With his opposition pinned at its own 1-yard-line, Cal Poly sophomore transfer Kevin Griffin began inching toward the line of scrimmage from his safety position.
By the time Mustangs backup quarterback Dano Graves took the snap and began to run an option keeper off the right end, Griffin was there to meet him and drop the senior for no gain.
It wasn’t necessarily the role Griffin envisioned when he transferred from Washington State, and it certainly wasn’t the type of play the De La Salle High product was accustomed to making when he was with the pass-happy Cougars.
“Coming from a spread school that passes the ball 100-something times in practice every day, it’s a little different,” said Griffin following Wednesday’s practice, the ninth of 15 spring sessions for the Cal Poly football team. “I feel like I’m playing linebacker sometimes when I have to come downhill and fill in the run fits. It’s kind of challenging, so that’s why I try to make the most out of the 1-on-1s and the 7-on-7 periods, so I can practice my technique and keep getting better.”
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Griffin said his initial expectation of safety at the FCS level was to read and react, play center field and simply keep the offense in front of him.
It quickly became clear to the El Cerrito native that he’d be called upon for more.
“I’m so happy I came in the spring so I could learn the defense, because there’s a lot and it’s coming really fast,” said Griffin, who made one start and had a pair of tackles in his one season in the Pac-12. “Sometimes I get it down, but I just go to (secondary coach Neil Fendall) and have him watch film with me so I can be ready for fall camp and play at 100 percent speed.”
Griffin said he expects to have all the different calls and handle signals down by the May 2 spring game — an adjustment period head coach Tim Walsh said is not out of the ordinary when it comes to transfers from the FBS level.
“Most guys come out from FBS programs and say, ‘Whoa,’ ” Walsh said. “Kevin, for example, thinks we are way more sophisticated on defense, and a lot of that has to do with the fact we have a lot of smart guys, so we can be more sophisticated.
“It slows him down a bit because mentally, he’s trying to play catch-up ball.”
Griffin is getting all the reps he can handle in the early going, as injuries and sickness have hit the secondary.
Walsh said a flu bug ran through the cornerback corps, forcing the Mustangs to shorten last weekend’s scripted scrimmage from 50 plays to 35.
While veterans missing time in the spring doesn’t concern the seventh-year coach, injuries to young players — such as the shoulder injury that forced redshirt freshman safety Aaron Johnson to miss the latter half of Wednesday’s practice — are what the team hopes to specifically avoid at this juncture.
“Overall, health has not been bad,” Walsh said. “When those freshmen lose reps, that’s when it gets more frustrating than anything else.”
Fullbacks continue to shine
After Griffin halted Graves for no gain, the offense got some breathing room on the next play, when sophomore fullback Jared Mohamed squirted through the middle on a dive to move the chains.
Mohamed and classmate Joe Protheroe are both vying to fill the void left by graduating senior Brandon Howe at a vital and taxing position in Cal Poly’s triple-option offense.
So far so good from the sophomores, who both found the end zone in last week’s scrimmage. “I think both the fullbacks, Jared Mohamed and Joe Protheroe, have done really well,” Walsh said. “We were pretty sure where Joe was, but Jared was coming off a bad hamstring injury from a year ago, so we wanted to see what he was going to be all about, and he’s really responded really well. So that’s a position I feel good about.”
Mohamed, the fourth Mohamed brother to play at Cal Poly, suffered a tricky right upper hamstring injury as a freshman that kept him out the majority of the season. He said he got back to 100 percent during winter workouts, and he’s now able to focus fully on working with Protheroe to maximize production up the middle.
“There’s no tension or anything like that; it’s all about getting better,” Mohamed said of the competition. “We’re trying to be a two-headed horse right now, because if one guy goes down, the next guy is supposed to be just as good, so we’re trying to do that.
“It’s such a tiresome position. You get hit every play, so over time, you need a break and you need someone to come in and help you out. It’s always good to have two or three guys.”
Abou suspended from team following arrest
Walsh spoke briefly on Marvin Abou, the junior offensive lineman who was arrested this past weekend on suspicion of felony DUI stemming from a car crash that left two passengers with minor injuries.
Walsh said Abou, who was listed third at right guard on the spring depth chart, has been suspended until all legal matters are resolved.
“Obviously, extreme disappointment but also extremely grateful that everybody is healthy,” Walsh said. “It’s unfortunate for him because that’s probably going to end his football career. It’s just not what we envisioned happening this weekend, but it did, and it’s unsettling quite a bit and disappointing.”
Other practice notes:
•After a hip flexor injury to kicker/punter Stephen Pyle early last season left the Mustangs to rely on slotbacks Elias Stokes and Chris Nicholls to handle kicking duties in a loss at South Dakota State, Cal Poly has six kickers participating in spring practices. Pyle is back and healthy, and joining him are Zach Schottenfeld, Alex Vega, James Foug, Ean Hendrickson and Nick Blount. Walsh said Vega “is showing an extremely strong leg,” while Schottenfeld is “probably playing the most consistently right now.” Walsh said only two or three kickers will make it to fall camp, and situational kicking in the spring game could go a long way toward deciding who stays.
•With starting quarterback Chris Brown still in a walking boot and Graves seeing limited repetitions as both continue to get healthy, the majority of quarterback snaps have gone to junior transfer Andrew Barna and redshirt freshman Kai Ross. Both showed a mix bag Wednesday. Barna struggled to make adjustments at the line of scrimmage with the defensive players on the sideline in his ear, but he stepped up and found Roland Jackson on a back-shoulder throw on that same sideline for about a 25-yard gain. At 6-foot-2, Ross looks the part of a dual-threat quarterback and made some strong throws during 1-on-1 drills, but also fumbled a snap during goal-line work.