Intensity high at Medal of Honor Bowl practice

  • Thursday, January 9, 2014

National team's Malcolm Butler (West Alabama) stretches out for an intercpetion at Wednesday's MOH Bowl practice. Butler has grabbed scouts' attention with big plays throughout the first three days of practice. PHOTO BY FRANKIE MANSFIELD

By Wednesday, the pleasantries from earlier in the week have faded.

“Don't come across here again,” one linebacker barks at a receiver as he heads back toward the huddle.

“Throw me that slant I like,” another receiver begs of his quarterback. “Look who they have on me. He can't stay with me.”

The pads clack against each other a little harder. The coaches' voices pierce the cold air a little sharper. Neither side of either team wants to be outdone with nearly 100 professional scouts honed in on every snap. The intensity has risen with the competition in day three of the Medal of Honor Bowl practice.

“They're not thinking as much so they're able to play a little bit harder,” American team head coach Ralph Friedgen said. “They look like they're having fun out there.”

The American and National staffs have just five days to mesh their 46 players into a team before Saturday's all-star event. Players hit the ground running Monday and have lifted each other's play throughout the three practices. Friedgen and National head coach Chan Gailey both say the players' ability to come together so quickly has been impressive. But the two veteran offensive coaches have two different approaches toward implementing their offenses.

Gailey has taken a simpler approach. The idea is to have a firm grasp on the system and allow the players' an opportunity to focus more on displaying their abilities. Fewer checks, fewer intricacies, less to think about, just play.

“We don't want to do a lot of things that could create problems for them,” Gailey said. “The number one objective here is to help these guys show what they have to these scouts and to these fans, not to showcase an offense, or defense or special team knowledge.”

Friedgen's plan is slightly more complicated, and by design. Maybe not along the lines of Peyton Manning detail, but enough to allow scouts to see how players can take in the new information. Two different styles but both coaches say they're happy with the progress shown on day three.

“I've challenged them,” Friedgen said. “I've put a lot in and that's probably on me if we don't perform well. But the NFL wants to see what they can absorb too and how smart they are. … If you run simple stuff, you're simple to defend and they're not going to be able to show their abilities either.”

The direction for the final two practices is different too. The National team is done in pads. The next two days it'll prepare and polish without full contact. The American team practiced in shoulder pads and shorts Wednesday but has a live rehearsal scheduled for Thursday; a game-like simulation without coaches on the field.

Both squads have garnered plenty of attention from the scouts that line the sidelines of Wilson Field at The Citadel. Several scouts openly admit to being impressed with the game's talent in its inaugural year and the level of play they've seen so far. Each big hit or one-handed catch is another note in the scouts' books and a step closer to the players realizing their dream of professional football.

“I think they really want an opportunity and they're getting one here,” Friedgen said. “That's what this is about. It's about them having an opportunity to showcase.”

The Medal of Honor Bowl kicks off Saturday at 2 p.m. at Johnson Hagood Stadium. //

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