It is mid-March and we are knee deep in spring ball. Here at Your Best 11, we've hit on what spring ball is all about, touched on some of my personal favorites and talked about running a practice. Spring is physical, spring is time for coaches to teach and players to grab a hold of spots on the depth chart.
For players at the macro level, it is about getting from one day to the next, while navigating meetings and coming out of the 15 practices without injury. On the more micro level, every player enters spring with not only their own individual goals, but with goals that the coaches have created for them.
One player might go into spring fighting to make the two-deep roster, while his coaches are looking to see if he can be a reliable addition to their special teams. There are also guys who are looking to prove that they are back from an injury. Other players are locked in legitimate position battles where they split reps and jockey for position in the two-deep.
Whatever the individual motivations may be, spring accommodates them all.
I know some schools have morning practices. With the exception of Saturdays and bowl practice, I've never had one. Those schools absolutely intrigue me with their scheduling and working the class schedule around them. However, for today's sake, we'll stick to the afternoon practice schedules that most schools run.
Whether you like the morning of practices or not, most guys have to get up for breakfast, at the very least. If you are one of the kids on hard-gainers or healthy choice diets, two very opposite ends of the spectrum, that likely entails your food options being monitored by a strength and conditioning coach. Skinny guys who need to gain get huge omelets and breakfast sandwiches shoveled down their throat. Fat guys, who need to lose, get egg whites, lean chicken and turkey bacon.
Then, players get their classes in. Normally, the window is from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. or 2 p.m. That's right, all the classes that you need have to fit into that window, be taken online, or be of the rare evening class for undergrad variety. Yes, if something that you need comes during practice time, you can take it, but it is not exactly encouraged in the grand scheme of things.
The time between getting classes in and eating lunch passes quickly. Before long, players have to be back at the facilities to ready themselves for practice.
That's a model practice schedule, folks. Some coaches show it, some coaches don't. Somehow, backup quarterbacks always seem to have a copy stashed somewhere on them, which makes them good people to know.
Everyone's schedule looks a little different, but the schedules basically break down into periods, locations and who is involved in said periods. Schools like Oregon and Oklahoma State squeeze more reps into smaller time frames. Others take the classic script approach so that coaches can see specific players in given situations.
Ultimately, regardless of style, spring is a time when players bring energy and are looking forward to getting out there and working. You hit the field for pre-practice, and that is where you get on the same page with respect to installations and physically go over the issues corrected in film.
You go over your checks, check your adjustments and work the kinks out at a walk-through pace. Some places legitimately walk it through, with the emphasis on teaching and correction. Others go at a faster pace to force players to work through it quicker and to pack more onto the plate for everyone.
Then you hear the air horn, and you're moving on the hop to flex. Static and dynamic flex are the norm in college football. Kids stretch the muscles out, then get the muscles warm. You sweat during flex. This is not touch your toes or stretch your hammies out, folks. Strength and conditioning really stretch you out and get you moving so that you are all lathered up to start the practice.
The horn sounds and you are moving to your next spot, individual drills. Position groups are split up into their own teams and those coaches work them out. They work on correcting your technique flaws and fixing the way the group works as a unit.
One thing that I have found to be really cool is that coaches let the groups work together. The starting offensive line working a sled together to grow more cohesion. The second group of linebackers working their drops together during that period. Football is a team game, and when the pieces understand how and where they fit, it helps produce a better outcome.
Then horn goes off again and you get to what spring is all about, getting physical and competing. Competition can be done a number of ways, but players tend to absolutely love it. Here is where you'll see your Hoot'n'Holler, your Big Cat Drill and your Oklahomas. Some teams do it in position groups, others circle the entire team up so that everyone is watching as guys get after one another.
If you're a player and you lose here, no one is going to let you forget. If you get bodied by someone that you should, in theory, manhandle, you're going to hear about. Hell, if a stud senior is worked to a stalemate by a freshman, that is grounds to be clowned.
As the next horn sounds and you head to specials, you see more of what spring is about. Coaches are looking for guys to add to their teams. As their core players graduate or move on to starting positions, they are looking for young guys and backups to replace them.
After quick work on specials, you move to 9-on-7 period. Some call it "Inside O period." It is when safeties, linebackers and defensive linemen work on run fits against the offensive line, tight ends and running backs. It is a tough man period and, if your team is going to be of the physical type, the period your players learn to love. There is a real, "I hit you, you hit me. Let's keep hitting each other until we find out who is better," quality to it all.
While this is going on, your receivers and quarterbacks are down with the cornerbacks working on man coverage. They are doing the things that skill guys do: run fast and be athletes.
Then the horn sounds again, just as the guys running 9-on-7 are reaching a boiling point, if they have not already. You transition from one tough, physical period, to 7-on-7 where, if the receivers and offense have their way, touching is kept to a minimum.
Like 9-on-7, a lot of coaches have scripted looks and plays that they want to dial up in an effort to see what they have on the roster. They want to see if the player who redshirted last season can step in as a suitable Z receiver. They are looking to see if the safety who seems to be getting it can truly cover the deep half.
The horn sounds again and you are moving to specials. This time it is field goal. The big boys, after spending time working technique, get back involved with the team here. Given what we see on a week-to-week basis in the college football world, the value of field goals cannot be overstated. Making field goals is not easy, and while the specialists kick all the time, you have to practice them as a team to avoid blocks, know how to get blocks and what to do in case of a busted play or a called fake.
From there, we move to the team period of practice. As I said in my effective spring ball piece, I'm a big fan of getting the twos and threes work in spring. So, while some coaches have a set number of scripted plays or a total number of plays they want to get in, I'm a fan of using a set time. Whatever you get in through the 15 minutes, while working different groups into the game, then so be it.
Which finally brings us to what a lot of teams are doing now, blending competition with situations. It helps make the situation more pressing, because there is a punishment or reward at the end. Players can only prepare for situations in real games by rehearsing them and understanding what they are supposed to do.
So, during this period you are running offense versus defense as guys fight for a win. Players get a little help realizing that turnovers are killers. They learn that getting a stop is a win. Penalties can make a bad situation worse. All things that, in theory, every player already knows, but when they are drilled into you during practice in real scenarios, they become more palpable.
Losers do their up-downs, coach delivers any messages he has and then the boys take it to the house. That's practice, folks. You grab some grub after, look over your plays and get ready for the next day of lifting and being hammered in film. Spring does not have many, if any, back-to-back practices. That means tomorrow is going to be all about watching the film of your last practice and dissecting it piece by piece to find ways to get better.