How to Run the Most Effective College Football Spring Practice
Effectiveness, as far as practice methods goes, is largely based upon the desired goal to be achieved. For some coaches it is about speed and high reps. For others it is about perfecting the nuance, while some coaches are truly looking to see competition and guys fight to get their spots.
On this jaunt through spring ball, I get to play coach and my standard for effective is the metric by which we are designing practice. Personally, as we've discussed at Your Best 11 before, I think spring ball is about evaluating your roster, teaching and fighting for placement on the depth chart.
So, with that in mind, it should make sense that I'm not as into the cramming of practices into a short time period as some coaches. I'm giving my kids more time. More time to digest the information we are giving them. More time for my staff to evaluate their players, and for us to work together to evaluate things as a whole. More time to let bodies recover from physical practices.
That means at least a month for my guys to get their 15 spring practices in, a little more if the dates don't align perfectly. Essentially three practices a week for the next five weeks. The team still hits the weight room and they get a day off to get their minds off of football and spend a little time being kids; while my coaches and I review the week in the office.
Everyone worries about the practice schedule. Hell, when I played, I was obsessed with the periods, how long they were and what field we'd be on, too. We'll get to that in a bit. Teaching is the big goal here and for that, getting time to watch film, do installations, chalk talk and review the previous practice is paramount.
The reason we haven't got to the field portion yet is because your practices are incredibly more efficient and effective when players understand what's going on. In the early going, that means installations. As you get into practice and have film to review, that means identifying mistakes, drilling the corrections into your charges with mental reps on the chalkboard and then getting back out on the field to work.
Which finally gets us on to the field. I think the point on teaching and correcting mistakes on film is clear, but to have an effective practice, you have to actually practice.
That starts with pre-practice, offense on their field and defense on their field going over all of those corrections that you just drilled in the meetings leading up to practice. If you're on defense you motion players and setup different formations to make sure the players all understand the necessary adjustments. On offense you line up different fronts and show different coverage looks to remind your players how to identify what you just discussed on film.
After flex, I like to move to individual drills, and I like a lengthy individual drills. This is the basis of playing your position. For defensive backs that means tackling, back pedaling, shuffling, weaving and hip overs. On the offensive line that's punches, kickslides, stance and start and combo work.
Here is another opportunity for coaches to critique and correct. This time it isn't about alignment, rather, it is about technique. Being too high, not shooting the hips or simply taking a false step. In individual drills, where the position coach gets to be one on one with his guys, you can fix the nitpicking things. Coaches tweak things here so that they become second nature when a real game scenario comes to fruition.
To wrap up individual drills, I love doing competition. Offensive linemen versus defensive linemen in one area fighting to win. Safeties and linebackers versus running backs and tight ends battling it out. Corners and wide receivers doing their thing as well. Everyone fighting to win, intensity picks itself up and guys are trying to get better as they beat their teammates.
We'll work special teams next in an effort to go from offense versus defense, to get back to team versus team. Specials period is a great chance for guys to go all out, grab some water as the next group goes and prepare for practice.
After a quick specials period, I go inside run. 9 on 7 to most folks. You let the quarterbacks, the wide receivers and the corners go play catch and run one-on-ones while the men in the trenches do big boy work. I think inside run is the period where you find out what sort of football team you have.
If your team loves going to 9 on 7, then odds are you got a bunch of snot-bubble knocking, punch you in the face tough guys on both sides of the ball. If your team views 9 on 7 as a necessary evil, then perhaps the physical stuff is not your forte.
In my 9 on 7 we're gonna hit. We're gonna hit each other and then hit a little bit more. There will be fights because someone is going to get tired of getting their behind whipped. Then we'll hit a little more. We're not gonna tackle, I want folks staying off legs, but the need for physicality will be conveyed as pads pop and slobber gets knocked.
This is where you practice your defensive run fits. This period is where your offensive guys master their phone booth blocking. You'll find out if that early enrollee offensive linemen is ready to run with men, or if you'll probably need to redshirt him. Mistakes are not the worst thing in the world here, indecision and shying away are. You can live with a guard who blocks the wrong guy, you can't live with a guy who doesn't want to get physical.
Next, I'd roll right into 7-on-7. My big boys on the lines could catch a blow and work some pass rush games, while the rest of my guys work the passing game. I think folks would be surprised to see how much coaching can, and should, be done during 7-on-7.
The secondary coach should be working with his guys as the plays go to ask what keys they were watching and why they were slow getting out of breaks. Linebackers coach has to help his players figure out how to get to their landmarks in space, while honoring the run by taking their read step every play.
On offense quarterbacks coaches should be asking about what the QB saw that made him make that bad read. Wide receiver coaches talking to his players about getting off of press man, finding a zone and sitting down or asking why they ran the short option instead of the deep move against a given coverage.
After the outside period, I'd hit field goal. Give my little guys a break, and a chance to talk to their coaches, while the kickers do a little work along with the offensive line. Get those in, talk about fakes and what to do if there is a bad snap.
Then we'd move to team period. In spring, I'm a big fan of a 10-8-5 styled progression. 10 plays for the first teamers. Eight plays for the second string. Five plays for the last group. The first run through, go based upon depth chart. The second time through the plays, move guys around. Move that second teamer to first team and see how he fits. Give that third team redshirt freshmen a shot to run with the twos and see if he is ready to pass the junior who is not as talented athletically.
That's not giving someone a position. Rather, it is about seeing how they respond when their status is elevated. Do they rise to the occasion to play with the best you have, or do they shy away from the chance to climb the depth chart? Evaluate those opportunities in real time, and later on film, and figure out if your team is better off moving certain kids up in the ranks or at least working them into the rotation.
Which brings us to the end of practice: situations. Situations have to be done on a damn near daily basis. You see kids looking to the sidelines at critical junctures and timeouts being wasted or too many men on the field at crucial moments in a game? That's because that team did not practice their situations.
It isn't about going through the motions or just checking the box. No, situations drills are about ensuring that everybody on the field understands the scenario and that they are truly buying into the moment. If you say it is third and six, you're down four, from the 37 going in, with 57 seconds on the clock; then your kids have to be living in that moment.
Play the situation out and depending upon who wins, offense or defense, someone is doing up-downs.
That's practice for me. You get good work out of it and guys get to compete in an effort to show what they can do. Obviously, you'll want some variance over the 12 padded practices you have. Some days you'll want to do a best of five fourth and short series. Other times you'll want to do team individual competitions to show your guys that you can have a little fun. Either way, point is competition, guys getting after it and teachable moments are the real goal of spring practice.
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