John Denton's Knights Insider: Chemistry Evident on First Day of Practice

Aug. 5, 2010

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By John Denton

ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - Derrick Hallman was in the midst of UCF's first fall camp practice on Thursday when he started yelling an adjustment to his fellow linebackers and he was cut off by teammates already making the proper checks in alignment.

Hallman, part of a starting linebacking corps that owns 84 career starts and 537 tackles, had never been happier about getting interrupted.

Because the Knights are loaded with 18 seniors - their largest senior class in the George O'Leary era at UCF - and 17 returning starters, there is a chemistry among the team was already evident in the first day of practice. Many of the current seniors have played alongside others for three years and they know each other's style and thought processes without much of a need for verbal communication.

``We have like a great chi going right now,'' said Hallman, who recently completed a Yoga class. ``The chemistry we have is amazing. Coming in you usually have to make so many calls and checks, but guys we're cutting me off today and telling me, `I know! I know!' We're on the same page and we're just gelling now. Now, we've just got to fine-tune things right now.''

As mandated by NCAA rules, UCF worked out Thursday in helmets and shorts. Their new swoosh-adorned practice jerseys from NIKE arrived Thursday morning just in time for the first workout. The Knights will be allowed to wear helmets and shoulder pads on Saturday and Sunday and can go to full gear by Monday.

The Knights will practice 29 times before the Sept. 4 season-opener against South Dakota at Bright House Networks Stadium. O'Leary said the Knights have a lot of installation and improvement to make before then. He likes the core of this team and its steadily evolving chemistry, but O'Leary was somewhat displeased with some of the mistakes from Thursday's first session.

``We've got a long way to go from what I saw in practice today,'' O'Leary huffed. ``You assume that they know nothing and they didn't. A lot of the movements we were slow and kind of lethargic, so we've got work to do. But there's obviously a lot of kids out there who have experience, but we have to be a lot sharper.''

With so much experience back, the belief is that the Knights could be in line for a special season. The conference schedule seems to line up favorably with East Division rivals Southern Miss and East Carolina having to travel to Orlando this season. And the Knights feel they are a dramatically improved team over the one that finished last season strong and made it to the school's third-ever bowl game.

``The experience that we have here is unprecedented and it's something that you hope for when you are a senior,'' defensive end David Williams said. ``We have a special group because most of our seniors have a big role on the team and are starting. It's an awesome feeling and we have really high hopes for this season.''

Williams is the poster child for UCF's massive offseason strides with strength and speed. The 6-foot-2, 235-pounder, who was named UCF's strongest pound-for-pound player, helped the Knights break 21 school records in the weight room.

Bruce Miller, Conference USA's Defensive Player of the Year last season, set one of those records with 41 repetitions of 225 pounds on the bench press - a number that's sure to raise the eyebrows of NFL scouts already looking closely at the relentless defensive end. Miller was one of nine Knights to bench press at least 500 pounds.

``I know this is my last go-around and I'm excited because I can see the potential that we have on the field,'' said Miller, who enters the season with 27 sacks and 44 tackles for loss in his career. ``We have so many great players and athletes and I really think this year could be special for us. Hopefully it's going to be a great one.''

Much of the attention from Thursday was on quarterback Rob Calabrese, a part-time starter each of the past two seasons who has worked his way into the starting job. Calabrese looked sharp most of the day and found speedster Quincy McDuffie for a deep crossing pattern for a score and also hit senior Kamar Aiken on go route for another long gainer.

Calabrese, a junior, worked hard in the offseason to improve his accuracy. He worked with the receivers three days a week in the summer, often running the sessions like a coach on the field. He also threw hundreds of passes into strategically placed buckets in an attempt to improve his touch on take-off routes and lob passes.

He likes what he saw from how hard the Knights worked over the summer - work he said that will pay off in the form of improved play and tight chemistry among a team that is loaded with experience and unity.

``We have a great chemistry with this team. We've been together working all summer, we're always hanging out together and we live together in the towers,'' Calabrese said. ``I really think it's a great sign seeing how well this team is working together already.''


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John Denton's Knights Insider appears on UCFAthletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at jdenton@athletics.ucf.edu.