"At the beginning of spring practice we came out with a lot of energy and we started playing really well right from the start," said Matt Bauman. "We came out with a new attitude and that just carried over throughout spring. Whenever you come out with a lot of energy it helps to change the momentum of practice. We made it a goal that we would keep up that energy and that momentum and we were able to do that, and it's exciting to see the defense feeding off of each other."
Injuries and youth in key areas last year were just a few factors that lead to an overall lacking defensive performance. According to Bauman, the players' negative disposition last year also hurt the defense.
"Last year there was a struggle with us feeding off of each other," Bauman said. "There was a struggle just having excitement about being on the field, but this year it's a lot different. During spring we were not out there practicing for a game or anything. We were just playing to practice and we were able to keep up that energy and that was exciting."
Energy is easily generated and filters on down through the ranks when excitement abounds. Excitement is generated when the performance level of players has reached a higher level, thus helping to perpetuating the cycle and help change the team's disposition.
"We've got some big hitters on the defense this year," said Bauman. "We've got Andrew Rich and Scotty Johnson back there in the secondary and Terrance [Hooks] back with us in the middle. We've also got some guys in place that we feel will bring a physical presence to specific positions on the defense. All of that has helped us to feed more on each other to help create that excitement. We're definitely heading in the right direction. We still have a lot of work to do but I think we're further along now than we were last fall."
Bauman reiterated his belief that the defense is further along than it was last year.
"We don't have as much of our scheme in right now and it's mostly just reps [over spring]," Bauman said. "I think it's more just all the intangible things that put us further ahead this year. I really feel that way. We are further ahead right now than we were last fall."
Bauman, who was sidelined for part of spring practice due to a minor injury, believes the team leadership and camaraderie have risen due to numerous factors.
"It's a culmination of a lot of things," said Bauman. "Experience in key areas will help us more this year. We got a lot of guys coming back from last year, so we've had a season to bond better as a team. I also think the team culture has changed and that's the biggest intangible. The attitude and mentality of just wanting to be here is the biggest difference. We have the right people here, and negative attitudes are cancerous and that's something that we don't have. I feel like guys want to learn and put in the extra time. We've had some great team meetings every week during the winter just going over the scheme and everything. The players have really taken it upon themselves to really make a difference, and so that mentality has translated to on-the-field success early. It all starts with mentality and attitude and everything else comes as a result of those things, and that's been the biggest difference this year compared to last year. It's going to be exciting to see how this carries over into the summer and into next fall. I think we have a lot of things set in place that will only make us better in the future."