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Courtesy: GoBearkats.com
Lots of good things in first scrimmage
Courtesy: Gene Schallenberg/Huntsville Item
Release: 08/18/2012
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Darius Taylor and Melvis Pride
Head coach Willie Fritz said he saw a lot of good things on both sides of the ball during the 100-play, hour-and-a-half scrimmage for the Sam Houston football team Saturday morning.

"It's tough because if the defense does well and gets some take-aways, you're mad at the offense. But if the offense is moving the ball, you're upset about the defense," Fritz said. "We got a chance to look at everyone with a lot of 11 on 11. The two-minute drill was excellent."

"We're still learning to play as a team," Fritz said. "Our next scrimmage we'll work strictly on situations  like two-minute and four-minute drill, overtime, goal line and coming out from the one. There's still a lot of work to be done."

The Sam Houston defense looked like it hasn't skipped a beat.

Picking off passes, getting after the quarterback, swatting away would-be receptions and stopping rushes for little to no gain summed up most of the top-ranked Bearkats' first intrasquad scrimmage.

"Going up against our defense, No. 1 in the country, it helps every single day. Those guys are some of the best defensive backs in the country," Kats senior wide receiver Trey Diller said. "It's going to help (the receiving corps) out. It's going to help them out.

"We had some really great catches, though. That lets you know there's a positive side to everything, but we've still got a lot to work on."

It wasn't all defense, though. Throughout Saturday morning's workout, Sam Houston's revamped offense, which attacked through the air the majority of the time, showed positive flashes as the Kats were able to gain big chunks of yards on a handful of nifty catches by Diller, Brandon Wilkerson, transfer receiver Chance Nelson, as well as senior Melvis Pride.

"It's tough because if the defense does well and gets some takeaways, you're mad at the offense. But if the offense is moving the ball, you're upset about the defense," Bearkats coach Willie Fritz said. "We got a chance to look at everyone with a lot of 11-on-11. The two-minute drill was excellent."

Through the first hour of the scrimmage, the defense dominated, holding the first-, second- and third-string offenses to just a handful of receptions and first downs.

The Kats started off with the two-minute drill with the offense needing to go 65 yards to reach the end zone.

With the first-team offense, the Kats moved the ball past midfield, but were stymied by defensive pressure, including a sack by defensive lineman Preston Sanders.

The second-team offense, thanks to a few key catches by Pride and Nelson, got in scoring range, but could not capitalize as the drive ended in a missed 45-yard field goal.

"As a defense, I feel we played pretty good and we flew around pretty good," Kats senior linebacker Darius Taylor said. "We held them on third downs and third-and-longs. I think we got off the ball good on our pass rush and overall, I think we had a pretty good scrimmage."

Later, senior cornerback Dax Swanson picked off his first pass of the day.

"One of the things that's going to be big for us is turnovers and turnover ratio," said senior defensive tackle J.T. Cleveland. "There were probably a couple of more opportunities out there (for turnovers). That's an area where we have to get better."

After a few sacks, the offense started to click as the passing game was meshed with the running attack and the offense was able to move downfield.

Backup quarterback Chris Grett found Pride down the sideline and the senior leaped above a defensive back and came down with the ball for a big 28-yard catch.

"We made some pretty big plays in the passing game. Last year, we ran the ball a lot. I think we made a statement in the passing game today," Pride said. "We ran the ball well, too."

It wasn't until after Swanson came away with his second interception of the day, which came about after he jumped the route of the receiver he was covering and then returned the pick for a touchdown, that the offense finished off a pair of drives with scores.

On the next play, starting quarterback Brian Bell hit receiver Brandon Wilkerson down the seam for a 31-yard gain that pushed the offense inside the 20 for the first time all day.

Running back Ryan Wilson rushed for a 7-yard carry, then Bell and tight end T.J. Jones were unable to connect and the first-team offense had reached its play limit and gave way to the second-team.

On the next play, running back Vincent Dotson dashed his way through the defense for a 12-yard touchdown.

After enduring a couple of sacks, the Kats offense got a big lift on a connection by Pride from freshman quarterback Jared Johnson that put Sam Houston inside the 10. Following a 5-yard gain, running back Steven Hicks punched in for a score from 5 yards out.

Now that the first of two scrimmages is in the books, the Bearkats will move forward and begin focusing on improving as a unit, instead of focusing on individual drills and techniques which was the case in the first week of workouts.

"We're still learning to play as a team," Fritz said. "Our next scrimmage we'll work strictly on situations  like two-minute and four-minute drill, overtime, goal line and coming out from the 1. There's still a lot of work to be done."

The Bearkats will continue to work throughout this next week, including a pair of practices on Monday. The Kats will scrimmage again, their last of the preseason camp, on Aug. 27.

Sam Houston State returns 19 starters and 50 lettermen from last year's 14-1 squad that won the Southland Conference and advanced to the national championship game.

The Bearkats open the 2012 season Saturday Sept. 8 when they play host to the University of Incarnate Word at Elliott T. Bowers. Kickoff is at 6 p.m.

Tickets are available on line now at www.gobearkats.com/tickets or at the SHSU athletic ticket office located in the Ron Mafrige Field House at Bowers Stadium.

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