April 14, 2012

Bits And Pieces From Saturday's Scrimmage

The JMU football team had its second scrimmage of spring practice Saturday. When I asked coach Mickey Matthews how it went, his response wasn't at all surprising.

"I just thought Justin really threw the ball well," Matthews said.

Justin is, of course, rising senior quarterback Justin Thorpe, and he has looked very good all spring. I can remember only a handful of incomplete passes, and his throws, for the most part, have been crisp and accurate in his first full spring practice in two years. He missed half of last year's while recovering from a knee injury.

"He's really practicing well," Matthews said. "Justin Thorpe is having a heck of a spring. … I think he's throwing the ball really well right now."

The Dukes didn't throw it deep much Saturday, but earlier this week, Thorpe hit wide receiver Daniel Brown for about a 65-yard touchdown. Thorpe lofted the ball -- with touch -- and put it over Brown's left shoulder. The throw itself was probably about 40 yards.

It was the latest big play in what has been a nice spring for Brown.

"I think it's obvious that Daniel Brown's going to be a heck of a receiver," Matthews said of Brown, who is 6-foot-4. "He really makes a lot of catches in crowds and is an excellent deep threat."

Running Back Update
Most the work Saturday was on short and intermediate passes, and rising sophomore tailback Dejor Simmons got a lot of carries, as he has for much of the spring with starting tailback Dae'Quan Scott out after having shoulder surgery in December. Simmons, 5-8 and 170 pounds, is small but speedy, even if he has annoyed Matthews at time with his habit of running side-to-side more than running forward.

"He just needs to be more physical with his runs," Matthews said. "But he's better. I think the kid's improved."

Here's what running backs coach Ulrick Edmonds said about Simmons earlier this week.

"He's just speed -- really fast," Edmonds said. "He's gotten more physically tougher. He knows the demands of the game and he's getting better."

And while we're talking about running backs: Jordan Anderson has missed a lot of practice, Edmonds said, because of class (he's a chemistry major).

"His classes in the spring, they're right around the time when we have practice, so he hasn't been out a whole lot," Edmonds said. "He's a home-run hitter. He's a smart guy. He's a chemistry major. He catches on to things fast."

Pick-Six For Mickens
Among the highlights from Saturday were a couple interception returns for touchdowns, notably one by cornerback Terrell Mickens. Mickens, an R.E. Lee High School graduate, redshirted last season as a true freshman and is coming back from surgery to repair loose cartilage in his right knee.

"It's been going well," said Mickens, a 5-11, 180-pounder and the brother of incoming women's basketball recruit Angela Mickens. "Feels good to be back out there since I missed the fall, and I'm trying to get better -- get the new coverages, and it's about being out there."

Mickens said the knee was "100 percent" and that he doesn't think about the injury at all.

"He's getting better," Matthews said. "That was a major knee surgery he had, and he's practicing better all the time. He's really made some strides this spring."

Leftovers
-- Matthews said JMU is experimenting with wide receiver Quintin Hunter as a holder on field goals and tight end Derek Hart, a converted wide receiver, as a deep snapper.

-- Kyle Linn's JMU career is over. Matthews said that the former Turner Ashby High star is done after he couldn't come back from labrum tear in his hip. Linn was a safety.

-- More injury news: backup tight end Zach Ozycz, a rising sophomore, hurt his knee in the first scrimmage and hasn't practiced since. It is unclear how serious the injury is. Matthews said an MRI is forthcoming.

-- A spare Matthews quote on the offense Saturday: "We probably didn't practice as well on offense as we've been doing, but it was a good competitive scrimmage. … We worked our situations where we're backed up, red zone, third down. We covered, basically, all the different situations you need to cover, and I think we're improving."

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