RUSTON -- Louisiana Tech held its first football practice in shoulder pads and the players took full advantage of the extra protection with a very physical practice on the Tech practice fields Monday evening.
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The defensive unit was especially motivated to make big stops with big hits and the first team unit shut down the first team offense early in practice. The offense battled back later in practice with some strikes of its own.
"It was a good day, it was a physical day," said head coach Sonny Dykes. "I liked the way our guys came out with a high level of intensity. I was really pleased with the effort. This has been a good group so far; these guys really practice hard and make each other better. We just have to continue to come out and practice hard and do a better job probably of taking care of each other than we did today but I did like the intensity."
The first day in pads gave a better look at the linemen, linebackers and running backs with their ability to not shy away from contact. The offensive line was the most impressive bunch out of that group but that is not surprising considering that unit returns four starters that have a combined 91 starts to their credit.
"What I liked was with our first team offensive line - those guys are playing really well together," Dykes said. "They have a good sense of what the other guys is doing and seem to be a mature group and are playing well together. That is important for those five guys; they have to operate well as a unit. They are doing that better than any time they have in the past. I think our run blocking has been pretty good with that group as well. I have been pleased with those guys so far."
While the coaches saw what they expected out of Hunter Lee and Ray Holley, freshman Kenneth Dixon was able to show a level of physical play that drew comments from the crowd on hand to watch Monday's practice.
"Kenneth [Dixon] is a big guy, he is a load," Dykes said. "He has to learn how to avoid those collisions and we have to learn how to practice well together. He is going to be a tough guy to tackle. We think he does a good job of running behind his pads but we will see how he does over the long haul. Sometimes freshmen tend to wear out a little bit but he is one of those kids that is strong enough, physical enough and we think mature enough that we think he is a special guy and have high expectations for him. We will see how it plays out."
With the physical play, a couple of defensive linemen and a linebacker also made impressions on the coaching staff Monday.
"Jon'al White did some good things up front today," recalled Dykes. "He is someone who showed up time and time again. I was really pleased with Chip Hester; he is starting to come into his own. He has a little bit better sense of what we are doing defensively. He has shown flashes before and has not been as consistent as he needs to be. Kendrick James - I have been really, really pleased with what he has done so far. He has done a good job with his pass rush and I think he has played physical at that end spot. He has been a pleasant surprise. We were expecting good things out of him but he has been everything we have expected and then some so far."
Louisiana Tech returns to the Tech practice fields Tuesday for another 6 p.m. practice in helmets and shoulder pads.