Another spring scrimmage for the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks provided another dominant performance for the defense as the offense sputtered.
Northern Arizona’s first-team offense on Friday failed to reach the end zone a week after scoring just one touchdown, while quarterback Case Cookus took five sacks and went three-and-out on a few drives.
“I’m disappointed the scrimmage wasn't more competitive, but really happy with the development of our defense,” said Lumberjacks head coach Jerome Souers. “I think some of the new faces on the D-line are really stepping up their game, and it's fun to see improvement like that.”
Sacks by Hamilton To’o and Quentin Robinson, who will both enter their senior seasons in the fall, ended the offense’s second drive after the first ended after three plays. Chauntez Thomas stopped the ensuing drive, blowing by the right side of the offense untouched.
While Nate Stinson converted a third-and-short on the ground, the first-team's first three drives included just the one first down along with the three sacks allowed.
“When the curtain goes up, the bottom line is it is 11-on-11 and you have got to perform. If you are not, it’s going to be really hard to make it on this squad,” Souers said. “There's guys that are not in camp yet that are going to be very, very competitive. So I think the guys that are here are setting themselves up for what is going to happen in August.”
Of Northern Arizona’s potential starting offensive line, only projected starting left guard Malik Noshi played in Friday’s scrimmage as both Cole Habib and Jamison Pruitt remain sidelined. While junior college transfer JaSean Harrison remains at center with the second unit, fellow transfers Mitchell Kay, Keenan Norris and Trevor Reinwald will begin with the program during the summer. Northern Arizona also added high school senior Jayden Lee in its 2018 recruiting class.
With Souers warning the competition for playing time will take a leap soon, he also reiterated the staff isn’t as concerned about spring being perfect at the end, all things considered.
“There’s things that we know on our team that we don't have to prove now. If you look at our spring last year, it was just awful,” Souers said. “Just plain awful and we made a run to the playoffs last year in spite of not having a great spring. I am not saying that we absolutely look perfect next week, but we have got to show improvement.”
Even when the offense put together a big gain, Northern Arizona’s defense made a play to spoil the success. After Connor Leavens connected with Tommie Dorsey for a completion and a long run after the catch, Marcel Myers stripped the ball away inside the 10-yard line and Brian Berry came up with the ball.
The second-string offense scored the lone touchdown of the day on the final play of the scrimmage, a long touchdown run for Jermiah Boyd after the running back appeared to be stopped in the backfield.
Pass protection continued to be an issue during the first team’s second run of series, as a three-and-out was followed by Carson Taylor exploding through the line twice. Recording a sack as he ripped through the offensive line right after a snap, Taylor ended up in position to bring Cookus down again on the very next play.
“I’m concerned that some of the mistakes we are repeating continue to repeat themselves,” Souers said. “That’s something that when we leave spring has got to look different. We are running out of practices to see those kind of jumps in improvement.”
The Lumberjacks enter their longest layoff of the spring this weekend, with practice resuming Tuesday at 4 p.m. and another following Friday at 4 p.m. before the April 21 spring game at 1 p.m.
“They are going to get a little time to rest their bumps and bruises. We are going to get them the weekend off, and when we come back on Tuesday we are going to get back to work,” Souers said. “This will absolutely have to be cleaned up by the spring game.”