According to Mendenhall it's not until the eighth practice or so until some of the excitement is lost, as practice becomes more like work to the players. So, the team is doing its best to keep up the excitement and enthusiasm this year while remaining focused. The offensive line in particular is focusing on having fun.
"It's fun out there, lots of fun," said Terence Brown, who is seeing first-team reps with the offensive line so far this spring. "It's just fun to be back to where I can play well, put on the helmet and get after it. We all love football, so that's what it's all about."
Making sure his group is having fun is something offensive line coach Mark Weber is focusing on this spring.
"I obviously want my guys to work hard, just as every coach would, but it has to be more than that," said Coach Weber. "Football is fun and it needs to be fun out there. So that's what we're doing. We're working hard, but we're making sure that we enjoy that hard work."
"Fun" is hardly the word most fans or observers would think of when considering the tremendous task at hand that Weber and the offensive line have, as they have to replace four starters with a whopping 12 years of combined experience. But when talking to Coach Weber and the rest of the offensive line, "fun" is exactly the word they'd use to describe the task at hand.
"Oh, we're excited," said Weber. "This is a real exciting time for me as a coach and for all these players who now have a chance to prove themselves and to play. They've all worked so hard, and this is why you coach: to have opportunities like the one we currently have."
Although the offensive line returns only one starter, the feeling is hardly one of panic, as the remaining offensive linemen are a group rife with both talent and potential.
"I haven't noticed a big drop-off to be honest with you," noted quarterback Max Hall about his offensive line. "They're executing well and they know what to do. I feel comfortable back there with those guys in front of me and that's what you want as a quarterback."
"I think the new guys are doing great so far," added Matt Reynolds, who is the lone returning starter from a year ago. "I'm not having to coach guys, talk to guys much or anything because they're getting the job done. I'm playing next to Jason [Speredon] right now and he's doing great. I might have to speak up sometime, but right now guys are doing just what they need to."
Although the offensive line has a lot of turnaround, that's not to say that those currently playing with the first team and those set to compete for spots on the first team aren't capable or are even necessarily new. The coaches have recruited well at offensive line and have subsequently developed the talent well, so they're not in panic mode this spring.
"We can play," said Terence Brown, who is seeing reps with the first team at right guard currently. "We're a confident bunch. It's not like none of us haven't played before. I played a bit before my mission getting some good practice, R.J. [Willing] has played a lot, and a lot of others have had playing time. We know what we're doing and we're confident as a group for sure."
Brown said he feels much more ready to contribute this spring then when he joined the program last fall after being just weeks removed from his church mission.
"Wow, last year I had to get back in shape and I wasn't close to contributing," said Brown. "But I used the year well in getting myself back into shape, so this spring I'm feeling great. I could still get into better shape and I'm certainly working on that, but I feel a lot better entering practice this time around than last fall for sure."
Now that Brown and his cohorts are feeling in better shape, they're trying to learn as quickly as possible with a bit more focus on technique and all the other basic stuff involved with playing on the offensive line.
"With new guys that has to be the focus," said Reynolds. "I've noticed that Coach Weber is really focusing on the technical stuff this spring since guys have to learn faster and be ready to start this fall, but it's really going well I think. Like I said, we're not as inexperienced as people think. We're a group that works well together and we're having fun."
So is Reynolds, the lone returning starter, taking part in the teaching?
"You know, not really," answered Reynolds. "I don't feel that I've had to. There may come a time when I need to speak up and I'll be sure to do my part there, but I really feel that this isn't the type of group that needs that. We're all very focused on what we're doing and I think we're going to be a very productive unit this coming year."
Mixing and Matching
While the first two days have seen the same players taking their reps with the ones, twos and threes, Coach Weber maintains that those groups are most certainly not set in stone. Throughout spring and maybe into the fall, Weber will be working to see who works best together and at what positions the players work best.
"No one who is playing right now except maybe for Matt [Reynolds] can't be moved and tried out at other positions," said Weber. "My job is to find the best combination of five guys, the five guys that work best together, figure out where they play best together, and that's what we're doing. That will be the focus this spring and up until our first game this coming year."
Right now Weber certainly has certain players slated as likely starters or those likely to contribute, but he's always mindful to note those who are worthy of moving up the depth chart.
"We have some great guys coming back," noted Weber. "Guys like Braden Hansen are very talented and I'm anxious to coach him. Moose [Marco Thorson] is another and we'll see what they can do and what progress they can make this spring. But right now I have five guys who I feel can play, and along with those about two or three others that can certainly contribute, and we'll try them out with the ones before spring is over and give them looks until we find our best five combination for this season."
-Linebacker Brandon Ogletree, who is someone coaches really liked at linebacker, will miss the rest of spring practice due to a fracture his finger.
-Jameson Frazier has been moved to outside linebacker and will compete for a spot there, while junior college transfer Jordan Atkinson is seeing reps at the Mike linebacker position.
-Landon Jaussi moved over the outside linebacker, but is now seeing reps at boundary cornerback. Jaussi just wants to play and coaches feel that he's worth a look at boundary cornerback right now.
-Hall completed all 8 of his passes for 71 yards and a touchdown during drills on Tuesday.
-Andrew George was responsible for hauling in Hall's touchdown pass from eight yards out.
-Jordan Pendleton recorded his first sack of the spring at his new position as a Sam linebacker.
-Stephen Covey caught three passes during drills, becoming much more involved with the second-team offense.