The Northern Arizona football team finally had the chance to go full speed and get some hits in during the Lumberjacks' first scrimmage of spring drills Friday.
After five practices, the Jacks put on the pads and went full contact in a high-intensity and physical 11-on-11 session.
For the players, getting to go full speed and making their pads pop was as close to being in a game situation they've been in since last season.
For the staff, Friday's scrimmage was a chance to evaluate the offense, defense and individual players, and the team's overall progression through spring practices.
Head coach Jerome Souers said he was the most impressed with just how well his defense is coming along.
"As a group of 11, the defense is put together really well," Souers said. "These guys played all last fall together and they're pretty healthy. They're playing the game fast and have been impressive so far."
The defense was able to come away with a lot of big stands, a few interceptions and even a fumble from the injury-laden offense. Souers joked about the Jacks offense using its sixth, seventh and eighth running backs after the practice, and sophomore quarterback Jordan Perry said limping along without key players like running back Zach Bauman and tight end R.J. Rickert isn't something that the offense is using as an excuse.
"We're limited offensively on the line and at running back and receiver, but nobody is using that as an excuse," Perry said. "We're trying to get better with the guys we have."
Perry, one of three players vying for the starting quarterback position -- also in the running are Chase Cartwright and Kyren Poe -- said that the live scrimmage was a chance for each to show what he's got.
"Going live is the closest we can get to being in a game-like situation," he said. "For me, as a young quarterback it's huge. We try to take every play in every live situation and focus and play well."
Though Souers said it's way too early to say which quarterback is ahead in the race, he liked what he saw out of each player.
"Chase looked really good in the 2-minute section running the hurry up; he was on top of it and moved the football well," Souers said. "We're seeing a lot of growth and development out of the other two. Kyren has been making plays and you can see his athleticism in the pocket, as (has) Jordan. They've shown flashs of brilliance at the position."
The defense, on the other hand, is definitely firing on all cylinders. Senior lineman Tim Wilkinson said finally getting the chance to play in a live drill and get some hits in was well worth the wait.
"We were flying around and executing and being consistent," Wilkinson said. "We lost a little focus in the second half (of the scrimmage) and we have to get better with our focus."
The Lumberjacks also lost control of their emotions at times, something that Souers doesn't want to become the identity of his team.
Senior wide receiver Ify Umodu made a one-handed catch for a touchdown, but spiked the ball, which caused an outburst from the offense.
Wilkinson said emotions come with the game, but controlling them has to be a team priority.
"We need to cut out some of the barking and get focused on technique and getting better, but overall we did pretty good," he said. "The coaches have been emphasizing this, but when you have that many competitors out there trying to win, there's going to be emotion. We could cut back just a little bit."
Souers added his team needs to be high performing and disciplined, and that his team needs to fly around and have fun.
"We need to make sure we're taking care of business," Souers said. "With overall discipline, there are things we need to clean up. You have to play your responsibilities and spiking the ball in the end zone in inexcusable, and there will be a lot of calories burned to correct that action and that's just not going to be us. We need to be professional about our approach in how we practice and how we finish."
Overall, the team had fun, got some insight into what parts of the game need work and fed its need for football at game speed.
Wilkinson said he knows the defense is progressing well and added it felt great to get some hits in.
"Once these pads come off you don't get another hit for about four months, so we're enjoying it," he said.
Souers added he was pleased to see such an intense group of men doing what they love to do.
"It was a very energetic practice and these are a group of guys who love to play, and they're going to play enthusiastically," Souers said. "This is probably the most physical football team we've had in a while, so when we make contact, you can hear the plastic cracking out there."
NAU has the weekend off and will resume spring practices from 4-6 p.m. Tuesday at the upper practice fields.
Bill Harris can be reached at email@example.com or 556-2251.