Why Starting Spots Are Won and Lost in Spring Not Fall
Spring football is about pulling together as a team, identifying starters and beginning to figure out how to beat your rival come fall.
But there is also time in fall practice to work on these things, and "fine-tune" a team to the point of preparedness for game speeds.
So what are the benefits to labeling starters in spring practice? And how are players who are prepared to take on starting roles identified?
This list runs down some of the benefits of nailing down the two-deep early in the spring, as well as how the players are chose.
Granted, there are a plethora of reasons, but the ones found here seem to be the major contributing factors.
8. Physical Conditioning
There are plenty of reasons a coach might start one player over another off of spring ball; conditioning is just one of them.
If a guy gets to spring practice who was supposed put on 10 pounds in the offseason, but hasn't gained any weight, of course there are going to be questions about his level of dedication.
If the same guy is gassed after a few up-downs, coaches are going to begin looking elsewhere for a starter.
By the same token, the guy who is in shape in spring practice has shown his level of dedication and willingness to work hard at preparing for his opportunities on the field.
While this is not the only determining factor, it does contribute.
The man who is prepared for spring ball will be just as prepared come Week 1.
7. Mental Conditioning
Being in great physical shape is only part of the game.
Players coming into spring practice have to demonstrated a firm grasp of the principles of the system in which they are playing.
On top of that, the middle linebacker who comes into spring practice and looks lost on the field, blowing assignments more often than not, is going to seriously put his job in jeopardy.
The player who knows the playbook—is familiar with the system, and has spent much of his offseason watching game tape and preparing to play the position—will have a much better shot at earning a starting spot in the spring, and he should.
Being prepared for the mental aspect of the game early in the spring will have major benefits when game time rolls around.
6. Fall Is for Fine-Tuning
While part of the spring can be spent getting eyeballs on players and trying to determine who fits best where, the same is not true for fall practice.
Time spent checking players' abilities and skills is time that would be better spent preparing for a team's Week 1 opponent.
Fall is for fine-tuning, working out the kinks and getting as many reps as possible at game speed.
Identifying starters in spring practice allows coaches to use as much time as they can in the fall for conditioning and smoothing out whatever system they are utilizing.
Tabbing a freshman as a started in the spring allows him those extra few months to adjust to the thought of starting, as well as to establish himself as a leader and major contributor.
It's well worth doing as early as possible.
5. Time to Learn
Of course, a coach would like to have his two-deep at any position nailed down as soon as possible.
Hence the effort to figure out starting spots as early as possible.
This is one of the reasons. If a player demonstrates the talent and ability to start at the position, he should have the job as soon as possible to give him plenty of time to learn whichever side of the ball he is playing on.
Using Manziel as an example again, he enrolled early at A&M after graduating high school in January and was able to get a jump on learning a pretty complicated system.
It's not that a second-string player or even deeper on the depth chart can't learn the system.
However, when a guy is tabbed as starter, he has the motivation and need to learn the system as soon as possible.
Continuity is a big deal.
Having your starting quarterback figured out early in the spring allows him to perform in that position all spring, summer and fall.
He's the starter, the offense and coaching staff know it and the offense can be tailored around his strengths and weaknesses to be the best with him at the helm.
While waiting until fall is not disastrous, it can leave less time for tweaking in the office, or working together as a cohesive unit with a specific player under center or whatever position it might be.
Knowing the pieces that you have to play with early on in the game means you will know how to prepare and game-plan that much better as the season rolls around.
3. Grasp of the System
This is not true of every program; some of them run more basic, simpler offenses than others.
But team such as Arkansas and Oregon feature offenses that are not easy to learn right off the bat.
Oregon's spread options, while not rocket science, take some practice.
Bret Bielema's style of offense, featuring all kinds of shifts and movement pre-snap is not something to pick up overnight.
The more reps available to practice, the better the offense will be come game time.
Getting your two-deep established prior to fall practice means that the entire fall can be spent working on the system with the appropriate players.
This is the biggest reason guys win the starting job in the spring and competitions last until fall.
One player has more talent than the other, it is as simple as that.
It sounds dumb, but in reality, a player could be as mentally prepared and as in shape as he might hope to be and still not earn a starting nod because the other guy is a step faster, a shade stronger or just a little bit quicker out of his stance.
There is a reason Johnny Manziel is the starting quarterback at Texas A&M: He can do things the rest of us only dream about on the football field.
Meanwhile, whoever is going to back him up cannot.
This is one of the primary reasons for winning a spot as early as spring practice.
Here is another major determining factor when picking starters for an FBS program, or really any level football team.
How much has the player been around the system? Has he demonstrated a solid grasp of the way the defense works? Has he been successful in the system, and does he have the experience in game situations to make the right play?
Sometimes a more talented younger player will find himself backing up a player who has been at the position in the same system for two or three seasons.
A player that coaches know they can count on has a leg up in the race when spring practice rolls around and the potential to parlay that experience into reps as the No. 1 player at his chosen position.