As many teams soften their spring practices to save players some wear and tear entering the season Army is taking the other approach. The NCAA allows schools to have contact in 12 of the 15 practices allotted for the spring and of those 12 there are eight that are allowed to be full contact. Many teams have watered it down to less than half that number. Army on the other hand uses all eight.
“We are not always the biggest team or the fastest team,” said Joe Walker, a junior slot back. “One thing we pride ourselves on is being the toughest team.”
Part of that mentality, that toughness, is putting it all on the line in the spring. Navy for example has abandoned Saturday scrimmages and its spring game for the past three years, choosing instead to work on situational drills and playbook implementation. Army though has seen the benefits of running practices this way as players get useful experience hitting, while reinforcing the bond between teammates and leadership that is needed to be successful at this level of the college game.
“I know there’s a lot of teams that don’t hit at all in the spring,” head coach Jeff Monken said. “They don’t go in full gear. I just don’t think we can do that here. I don’t think we can run our offense and improve as much as we need to going in shells (helmets and shoulder pads) and not being able to get on the ground and block below the waist and work on scoops and arc blocks.”
This is a huge difference between Army and some of the other programs out there. You can watch film and work on timing patterns all day if you throw the ball a lot. This is how you learn. With the triple option though so much is predicated on the ability of the offensive line to make decisions on the fly, who to block, what kind of bock to throw, where the angles are, that trying to implement this without contact would be impossible.
Sure, this line of thinking is not without risks. Army has been generally lucky that none of the key players have gone down with injuries over the last few years. For Monken though the advantages of bringing a physical, disciplines football team into camp over the summer outweighs the risks of a few knocks and niggles picked up during the spring. The added practices help teach technique and power, and those are key elements of the game that Army will need to use to be successful this fall.