"We want to have more of a concentrated effort on understanding and learning and progressing in our knowledge of the defense," said Spencer Hadley, "rather than just working on our physical strength and speed and then coming into fall camp and relearning the defense.
"What we've been doing is setting up individual periods where the leaders of each position will run, for several periods, the drill work. Kyle [Van Noy] and I ran it [on Monday] and Coach Poppinga was taking notes and watching it to go over it with us later. He'll go over with us what we did well and what he wants us to improve on so we can make sure we're doing it right over the summer. He'll give us a couple of ideas on what he does to prepare us a script for our player-run practices."
This was going on all over the practice field. Players were given the reins under the watchful eye of Cougar coaches. Coach Doman and the offensive staff stepped back and observed the team leaders give instructions on position-developing drills.
"Well, player ownership in this football team is the most important thing we're trying to help these guys [with]," said Coach Doman on Monday. "During practice today, we kind of stepped up and let the guys run part of practice today. I want them to learn how to coach each other. I want them to learn how to run the drills without us having to mandate or hover over that drill."
"The coaches just kind of observed and stepped in when needed," said quarterback Riley Nelson. "Yes, we want to be in great shape but we want to get better for football. We're not training for the cross-fit games, we're not training to be bodybuilders, we're training on becoming better football players.
"So, [Monday], Coach Mendenhall said, ‘Okay, let's see what you've got. If this were May 25th, what would you guys look like out there?' We didn't have complete freedom but, like I said, it was an audition for what the summer is going to look like. From what Coach Doman said, and some of the other offensive position coaches said, they were rather pleased."
During the summer, it will be up to the players to continue their position development as though they were still in spring camp.
"The drills that we are running in spring are the exact same drills I want them to take with them and run in May, June and July," said Coach Doman. "We can't be there because it's a discretionary time, so our leaders have learned how to run those drills, run them right, get the proper feedback from us and then go into this spring and summer being able to run player-run practices. I'm hoping our guys develop that and then go do that during the spring and throughout the summer."
For the offense, Nelson will more than likely be the one that will continue running quarterback development drills to help the less experienced players continue to develop in a manner that Coach Doman would expect.
"Well, they all lean on Riley to be quite honest with you, so we need some other guys to emerge," said Coach Doman.
"Basically, it was an audition for us," said Nelson. "As we go forward into our summer plan, we voted to have a leadership council, which is a group of about 20 guys, and we met closely with Coach Mendenhall about what we want out of summer."
This puts a greater responsibility on players.
"That's why we're doing this is to kind of mandate and force leaders to rise up, so they won't have to lean on Riley the whole time," said Coach Doman. "We want to be as good as we can be and this kind of fosters that by helping the players know how to run the drills and what's expected of them. It allows them to continue doing some of the exact same things that we are doing now in spring camp all the way to summer so they'll be better prepared and further along when we get there."
While Nelson will lead the quarterbacks, other players will have to lead their individual position groups.
"For the receivers, Cody Hoffman is going to play a role there to get those guys going with that group," Coach Doman said.
"With the tight ends, Marcus Mathews will be that guy who we expect to continue with the development of those guys," he continued. "We also expect some of the guys that have been injured to help step up with that.
"We would like to see Josh Quezada and Michael Alisa kind of drive that with the running backs. Those guys know what we expect and so we're expecting those guys to really take charge with the running backs."
To further aid the position leaders, they will have film to learn from.
"Yeah they videotaped everything [on Monday], so I'm sure Coach Poppinga will have everything cut up for us and will go over it with us," said Hadley. "We'll pretty much be coaches, and imagine if you could have 11 coaches on the field, and I love it. I love it and this is the first time we've ever done it like this. In the past we'll just run our base but this is more position mastery, drill work and also installing defensive formation and coverages. It's everything and it's going to be really good.
The taping is just to make sure there is consistency and uniformity in our drills and in our instruction. You don't want guys teaching wrong technique in practice. As much good as you can do in the summer if you're practicing wrong technique and wrong mechanics you can do a lot of bad too."
It will force players to take a more active role in their personal development over the summer, while allowing players to continue to compete for a starting position.
"Yeah, it's on us and we kind of had a system in place where we almost had to become babysitters," said Nelson. "We would call guys and say, "Hey, why did you miss?' and things like that. We all came together and decided that we're going to have a different attitude. It's going to be, ‘He who wants to work will work, and everyone else, sorry man.'
"We're going to train someone else to beat you out if he's a starter or in the two-deep. If you choose not to show up, we're going to be doing such good work that there's no way you can come into fall and compete. So, it's now on us and it takes a lot of trust by our head coach and position coaches to kind of put it into the hands of 20-something-year-olds, but we know we can do it and we're committed to doing it."
"I think it's a great idea because it's going to help us so much more," Hadley said. "I mean, imagine if we can come into fall camp having installed most of our packages and our blitz packages having run it for months. You know, guys understand it because we've been running it for months because we've been working on it through the summer. Just think how far ahead we'll be, and we're all excited about it."