Training Camp Observations Feb. 22

Competition continued fierce at the River Kings’ training camp today, February 22. Some observations:

The WR battle is even tighter than I thought. While all three quarterbacks continue to impress, the battle for the few wide receiver spots is brutal. “Everything counts,” Coach Mann was overheard saying. “Everything. If I toss you a pen in the office, you’d better not drop it! That’s how tight it is around here.”

Today’s workout focused on one-on-one drills and ended with the quarterbacks and receivers running scripted plays against the linebackers and defensive backs. In other words, the wideouts had most of the day to showcase their skills, and they didn’t disappoint. They’re a shifty bunch. Gary McKnight Jr., a rookie out of Northeastern State, made some tough catches in traffic. Surprisingly, the top performer from my vantage was William Gibbs, a two-way player (listed at WR and DB) who was mostly a kick returner last year for the Bismarck Bucks.

“That’s how it goes,” Gibbs says. “I get overlooked a lot, because I don’t have a lot of tape at wide receiver. I ran track in college [at the University of Houston]. I intended to play football, too, but when I came in there’d just been a coaching change; the new coach didn’t want anyone on the track team to come out for football. But I’ve always loved the game.

“I got tagged as a kick returner, as a track guy,” he continues. “I was out there running 4.3 for the CFL, 4.3 for the XFL. But since I didn’t have tape [as a receiver], I didn’t get a look. I got invited to camp [with the River Kings] with a chance to compete for a receiver slot, and I’m going to make the most of it.”

His blazing speed is obvious, but Gibbs also has some nifty moves. I watched him turn a cornerback completely around on a corner route in one-on-one drills. As a Houston Cougar alum myself, I’m admittedly biased… but if he keeps this up, he’s going to be a dangerous weapon.

The defense has high football IQ. Listening to these guys work is literally a clinic. I got a chance to sit in on a post-practice “meeting” with the defensive backs (in reality, the DB group getting together on their own to go over the day’s practice). They communicate well with each other, and the unit is starting to gel.

Today’s standout was Antwan Smith, along with Gibbs a former Bismarck Buck. He impressed in half a season with the Bucks last year. He’s got the makings of a lockdown corner. James Gray also impressed with his versatility; he can line up anywhere behind the line.

There are some world-wreckers on the D-line. They’re hefty, they’re nasty, and they really get after it. I can’t wait to see them in pads, collapsing the pocket.

The kicking game is nonexistent. Longtime River Kings Report readers know how I feel about special teams. I won’t bore new readers with a rehash of the same old statistics, but: We need a kicker. Stat.

Overall I’m really excited about this team, but as Coach Mann said at the end of practice, we need points wherever we can find them. The lack of consistent kicking is an IFL-wide problem. The points are there for the taking. The faster we get a true special teams unit assembled, the faster we can start taking them.

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