In the spring you know it's not like during the season when you go out there and you practice two days or three days, work hard, rest and play a game on Saturday, which is a reward for the preparation time you put in that week. Instead, it is practice after practice with a lot of work involved for the players.
During spring drills there is time for the coaches to experiment with new schemes offensively and defensively, new plays, new blocking schemes or whatever needs to be tweaked. If you like the experiments, fine, but if you don't you can forget about them and concentrate on other things as you head into the fall.
Spring training can be challenging for the coaches because it is hard to keep the players motivated for every practice. That is when leadership on the team needs to step up and make a positive difference. If you don't have those type of guys on the roster, or if they aren't willing to step up and insert their influence, that can be a major problem.
I have seen a lot of football teams that early in the seasons were not very good and it wasn't because of talent. It was because those teams were lacking the intangibles involved around the game like leadership. When that happens teams can find ways to lose instead of ways to win so as a coach the sooner the leaders step up the better the situation is for the team, and spring training is a great time for that to happen.
The 15 spring practices offer an opportunity for players to improve their techniques and become fundamentally sound at what they are doing because there is enough time to get plenty of repetitions. When I was coaching I noticed that the more times you do something, a particular route, or a particular blocking scheme or a particular stunt on defense or different types of coverage, the better you're going to get at them. What it does, and I will use the old term, is it makes the game slow down for you.
Working on the fundamentals and getting plenty of reps is important at every position, and that is particularly the case at quarterback. Nobody loves Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall as a football player more than I do, but he needs to spend all the time he can this spring improving his fundamentals so he can become a better passer.
He has got all of the ability in the world to do that and he's got the arm to be a very successful passer. He has also shown that he has the talent to throw the ball where he wants to, but he needs to be more consistent at doing it.
I think that a lot of his inconsistency is just a need for more work on his fundamentals. Because he is such a dynamic athlete at times he can get away with not having the best footwork or throwing off-balance, but I think if he develops a better set of fundamentals he will become more accurate throwing the deep ball. If that happens it will cause major problems for opposing defenses.
Now I can't say that he is going to improve a lot on his running this spring no matter how much he works on it because his set of skills in that area is as good as I have ever seen at the quarterback position. The way for him to become more successful as a runner is to be more effective as a passer by learning as much as he can about his receivers. Knowing the differences in their speed, how they get into and out of their breaks and their overall strengths and weaknesses as pass catchers will make a positive difference for Marshall or any quarterback.
The spring is also a great time of year to work on the speciality teams and with Auburn replacing its kicker, as well as its punter, Coach Gus Malzahn will probably emphasize those areas in the coming weeks. Being sound on special teams is a critical part of team building and can be the difference in winning and losing big games, something quite evident from the Tigers' 2013 season.
(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.