was 7-for-16 with one being overthrown and brought back to the house by Claiborne. Second-teamer Don Canyon went 10-of-23 and had one of the three touchdown passes caught by Simmons.
“All in all, our quarterbacks were solid overall. We had a couple passes we’d like back, but we can learn from those mistakes. Brad’s completion rate wasn’t great, but he had four balls dropped. Don also made a mistake he normally doesn’t make, but both of those guys are having great camps,” said Cooley.
“It was wet, but the number of dropped passes was disappointing. That’s just concentration. We dropped some big plays, and the defense did a good job of coverage that had to do with some,” he said.
The two interceptions, and no lost fumbles, were an improvement from six turnovers in the team’s first scrimmage a week earlier.
“We did a better job taking care of the ball than in the first scrimmage. The defense played well and showed us some tough looks, things we’ll see throughout the season. They made some plays, we did too. As a staff that’s what you want,” said Cooley.