All summer, coach Willie Taggart was barred from working with his players. Standard NCAA rules don't allow coaches to work with players until the start of fall camp.
Taggart equated the buildup of getting to his first fall camp, which began today, like the excitement of opening Christmas presents.
"I'm ready to open the presents and see what I got," Taggart said. "I saw it today. I was happy with some of the presents and some of them, I wasn't. Those that I wasn't as happy with, I didn't play with them as much."
There were the good and bad, as expected on the first day back. The good, there was a renewed sense of optimism and hope, players coming out of the gate strong.
At running back, there were a few more additions. Junior running back Avery Hibbitt has moved back to running back from cornerback, while junior Derrius Brooks has moved to safety from wide receiver. Then among the transfers are freshman running back Dalton Cissell from Louisville, who's eligible immediately because he was a walk-on for the Cardinals.
Hibbitt and Cissell add to an already deep running back position that includes junior starter Bobby Rainey, junior Braxston Miller and redshirt freshman Keshawn Simpson.
"As far as the plays and the reps we get, everybody's reps will be cut short," Rainey said. "That gives us enough time to get a breather, instead of having just three running backs and basically die. Now, you get more of a chance of breathing and as a back goes down, you have depth to go in and keep consistent with the plays."
There's an excitement among the team with camp getting underway and a positive vibe abounding.
"There's a hundred percent new hope," junior defensive end Jared Clendenin said. "It feels like it's a new beginning, new team. We've got new coaches, new players and we feel like it's new. We have forgot about what happened last year and we moved on."
But just as there were solid signs, there were a few mistakes as well. There were a few missed assignments, missed reads and fumbles, as well as players cramping or puking from their first practice since the spring.
"As a team, I feel like we're in shape, but it's always different when you put that helmet on," Clendenin said. "It's always gonna take one or two days to get acclimated to it. When you run around to the ball like that, you're gonna feel a little tired. You've just gotta fight through it and work."
The competition at every position is also just beginning to heat up. Taggart said from when he was first hired that every position would be up for grabs. While a few players have a good hold on their position, Taggart also hinted at the strong possibility that a number of newcomers could contribute right away.
"Usually the defense is further ahead when you come out and you saw it more there than on offense," Taggart said. "But you've got those younger guys and you see it a lot in them, eager to get in there and play and do some good things. As they continue to get better, if they show that they're consistent and they can do it all the time, we'll play them."
There's still a few presents that Taggart hasn't gotten to.
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