Slippery when wet
Ball security becomes issue in Mavericks' scrimmage
The rainy weather wasn’t ideal, but there was no lightning, so the Colorado Mesa football team scrimmaged Saturday morning at Bergman Field.
It was good practice for the Mavericks in case they play in similar conditions when the games begin to count. Colorado Mesa opens the season Sept. 6 against Dixie State (Utah) College at 7 p.m. at Stocker Stadium.
“The rain will magnify weaknesses,” CMU head coach Russ Martin said. “It was great to get out here today.”
The offense had a handful of fumbles, including three on center-quarterback exchanges, and three interceptions.
“There are a lot of things we can fix that were exposed a little bit,” Martin said. “The ball was on the ground more than what I want, both with exchanges and with dropped balls. That’s what we shared with the guys. You have to be great with ball security and fundamentals.”
Martin was pleased with the offense’s progress up until the scrimmage, but he was disappointed with how it performed in the wet conditions.
“For the most part, our offense has operated more efficiently than any time I’ve been here,” Martin said. “Today was really good for them to battle through some of that (conditions) and understand we’ve got to make plays.”
Sophomore Aric Kaiser led the first-team offense and took care of the ball, but freshman Andrew Cota of Salpointe, Arizona, has emerged as a challenger. Kaiser started five games last season despite missing some games with an injury.
“Aric Kaiser’s been running number one, but Andrew Cota is playing exceptionally well,” Martin said. “Andrew probably had a few more mistakes today than he’s been having, but I’m telling you what, we have a couple quarterbacks I’m pleased with.
“We will continue to push and see. You never know with injury situations. We’ve got to have, in our mind, to get three guys ready. We’ve been working three guys a bunch to get there.”
Cota was intercepted once in the end zone by Turmour Battle, but Battle was penalized for pass interference.
“The one down here, Andrew threw the interception, that was a first down in a red-zone situation,” Martin said, pointing toward the north end zone. “Granted, we had a defensive penalty, but I think he could’ve scrambled and picked up three or four yards. The point is: Don’t give the ball away.”
Sophomore Kyle Duran is also in the mix at quarterback. He started four games last season.
Marc Palacios is taking over the duties of calling the defensive scheme on the field from All-American linebacker Jake Edmiston, better known as “Frosty.”
Palacios, though, doesn’t see himself filling Edmiston’s shoes.
“We’re not the same defense as last year,” Palacios said. “We’re more team-oriented. This is the new defense. I think we’re excited for that.”
The new defense is led by first-year defensive coordinator Marcus Patton, who came from Fairmont State. He played for Martin at Southeast Missouri State and played at Kansas State.
Former defensive coordinator Todd Auer left to coach at Southern Illinois University.
The Mavericks started the transition from Auer’s 3-3 defense to Patton’s 4-2 in the spring. Both utilized a fifth safety as a linebacker/safety hybrid.
“This is more of a true two middle backers and a safety-style linebacker,” Palacios said. “We’re more sound. We’re going to be sound in every gap.”
Patton was upset about some penalties the defense had, and made the players run after the scrimmage. Otherwise, he said he is pleased with what he inherited from Auer.
“I think we’re coming along,” Patton said. “The thing I was disturbed about was the personal fouls. We did some good things as far as playing good technique. We had good open-field tackling and good sacks on the quarterback.
“I’m fortunate. However we look now, I may be getting too much credit. The past staff did a great job of recruiting great personnel and building a foundation for these guys.”
The defense recovered a couple of fumbles, had three interceptions (one called back on a penalty), a couple of sacks and some quarterback hurries.
Three players are battling for kicking duties, and all three made a 42-yard field goal during the scrimmage.
“I am pleased with our kickers,” Martin said. “The guys have all done a pretty good job.”
The top two have been sophomore Rafael Gomez and freshman Ryan Sheehan. Freshman Austin Wells is also in the competition.
The Mavericks struggled with field goals last year, making 63 percent. They also missed five extra-point kicks.
Redshirt freshman Austin Pitchford will likely take the punter duties from Michael Brady, who graduated.
Several players with minor injuries did not play in the scrimmage. Most of them were wide receivers and offensive linemen.
Receivers Daniel Rankin (knee), Ian Juede (hand), Steven Lindquist (leg) and Eli Williams (leg) did not participate. Blaine Jackson rolled his left ankle in the scrimmage and sat out the rest of the scrimmage.
Four offensive linemen sat out, including Mitch Wehrli (concussion) and Austin Beswick (knee). Others missing the scrimmage were defensive end Mitch Irwin (knee), linebacker Zach Hamm (concussion) and defensive back Frank deBraga.
Martin said all of the injured players could be healthy in time for the season opener in two weeks.