2014 BARNSTORM TOUR NOTES
STOP FIVE: LOUISIANA BULLDOGS
Friday's stop was a first in the now 20 years of the Barnstorm Tour: Indoor practice due to the slick fields and incessant rains in Louisiana. While it wasn't exactly an ideal set up in the Louisiana Gym, I thought the Bulldogs still pulled of a very crisp workout despite the cramped conditions; though I did cringe every time the team sent a receiver into the pattern to flirt with a head on collision with the bleachers.
Most obvious observation: Louisiana looks more like a legit Varsity Football team this year. Numbers are better at 32 with 27 upperclassmen. The Freshman and Sophomore classes, however are still thin. But experience will be a big boon going forward as Greg Purdum is now working with 11 returning Offensive full or part time starters and eight veterans on Defense.
If you are looking for signs of momentum, by all accounts, the Bulldogs really did well at Team Camp in Hermann this season; standing toe to toe with a couple of traditional powers like the host school and Montgomery County and outright winning a few of those head to head showdowns.
Friday will mark the Bulldogs first Jamboree appearance in nine years. They head to Wright City, I believe. I really had no idea the program had gone that long without any kind of live preseason dress rehearsal. Coach Purdum has made it a point of his culture change to clean up those kind of previously missed opportunities to bring Louisiana more in line with what other schools do.
Size is good up front. I obviously knew Collin Stark was a pretty good Offensive Linemen hidden away on a sub-500 team last season. See also last year's Do or Die Team. But there seems to be better support around him. Michael Davis has blown up huge in the weight room from last season and really looked like he hadn't lost much agility now that he is 235 pounds. Coach Purdum says you can't keep that kid out of the weight room. I am also told that once he is fully cleared from injuries after a motorcycle accident, noted Bulldog Track and Field thrower Brandon Holland will be part of the line mix as well. That would be a really nice 270 pound piece to add to the equation. As an aside, I spent a lot of time watching Purdum work with the linemen. I realize Greg has a pretty extensive resume but having never watched him work before, I was really impressed at his eye for detail with those six kids up front and how he is able to positively teach Blocking concepts on the fly. You can clearly see that the guy was a college coach before because his understanding of how to convey information to kids is very streamlined and exceptionally efficient. He teaches in 20 second intervals and never allows the drills to bog down. And in that sense, pace of the workout was impressive.
Zach Richardson seems like a really strong fit at Quarterback. The Junior is a potential valedictorian candidate and a returning Academic All State honoree. He's also really good at reading the option. At this point, I think he's still a better runner than passer, but he clearly has a very strong arm and great escape instincts. He also has a very underrated crew of pass catchers and Tight Ends, led by Elijah Oblinger, to help accelerate the play action game. Would not be surprised to see Richardson as a Top Five area quarterback by this time next season. He's got all the tools.
Clearly, the most exciting aspect of Louisiana's 2014 season is the run game. Richardson can flat go on the keeper. And he's surrounded by a nice looking array of runners behind him. Dallas Castagna is back as a "speed fullback" while Lane Rule and Cody Brown were getting carries at the other running back spots. Brown is one of those pesky, hard to find kids coming out of the backfield but he really seems to see and set up the running lanes well. Rule is a tough kid and a very good athlete. Would not be surprised if there is a real "Brown County" feel to the balance of this run game and the Bulldogs end up with four sixty plus yard rushers a night rather than any one 100 yard guy.
Defensively, the Bulldogs will need considered improvement to really accelerate their progress in the win column. Greg Purdum has relentlessly drilled his kids since he showed up on campus last year with tackling technique drills and thinks they have taken root. The Bulldogs will also try and play as few duel platoon kids as possible to keep the Defense fresh. Dallas Castagna, a very effective Speed Linebacker and returning All District Selection, and masher Michael Davis should really help shore up the middle of the Defense here.