It was later in the practice, the 13th of 18 periods, when auditions were conducted for spots on four special-team units.
"That's why we call it the big four because it encompasses all four — punt, punt return, kickoff, kickoff return," said Chris "Demo" Demarest, who coordinates special teams.
In the big-four drill, there are four players on each side, starting in a prone position. At the whistle, coverage players jump up and sprint downfield. The hold-up players jump up and try to re-reoute the coverage players.
The seemingly simple drill is a study in technique, discipline and effort. For instance, a coverage player on the outside lane is supposed to set the edge and prevent the returner from running wide. Three times Demarest fumed when an outside player left his lane to chase the returner.
The hold-up players were implored to stay in front of the coverage player — stab and lag — to re-route without clipping. Demarest does not tolerate penalties, not even in practices.
Demarest said he has received coach Norm Chow's blessing to use every player but quarterbacks on the big four.
"We're going to find the best available players for special teams," Demarest said. "Everybody has an opportunity, whether you're on scholarship or a walk-on, to catch my attention."
Demarest said starters are limited to playing on two of the four units.