Spring practice report: First one in the bag

There is a new sense of excitement as the Wildcats began their first spring drills under new head coach Mike Stoops. Players arrived at the practice field early and most of the team stayed late in an effort to soak as much as they can from the new coaching staff.

Unfortunately, only the first half-hour of practice is open to the media, but you could get a feel that there was a new attitude in the air. There was a lot of positive energy and enthusiasm. Things were very organized and very fast paced. Players hustled from station to station and there was a definite sense of urgency.

"It was fun to get the first practice out of the way and I couldn't be more pleased with our kid's effort and attitudes today," Mike Stoops said.

Stoops was impressed with the way the team came out. They had a lot thrown at them, but in the eyes of the coaches they responded very well. The goal is for 75-80% of the offense and the defense to be implemented by the end of spring, so a lot of work has to be done.

"Obviously our assignments and responsibilities are still a learning process," Stoops said. "Kids are thinking out of the field and it's just going to take some time until they are comfortable in what they are doing. I thought overall our execution on both sides of the ball was really good.

There has already been a change in the players after just a few short months in the new conditioning program. The full effects won't be felt for some time, but a noticeable change has already occurred.

"We're faster, a little bit stronger, a little bit quicker than before," Stoops noted. "It's hard to understand exactly because kids are thinking. This is a game of reaction. People, when they think a lot, it is hard for them to play at their maximum speed. I think as we move forward we'll get faster and quicker in our execution."

A lot is being thrown at the players. Many have heard that Stoops is very demanding, but he knows there is only so much a player can absorb in a short time. Stoops and the staff as a whole know that the players must be held accountable for learning all of the new system, but that there also needs to be a realistic timetable put into place.

"Be patient, understand that it will come as we move forward," Stoops said of his mantra for the players. "Don't expect to be great the first day, even as hard as we have worked and as hard as they are trying. It just takes time to be good. If we keep working like we did today, we'll improve as we move through the spring."

Players were given their playbooks the night before. They knew a lot of the material beforehand, but many of them were busy studying the plays late last night.

Many of the players were very impressed with the fact that drills were designed to get as many players involved as much as possible. Where once players were sitting around watching, now two huddles are going on simultaneously so that a second group can get ready to participate as soon as possible.

One immediate difference was that the quarterbacks were clad in yellow jerseys. Former coach John Mackovic did not like his quarterbacks looking any different than the other players, going so far as saying that he did not want them to look like "sissies". The yellow shirts made them immediately identifiable and you can bet that any defender will know they are not to be hit.

Practice began with some stretching and light conditioning. After that some players worked on special teams and with the rest of the offense doing position drills. The defense worked as a unit to put in some new formations.

During this time the quarterbacks worked a lot on footwork and pocket awareness. Receivers and running backs spent a lot of time on their footwork as well

Nest the team broke up into various drills that stressed fundamentals. Offensive players worked on holding onto the ball and recovering fumbles, while the defense did quite a bit of work on pursuit drills. Between each drill the players sprinted to the next station, never walking.

After that the practice was close to all visitors, but afterwards the players said that things went very well. One thing that the players were really excited about was an extended scrimmage session. Normally, the old staff would scrimmage for just a few plays. During this first practice the scrimmage session lasted over 45 minutes, allowing for a lot of competition between the offense and the defense.

Another thing that impressed the players was the fact that Stoops got in the middle of a drill. During a 7-on-7 passing drill Stoops lined up for a play at linebacker to show how it was done.

"They threw to his side," Nic Costa said. "He's not as fast as when he was a player, so he couldn't get to the ball."

The Cats return to practice on Thursday. That session is closed to the public. Saturday's practice will be the first open session for the public. Practice kicks off at 9:45 a.m.

NOTES:

*A handful of former Wildcats returned to the fold. DT Brad Brittain (suspension/junior college), WR Juan Valentine (injury) and RB Chris Harris (left team) all participated in practice. It also appears as if former long snapper Ben DalMolin has rejoined the team. DalMolin left the squad when he was not awarded a scholarship before the start of camp. Gainus Scott and Gilbert Harris were reinstated. Scott had ineligibility issues, while Harris was suspended for an unspecified rule violation.

*Among the players no longer with the team are OL Phil Clark, CB Jason Martin, OL Tom Robinson, RB Beau Carr and DT Shawn Pack. Keith Jackson was suspended last season and was not eligible to return to the team.

*A few players have changed positions. Sean Jones went from fullback to linebacker. Akin Akinniyi was moved to offense midway last season but has returned to linebacker.


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