UAB fall practice report: ‘Mr. Kumbaya’ and creating practice chaos

Published Aug. 01, 2023, 2:31 p.m.
By Evan Dudley
The UAB football team opened fall camp Monday in Birmingham and is now two days into preseason practice. The Blazers will remain in helmets and shells this week while continuing to battle high temperatures and oppressive humidity.
Here are some observations from the limited access period provided to the media:
-- UAB head coach Trent Dilfer was his usual fiery and talkative self on Tuesday and reiterated his thoughts on the team’s vast improvement from spring into fall camp. While freely admitting the need for parleying improvement to production, Dilfer was most pleased with the entire program getting together on the same page.
“I don’t want to be like Mr. Kumbaya, everything’s rose petals and rainbows, but I just really enjoy being around this group. They enjoy being around each other. We’re a lot better than in the spring and they’re responding better. We understand them and their mindsets and their habits are better. How do you view the glass half-full or half-empty right now? It’s pouring over in terms of improvement and that has to equal execution as we get deeper into this thing. But it’s a massive victory to get a building of 175 people all moving in the same direction.”
-- The secondary was hit hard with the departures of cornerback Starling Thomas V and safeties Will Boler and Grayson Cash and took a sucker punch post-spring when Jaylen Key opted to finish his career at Alabama. However, not all is lost with Keondre Swoopes, Damien and Damon Miller and even Ike Rowell leading the backend from spring into fall. Rowell was a special teams constant last season and has ascended the rotation since spring practice.
“We really are excited about the depth of our secondary. We have really good players, they’re professionals and treat it as such. They all look at it as an opportunity. Look at the twins (Damien and Damon Miller), they have a great opportunity now to be difference makers, and Swoopes, obviously, his versatility to play different positions (is a great benefit). The freshman, (Chris) Bracy, has been really impressive. We like having a lot of good players and position groups and we feel that way in the secondary.”
-- The Blazers hit the lights Wednesday for an evening practice before taking off Thursday. They’ll reconvene Friday morning and practice Saturday following the conclusion of UAB Fan Fest at Legacy Pavilion.
“I’m a believer -- and I’m sure there are coaches way better than me that will disagree with this -- in trying to create as many distractions as possible and as much chaos, disruption and uncomfortableness as possible within a camp setting. You can’t control the distractions that happen the 24 hours around the game so they have to be conditioned to those things. Everything we do constantly creates that distraction and they have to learn how to refocus, lock in and ignore what’s going on around them.”
-- A couple of fresh faces popped up at camp in long-snapper Caleb Moser and safety Ray Thornton. The latter is a former Clemson turned USF transfer, who racked up 24 tackles and two pass breakups through three seasons, and could make an immediate impact once cleared by the NCAA. Thornton is currently not in uniform but has observed practice the last two days and should be made available any day now.
-- There are two UAB players that have earned preseason accolades this week as the Blazers open fall camp and both are crucial to each side of the ball. Jermaine Brown, who quietly produced more than 2,000 rushing yards behind Spencer Brown and DeWayne McBride, is one of 85 players named to the Maxwell Award watch list, while Fish McWilliams, who has 70 tackles (14.5 for loss), 8.5 sacks and three fumble recoveries for his career, was named to the Outland Trophy watch list.

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