"It does limit our abilities to manipulate the offense by being physical," Ogletree said. "When we do skeli or 11-on-11s we can't really hit people, and so it kind of creates a different mindset. So when we came out during our full scrimmage we didn't tackle and weren't physical like we were towards the end. We didn't have that aggressive mindset to control the tempo and instead let the offense force their will on us. It's the defense that's supposed to do that."
"We have to go with running shoulder pads some days and helmets some days with thud pads," said outside linebacker Jameson Frazier. "It does limit us in some ways, but that doesn't mean we as a defense aren't gaining anything from it or growing as a defense despite that."
"We're limited, especially on the defensive line," said defensive end Matt Putnam. "We can't just go all out and hit guys as hard as we can and try to get to the quarterback because he's off limits. It makes it hard for us in that way."
The limitations of spring practice aren't necessarily limited to just linebackers or defensive linemen. Quarterback Riley Nelson explains.
"Well, spring practice does have limitations for those that might have different strengths," said Nelson. "We don't go full contact for the most part and the limitations that might be present do allow for other areas of development. So although there isn't necessarily a more realistic playing circumstance, there is growth being had in other areas such as in the passing game.
"With me being a more mobile quarterback, the quick whistle and the off-limits placed on the quarterback might hinder some of my abilities. So in that case, yeah, it might be somewhat of a disadvantage. Now, that doesn't that mean I can't continue to develop those strengths. There are circumstances outside of spring practice with lifting weights that allow me to work on those core strengths that I have. I can work on my quickness and speed outside of spring practice that I can use as part of my overall game if needed."
The coaches walk a fine line during spring. On one hand they want their players to develop and also want to get a good look at their abilities, but on the other hand they want to keep their players healthy.
"Yeah, you don't want your own guys to get hurt," said Putnam. "That's one thing that can happen if you're constantly going at it day after day, and it's not like we have a lot of people in key areas that we can afford to just be injured. There has to be some give and take."
The defense might be limited when it comes to developing a physical mindset, but various drills do help make up for some of that.
"We focus more on assignments and making sure everyone knows where they're supposed to be and get comfortable within their positions," said Frazier. "I would say that is what these types of days are for, you know, as opposed to those days when we are going full pad. You just have to kind of run with it and then later on just put every aspect together."
During skeli drills there are no defensive linemen in the trenches to put pressure on the quarterback or get into passing lanes. Linebackers, when blitzing off the edge, stop short because the drill isn't live. Thus, the offense generally has an advantage of the defense.
"Skeli is one of those things we do where we can't go as hard, and we're not trying to go and knock the receivers out or be really physical with them to mess up their timing or anything like that," said senior cornerback Brandon Bradley. "We can't go out and hit the quarterback and there are no defensive linemen. If you kind of look at it, it's really kind of an offensive drill. Where it does help us is it gives the defense an opportunity to hone in on more detailed things like foot placement, reading the quarterback, your angles and when you should make your breaks. So even though you can't go in with full pads and scrimmage as a team, we're able to work on the smaller things."
For the cornerbacks, the skeli drills don't provide as much of a practice disadvantage as it might the linebackers or defensive linemen.
"For me as a cornerback, it makes me have to read the quarterback," said Bradley. "It makes me have to see the route combinations a lot better because the quarterback is not being pressured. So the ball isn't coming out as fast. You know, even though it may seem like an offensive drill in the long run, it does help the defense quite a bit because of those things I've just mentioned."
The skeli drills provides defensive players with an opportunity for improvement through self-evaluation. Each skeli session is filmed so that those involved can go back and critique themselves.
"When we run skeli, that's what we're looking at," Bradley said. "When we run team, it's a different story. When we watch team, we're looking at how hard everybody is going, how physical everyone is and making contact. With skeli we're looking at all the small things. Does everyone understand what's going on in this play or that play, did everybody get back into their drops and into the positions where they need to be? The skeli session is more of a tune-up before we come the team practice."
When the team is able to go full contact after being held back, it's like a treat to them.
"The days when we get to hit and tackle people is kind like our dessert," said Frazier with a smile. "It's a time when we really get to go out and play some football, you know what I mean? That's what those full-padded and full-scrimmage days are to us as opposed to the non-padded and non-contact days."