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VOL. 131 | NO. 62 | Monday, March 28, 2016

Sports Notebook: Lynch at Gruden’s QB Camp, Memphis Defense, Cards' Leadoff Hitter

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If you want to see the whole thing, Jon Gruden’s QB Camp with former University of Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch will air at 11 a.m. on Saturday, April 16, on ESPN. The NFL Draft is April 28-30 in Chicago.

We viewed some outtakes. A few highlights:

Former Memphis QB Paxton Lynch gets his turn in Jon Gruden's QB Camp on ESPN.

(Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)

• Gruden is impressed by Lynch’s sheer size, telling him, “You really are 6-foot-7, aren’t you? I think you’re the biggest camper I ever had.”
• On the field, there’s an amusing moment when Gruden becomes a one-man pass rush and chases Lynch.
• There is much made – too much – of U of M’s less than glorious football past. Gruden has Lynch explain how he ended up there, and at one point Lynch even says, “I didn’t even know they had a football program” until contacted by Memphis.
• Pouncer, the Tigers mascot, is shown jumping around on the big screen in Gruden’s film room, and the former NFL coach and Monday Night Football commentator even cracks on him, saying he doesn’t exactly look “formidable,” and that opponents would call up Memphis to pet the Tiger and schedule them for homecoming.
• Gruden tells Lynch he was impressed with the way he hung in there during his freshman season when some fans and media were calling for an older quarterback (Jacob Karam). “You never wavered,” Gruden said.
• Lynch tells Gruden that ever since he was a kid, he had the dream to play in the NFL: “I didn’t come to play college and stop.”
• Lynch says his teammates at Memphis were like brothers to him. “You love those guys.”
• Gruden sends Lynch to the whiteboard and has him go through plays and routes in Justin Fuente’s offense. If you like football buzz words, including “hitch” and “slant” and “press,” you’ll enjoy this bit.

At NFL.com, four different experts have done mock drafts nfl.com/draft/2016/mock-drafts. Three of the four have Lynch going 31st in the first round to the Denver Broncos (uh-oh, better be ready to play when Mark Sanchez fails) and the fourth mock has Lynch going 29th overall to the Arizona Cardinals. That’s probably a better fit, where Lynch could be groomed behind veteran starter Carson Palmer.

Defense as offense?

It’s no secret that last season the offense was the strength of the U of M football team. Too often the defense was a liability. And too often, too predictable and static.

That should change under new head coach Mike Norvell and his defensive coordinator Chris Ball, who were both assistants at Arizona State before coming to Memphis.

“Nowadays, you gotta attack and try and dictate as much as you can, be multiple defensively, and you’ve got to impact the quarterback somehow, some way,” Ball said. “That’s either by different looks front-wise, and coverage-wise.”

It is, well, an offensive approach to defense. And probably necessary when so many teams will try to do what the Tigers want to do on offense: go up-tempo and run as many plays as possible.

The American Athletic Conference, Ball says, has a familiar feel.

“Very similar to the PAC-12,” he said. “A lot of offense. Most everybody is up-tempo, gonna run a lot of plays, make you play in space.”

In this scheme, the Tigers will have some hybrid positions. Jackson Dillon will be playing Cat, which is a cross between linebacker and defensive end. There will also be a Spur position, which is a cross between safety and linebacker. Shaun Rupert, a 6-1, 195-pound transfer from the University of Missouri, is penciled in at Spur.

When Fuente first left for Virginia Tech there was much fear that linebacker Genard Avery would leave the program. But he’s on the roster.

“I was worried about it at first, until we sat him down and showed what an impact he can be in this defense,” Ball said. “Once he saw that, it was an easy decision for him.”

St. Louis Cardinals leadoff hitter

For now, all signs point to Matt Carpenter holding on to his top-of-the-order role most days.

But Kolten Wong really hasn’t backed off his desire to hit there and manager Mike Matheny won’t go so far as to say Wong can’t do it, if also making it clear why Carpenter is better suited to the job now.

Last season, Carpenter had a .365 on-base percentage and his 81 walks led the team. Wong had a .321 on-base percentage and walked just 36 times. Wong was second on the club in stolen bases with 15, behind now-Chicago Cub Jason Heyward’s 23 thefts. Carpenter stole just four bases.

Both Wong and Carpenter struck out too much, Wong whiffing 95 times in 557 at-bats and Carpenter fanning 151 times in 574 at-bats – tied for seventh-most in the National League.

“You have to be on base,” Matheny told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I don’t care how you do that. Preferably you do it with everything. But (Wong) has everything. As far as the potential power, as far as the ability to get hits, big hits and extra-base hits.

“(But) there is an art to certain guys. (Carpenter) grinds at-bats. That’s a learned trait he has. Not to say Kolten can’t. Kolten has had an approach this spring – something he came up with on his own – of seeing pitches. That’s all good. But it comes down to results. Results are, do you get on base or not?”

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