WASHINGTON, D.C. - The defense showed that it will be much improved while the offense had some notable individual performances during Howard University's first intra-squad scrimmage on Saturday.
The defensive unit, which returns eight starters from last season, operated as cohesive unit, recovering two fumbles, picking off two passes and forcing several punts against the offense, which played without some key performers due to a variety of minor injuries from a first week in pads.
"It is not uncommon for the defense to be ahead of the offense at this early stage," said Howard head Coach Carey Bailey, in his third season at the helm. "They basically dominated some phases of the scrimmage. But it is early for us because we do not play our opener until September 12 (at Rutgers). The next time, you may see the offense dominate. We are a work in progress but I am pleased overall."
The defensive line was especially effective with the play of red-shirt senior James Robinson and senior Will Croner. Senior James Carter, a second team pre-season All-MEAC selection and red-shirt sophomore Sackie Kerkulah also made some plays.
The linebackers, who play a vital role in defensive coordinator Andre Creamer's scheme, were also highly visible with sterling plays. Red-shirt senior Robert Parker, III and red-shirt freshman Keith Pough are both having outstanding camps and are certain to be factors in the Bison's success. Red-shirt sophomore DeAngelo Moody also showed flashes that he will be an important contributor in his second season.
In the secondary, which lacked experience last season, Bailey cited the improvement of senior safeties Martin Corniffe and Arando Jamison, who are both coming off their best seasons.
"Corniffe is playing really well right now and Jamison is very solid in what we ask of him," noted Bailey.
Bailey is emphatic about the play and improvement of the offensive line this season being a key. In 2008, the unit was both undermanned and inexperienced. The two most experienced players on the line are seniors guard Michael Russell and center Sean Woolford, who sat out the scrimmage with a minor injury.
"I am pleased with the way they are coming along," said Bailey, referring to the line which has added size and depth. "We are developing in that area and have a ways to go. But I like what I see in how they are working and progressing."
The line is being groomed by Nick Calcutta, who has taken on the duties as offensive coordinator. Calcutta has the reputation as one of the top offensive line coaches in the game and has had success everywhere he has coached including two previous stints at Howard.
Floyd Haigler was very sharp and appeared more comfortable in his second full year at the helm. A red-shirt senior, Haigler threw two TD passes and led the offense to two field goals during his time.
"He is having a real good camp," said Bailey. "We have simplified things for him and it is showing with his decision making and execution." Haigler took every snap last season and threw 17 TDs.
The receiving corp was missing some of its key performers, including MEAC Rookie of the Year Willie Carter and transfer Jeff Miller, but it is arguably the deepest and most talented unit on the team and senior Brandon Sherman, sophomores Brandon Drayton and Xavier Rucker and newcomer Phillip Dokes more than picked up the slack.
Sherman, who is coming off his best season with 46 receptions and 5 TDs, made several catches including one for a TD. Drayton, who came on strong late last season and finished with 22 catches, and Rucker, a transfer from Nebraska, are both small but very elusive and have the ability to get behind defenders as they displayed during the scrimmage.
Dokes could be a sleeper. The 6-6, 225-pound transfer from the University of Tulsa, is a big target who has good hands. He had four catches including a TD as he often outmanned smaller defenders.
"Brandon (Drayton) has settled in and is having a good camp," said Bailey. "Sherman is just a solid contributor. As for Dokes, he has the size of a tight end but he has the flexibility to split out at our wide receiver positions. He gives us versatility in the passing game."
With senior Ramon "Ray Ray" McElrathbey sitting out with a back injury, Kenneth Austin-Brice and Andra Williams, got an opportunity to show their skills. Austin-Brice, a 6-1, 235-pound red-shirt senior who missed most of the season with an injury after transferring from Tennessee State, displayed the abilty to run inside, scoring one of the team's rushing TDs.
Williams, a 5-8, 180-pound freshman, could be one of the pleasant surprises. After a shaky start in his first series, he settled in and made some nice runs, darting, eluding tacklers and running to daylight.
In 2008, the Bison lost both its placekickers to injury, forcing punter Patrick Wolff to handle the duties for the first time. John Mendoza was having his best season before going down with a knee injury and Dennis Wiehberg missed most of the season with nagging injuries.
Both are back and Wiehberg, in particular, looked very sharp, converting on five field goals including a 41 yarder. Mendoza has been relegated to PATs and limited duty until he fully recovers.
Now that Wolff can concentrate solely on his punting duties, he should be more effective as he showed during the scrimmage with some long towering punts that had good hang time.