Early enrollees are the newest, favorite toys that college football coaches have in the game, and as they transition from winter workouts to spring ball, every coach is hoping to see the same things out of the newcomers. Across the country, coaches are looking to see the young athletes learn to practice, try to digest the playbook and do both of those things while playing fast.
On the outside, fans and media are looking to see the newest prospects push for a job and fill holes on the roster. Inside the program, given the uncertainty of freshmen and complexities of transitioning from high school to college, coaches and teammates just want to see the younger players compete.
The beauty of the early enrollee is participation during spring ball, but more importantly, the push to become a part of the team dynamic during the spring semester. Winter workouts give the athletes a chance to find their place on the team, and as spring ball starts, that place takes on a greater meaning as the pads come on.
Every team has its own approach. For some teams, there is a lunch-pail attitude where everyone falls in line and works hard. Other teams have a flash to them that, even in workouts, shines through the sweat of hard work. There are jokesters, leaders, screamers and eye rollers up and down the roster.
By getting in early, during one of the toughest times on a collegiate players' schedule, these new players are finding where they fit. That fit carries over to the practice field, and as spring ball starts, coaches will be looking to make sure their newest players get with the program, where learning to practice is a big part of the fit.
Learning how to practice is the most under-discussed transition issue players have early on in the college process. Speed is critical, and understanding tempos is a bear for most athletes fresh out of high school, especially for early enrollees who come in thin numbers and do not have the luxury of 25 other class members all learning at the same time.
After going through winter workouts and getting their mind right, early enrollees need to show carryover to the practice field to encourage coaches on how they fit with the team. Quarterbacks need to work into commanding the offense. Linemen have to get physical against the opposition. Skill players should be moving quick and challenging their counterparts across the line of scrimmage.
Along with competing, the new college football players have to also understand tempo. The tempo of drills. The tempo of the transitions between practice periods. And, of course, the tempo of contact. Thud tempo is a big part of collegiate practices, and new players have to work in to understanding how to work thud tempo and still be productive. That means staying off legs, butting, pressing and fitting up plays while allowing everyone to get good work done on the field.
With limited spring sessions, coaches are looking to see players fit into the practice dynamic and move fast, with an appetite for competition. Coaches are also looking to see kids digest the playbook in an effort to get better. Scheme comprehension is critical for spring ball, when everyone starts from scratch, and the newcomers get to work on installs to learn the basics.
Learning to practice and practice fast is job one, and learning what to do, schematically, is the second key coaches are watching. The playbook is where coaches do take the time to bring the younger players up to speed. There are teach tapes and practice films that serve as teachable moments. The staff will push the athletes to learn and, most importantly, work to correct them on the basics of the playbook so that bad habits and improper techniques are not processed in the spring.
And, as was the case with learning to practice, coaches are looking to see everything happen fast.
There will be plenty of mistakes made by the young bucks. However, as most coaches will reiterate time and again, making those mistakes fast and with good effort is a problem that can be corrected with work. Moving slow makes the teaching and correction more difficult, whether it is due to effort or the dreaded "paralysis by analysis."
As programs fire up the spring machine, pay attention to the practice reports and how the coaches discuss the newcomers. If the players are flying around to the football and working into drills with success, the early enrollees will be on the track to the ultimate goal: competing for playing time come Saturdays in the fall.