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September 11, 2009Having a bye week this early in the season is never going to be viewed as desirable, but it's nothing that can be haggled over so coach Dennis Erickson and his staff spent the week doing the only thing they could do: push their players for continued improvement.
"I don't know if you ever completely accomplish what you want to, but we got two good days in, and yesterday was bottom-line, really good work," Erickson said Thursday. "Today, we got a chance to look at Louisiana-Monroe and see what they're doing offensively and just familiarize ourselves, and then we're coming back with practice Sunday."
Scout team quarterback Steven Threet become very familiar with what Mike Nixon is capable of, as the senior linebacker picked off a Threet pass early in the session near the goal line and walked into the end zone unmolested for a touchdown.
Another day at the office.
Nixon and the first-team defense defeated just about everything put before it by the scout team offense as easily as could be imagined. Not like that should surprise anyone.
The real questions about the team remain on the offensive side of the field, and the bye week was spent searching for the best offensive line combination, with sophomore Matt Hustad working at right guard all week after starting at right tackle in the opener.
Senior Tom Njunge, who played in a reserve role at tackle versus Idaho State, appears poised to start a week from Saturday at right tackle.
Sophomore center Garth Gerhart is out of the walking boot he was wearing early in the week after suffering a toe injury on his left foot in the opener, but it remains unclear whether he will return to practice next week.
Senior Thomas Altieri started at center in the opener and remains with the first-unit, backed up by red shirt freshman Andrew Sampson, who started at right guard in the opener.
"Just as individuals and a team, it's like fall camp when we went against each other basically, and just try to get better," Erickson said. "We moved some people around to different positions in the offensive front particularly just to see where we're at."
Elsewhere in the offense, position battles continue, especially at running back, which has been a hot topic of discussion around the program in recent weeks.
Senior Dimitri Nance is the declared starter, and he had eight carries for 31 yards in the opener.
"Dmitri was hurt last year, so I don't think we saw the real Dmitri Nance," Erickson said. "Just like we didn't see the real Chris McGaha because of injuries. So he's the one who has impressed me the most this camp and doesn't make mistakes. I think we all have to look and see what happens in the next couple three weeks."
A player who could continue to emerge at the position is freshman Cameron Marshall, who earned a handful of second team reps in the opener and ran hard, even if not for an impressive night statistically with five carries for 15 yards.
"He didn't make any mental mistakes either for a freshman," Erickson said. "He probably pass protects as good as any freshman I've been around. He's physical and didn't break any assignments and I thought he ran pretty well too."