Before Damarious Randall spoke with the media Friday, he took off his shoulder pads and sat in a chair by the sidelines to catch his breath.
Obviously Friday's practice was a bit different.
The junior college transfer had to shed the pads and practice jersey to cool off because instead of standing off the field for most of the practice like he has all of camp, Randall received some first-team reps at field safety.
"I've been kind of injured the entire camp with an unfortunate groin injury from the skill development over the summer," Randall said. "I'm just kind of glad to be back out there with my team."
Randall and senior running back Marion Grice both jumped up to grab a ball in a voluntary summer workout. When Randall came down something did not feel right and he has been nursing the injury ever since.
It has been a slow process but Randall said he is about 90-95 percent ready. He still donned a green "no contact" jersey all practice.
Despite Randall's change in practice routine Graham said he still has a ways to go before impacting the depth chart, perhaps as long as two weeks.
Randall said it was hard to just watch his teammates compete every day. He could not dwell on the fact he could not really participate in the physical skill development part of practice. With the help of safeties coach Chris Ball, Randall worked to improve the other side of his game.
"I took thousands of mental reps every day," Randall said. "Just watching my position, just making calls up in my head and then coach Ball told me to start making calls out loud so I started making the calls out loud and watching film every day."
In the last two weeks of practice Randall really took advantage of the defensive walk-through installment segment of practice.
The walk through is exactly what it sounds like. The defense lines up in their different formations and Graham literally walks them through different plays and scenarios.
Every day Randall would always be right behind the first team field safety going through the footwork and listening for calls.
Ball said Randall brings a lot of athleticism to the safety group and he was not afraid of Randall being behind his teammates physically while he was dealing with the injury.
What did concern Ball was if Randall could to be up to speed with the defensive strategy and he pushed Randall to get something out of practice from a cerebral standpoint. After Friday's practice Ball said Randall has made a smooth transition to the field.
"We've been putting him in there a little bit at a time," Ball said. "He did a great job staying into it mentally. He knows the coverages and the checks and the alignments. He has a great understanding of that so I feel really good about that part of it."
Since the safety is the last line of defense Ball needs to see Randall make some tackles before he puts Randall into the game. But with the groin injury Ball needs to be patient.
"Once he's 100 percent we've got to get to tackling," Ball said. "He's got to tackle every day whether it's the sled or a live body. That's something he's just got to get caught back up on."
At this point in the season Randall has just missed too much practice for coaches to think about him starting against Sacramento State.
If the game was tomorrow Graham said redshirt freshman Laiu Moeakiola would be the starting free safety with senior Robert Nelson backing him and potentially factoring at field corner.
It is interesting Graham said that because Nelson has been getting the majority of first team reps this past week in the team periods observed by media.
In the zone
When the defensive players broke off to their respective position coaches early in practice, the defensive ends and devil linebackers stayed to work with Graham exclusively on defending the read option.
One at a time, ends like junior devil linebacker Carl Bradford and senior defensive lineman Gannon Conway would fire off the snap and practice reading the quarterback's hand off.
Bradford said on a read option play he wants to stay square and attack the line of scrimmage, but the key is using his vision properly.
"We look at the mesh point where the exchange between the QB and running back is," Bradford said. "If we see it pulled then we rally to the QB. If we see a give then we go to the dive of course…It's all your eyes. You got to be able to see everything and also you got to be able to see somebody coming across formation and we got to get underneath that like a pulling guard."
Bradford said the defense will not see many read option teams early in the year but as it gets deeper into the conference schedule the practice will be useful.
After Graham focused on the read option in an individual drill, the offense threw it at the defense in the first team period.
On one play, junior quarterback Taylor Kelly faked the give to the running back, held it as long as he could, then pulled it and ran up field for a couple yards.
Bradford said there is nobody better to practice defending the read option against than Kelly.
"Taylor is one of the best at holding it and pulling it when he really needs to," Bradford said. "To go against him and our offense is really great and it really gives me the look that I need to get better."
Senior tight end Darwin Rogers competed in the team session again Friday. It appears he has recovered from his concussion suffered a week ago.
Senior cornerback Osahon Irabor continued to wear the camouflage Pat Tillman practice jersey and senior safety Alden Darby did not have it on Friday.
Junior wide receiver Gary Chambers got the first team reps at the 5 receiver.
Junior college transfer junior defensive lineman Marcus Hardison took the second team reps at the 3-technique and sophomore Mo Latu was the second team 1-technique again Friday.
Senior linebacker Grandville Taylor took the second team reps at the WILL. He made use of the reps had two smart reads and which led to two tackles during team.