"There was a lot of enthusiasm and the guys were showing a lot of effort," said Cassity of the Cardinals defensive unit. "I like the carryover from last year. I think we are light years ahead of where we were a year ago on the first day of spring practice, but there is always room for a lot of improvement."
Improvement will be key, as the returning veterans begin competing for the starting positions vacated by at defensive tackle, defensive end, middle linebacker, cornerback and both safety spots.
"It's going to take us a few days to start evaluating that, but the cupboard is not bare," Cassity said. "We have players that were backups last year at some of the positions and a lot guys have played a lot of repetitions."
Those with game experience now vying for starting positions include end Brandon Cox, who saw action as a reserve in ten games, linebacker Matt Sanders, who saw time as both a reserve and on special teams and defensive backs Antoine Sharp, Brandon Sharp, Jon Russell and Terrance Butler.
"I think we have to look at the secondary as a priority, because we lost three safeties and a cornerback," explained Cassity. "Looking at the guys coming back, Antoine Sharp, Brandon Sharp and Jon Russell all played and William Gay started the whole year, so we have some experience back there."
A number of redshirt freshmen will also compete for starting positions, including cornerback Rod Council, who displayed quick feet and the ability to break on the ball during Thursday's practice.
"I'm anxious to see him with the pads on and watching him out there every day, because today is the first time that we have really had a good look at him," Cassity said of the 5-foot-11, 185-pound Council, who was a preseason high school All-American as a senior at West Charlotte High School in North Carolina.
Despite the need to fill open positions, as well as develop depth in all areas, Cassity continued to stress that this year's squad is ahead of his defensive unit of a year ago.
"I would say that we have more leadership right now than we did a year ago at this time," continued Cassity. "Guys like Montavious Stanley, Brandon Johnson, Amobi Okoye, William Gay, Abe Brown and even Chad Rimpsey, have been there before, but we are always looking for leaders and that will be one of things that we try to address this spring."
The Cardinals will return to the field inside Papa John's Cardinal Stadium on Friday at 3:30 p.m. The team will continue on Saturday and Sunday, starting both days at noon.