In Auburn's case with the new coaching staff, it's pretty well documented how the team is going to line up on defense and offense, but a team's identity doesn't necessarily come from the schemes it uses. It comes from the players who are learning what to do. It comes from the toughness built on the practice fields, both mental and physical toughness.
How well the players absorb those lessons in the "camp" portion of preseason practice often goes a long way toward determining what kind of team is put on the field on Saturdays when the season begins and the pressure is on.
Everybody is always excited when practice gets started again, a sign that games are just around the corner. The incoming freshmen are particularly eager about coming in and are often nervous not knowing what to expect, although that factor has been lessened in recent years with most of the signees arriving on campus earlier in the summer.
That early summer start allows them to get adjusted to their new settings, take a class or two and get accustomed to their new home without the pressure of performing on the field taking place at the same time.
As a coach this is an important time for evaluation to figure out which players need to be put where on the depth chart. That is especially true with the freshmen who haven't been through spring training.
It's important for the coaches to get a good read as early as possible with the newcomers. You need to make decisions in the coming days on who is ready and who isn't because it takes a lot of time and effort to get those guys up to speed no matter where they will be lining up on either defense or offense.
Almost inevitably the coaches get surprised this time of year. There are guys in the recruiting class they weren't expecting to be ready to contribute right away who look like they will be able to do that. As a coach you hope the good surprises outweigh the disappointments, especially in seasons where you have holes to fill on the depth chart.
If a young player wants to prove to his coaches he is ready to play right now, or if a veteran player wants to prove he is ready for an expanded role, this is a great time of year to do that.
This is the time before fall classes start when the coaches can work with the players throughout the day without the 20-hour per week rule restrictions. Because of that the players and coaches can have more interaction right now than they can at any other time of the year, including spring practice.
Once the season starts as a coach you can organize your practices to five your team a chance to improve week after week, but there isn't nearly as much time to do that as there is in August. Once the season arrives you have to spend a good portion of your planning time and on the field time preparing for certain offensive and defensive systems your team will be facing later in the week.
(If you have a question or a subject you would like me to write about in future columns, you can email it to PatDye@autigers.com.)
Editor's Note: This is part of a series of columns that College Football Hall of Fame member Pat Dye is writing for AUTigers.com about the game he played and coached. An All-American player at Georgia and one of the top head coaches in SEC history at Auburn, he also served as a head coach at East Carolina and Wyoming. Dye writes three columns for AUTigers.com--The Dye-Log, the Dye-Gest and Pat's Picks.