What College Football Fans Should Look for in Spring Practice

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What College Football Fans Should Look for in Spring Practice
Andy Lyons/ Getty Images

You will pay close attention to spring football happenings because the alternative is no football. That’s not the only reason you’ll tune in to college football’s interactive offseason, but it’s a solid foundation to build off of. 

More than half of the nation’s teams have started spring practice now that March has reached its midway point, which means the observations will continue to pour in. While “spring” is relative for teams depending on their geographical positioning, the importance of this time is not.

Spring football—along with spring games—are invaluable for coaches and teams. For fans, this signifies hope and another box to check off as a new season inches closer. It also provides a window into the future, an abbreviated look at what’s ahead.

What should you pay attention to? What should you avoid? 

Spring football tips ahoy.

 

Hello, Young Talent

This is the part fans can (and should) get giddy over, although such giddiness should be kept within reason. That’s like asking you to put half of your ice cream cone in the freezer, which can be a difficult act of self-control.

In many ways, spring football has become an extension of national signing day. The first reveal of some select freshmen-to-be typically comes at this time, and the dramatic uptick in early enrollees is only trending this connection upward.

The result is a sneak peek at more young players. And as is only natural, early positive returns from said players will likely generate intrigue that carries over into the season.

Such was the case with Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon, who burst onto the scene with a strong spring as a freshman and then dazzled the A-Day crowd at Alabama’s 2012 spring game. Yeldon finished with 179 yards from scrimmage in this televised scrimmage, and the estimated 4.7 billion Alabama fans in attendance salivated over this 50-yard touchdown catch.

The video titled “Yeldon is a monster” encompasses this theme quite nicely.

It turned out that this particular window was a look into the future. Yeldon backed up his strong spring showing with a 1,100-yard, 13-touchdown freshman season. He was also a key cog to a national championship run.

Of course, not all strong springs will result in immediate regular-season returns. Many of the freshmen you become acclimated with well before their first fall camp will spend the majority of the time on the bench their freshman season. The Yeldons are still rare.

But the familiarity process begins now, and you can play the role of scout if you so desire. At the very least, getting a glimpse of the players of tomorrow, today, is a welcomed offseason ritual.

 

Who’s Playing Where?

While new faces will often generate the buzz (see: above), familiar faces in new places can actually provide the most immediate intrigue.

Now, most of the time such position moves aren’t as drastic as the one LSU is attempting right now. Former Penn State quarterback Rob Bolden transferred to LSU back in 2012, although he won’t be listed as a quarterback going forward. 

Despite an opening at the position, Bolden will be on the other side of this connection going forward.

Typically such moves aren’t as drastic, but they are noteworthy. Is the undersized defensive end trying his luck at outside linebacker, working on transitioning to coverages? Is the offensive guard tucked deep down the depth chart being moved to defensive tackle in an effort to add some much-needed beef?

These changes may not come at noteworthy positions—and they likely won’t include established starters—but that doesn’t mean they aren’t important. In fact, these can be the quiet moves that help push a team over the edge.

That doesn’t mean it will work and that sudden depth will emerge at a position of concern, but it shouldn’t be disregarded, either. Now is the time to experiment and many teams will do just that.

 

The Right Position at the Right Time 

Look around the country: The mass exodus of established quarterbacks has created a temporary shortage of sorts, one that is magnified given the unknown. (If your team is Florida State, Oregon or UCLA you can skip to the next section. This does not apply to you.)

In most places, however, spring football will provide the first real opportunity for quarterbacks to state their case for the starting job. Schools such as Texas A&M, Clemson, LSU and Alabama—just to name a few marquee programs—will take advantage of the reps, field hours and tape. 

Or, if you're hoping to win the job at Texas A&M, mastering the art of a carnival game turned on-field drill can't hurt. 

Of course, all eyes are always on the quarterback. It can be spring football, the regular season, bowl games and recruiting. It consistently garners the most attention, and you know the ritual well. With holes to be filled, such interest will only be magnified.

Jobs won’t be won and lost over the course of a few weeks in March or April, but impressions will be made. And in the case of 2014—with openings aplenty and coaches looking to close them—the quarterback position should be viewed with a more powerful microscope.

 

Getting to Know Your New Coach (or New Scheme)

If your head coach, offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator from last season all return this spring, raise your hand? I can assume most of you have your hands lowered, and perhaps some of you aren't sure.

Have no fear, that's what this time is for.

The coaching carousel broke its governor long ago, and the result is consistent movement of coaches from the top down to various programs around the country. Because of this, new philosophical and systematical changes are implemented somewhat seamlessly. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take note now.

Is your defense finally switching to a 3-4 with a new man calling plays? If so, are the right players in place to anchor the change at defensive line. Or, is the defensive coordinator moving around players (see: above) to accommodate such drastic changes? Many of these tweaks to offenses and defenses are small, others not so much.

For a look into the "not so much" file, head on over to Louisville. How will Bobby Petrino look at Louisville with a new quarterback, a new offense and a rebuilt staff?

Timothy D. Easley/Associated Press

Man that still feels weird to type and the picture above hasn’t quite set in. It will, though. Eventually the weirdness will give way for football dissection. That time starts now.

Much like the young players we cannot wait to see, getting a glimpse of new coaching staffs—a regular occurrence—will prove to be the most impactful part of the season to come.

Flipping the Script: Don’t Obsess Over Scrimmage Numbers

While the items above are worth looking into, our obsession with scrimmage numbers—along with emergence of social media—is a different story. Yes, spring scrimmage numbers relayed after practice are now a key part of our obsession. 

It’s amazing. Your quarterback—regardless of whether he’s established or not—will somehow complete more passes than he throws during a scrimmage. His stats will be relayed on Twitter, and it will make your Madden efforts look woeful by comparison.

No, that won’t actually happen. It will certainly feel like it, though, especially with the emphasis being placed on scrimmage numbers. Zach Mettenberger's spring numbers the past two offseasons come to mind, and they included approximately 32,000 yards, 91 touchdowns and only a few incompletions.

Oh, and you better believe those incompletions were drops.

Bill Haber/Associated Press

Twitter, in particular, has given us more access to spring practices and field happenings than ever before. In many cases this access is a wonderful thing. In the case of scrimmage numbers, however, we often find ourselves salivating over a quarterback’s 20-of-22 throwing day with little context to go with it.

Like everything else this spring, take what you see, hear and read about with a grain of salt. Get excited, but be realistic, and take note of the finer aspects of this time that will play a role determining your team's success six months from now. 

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