On one occasion, one could hear defensive line coach Greg Mattison expressing his displeasure with the entire defense as they ran a pursuit drill. Defensive coordinator Kent Baer also chimed in with his own disgust. The mood seemed focused on intensity.
Coach Tyrone Willingham said he was excited to kick off spring practices. "You just want to get started and get back," said Willingham. For us, not that all the days are the same in all regards, but they are the same because we always want to come out with a great deal of intensity and we want to hopefully do all the things that good football teams do from a fundamental standpoint. Our focus has been today more fundamentals than anything else; just try to get that foundation back under yourself and hopefully build on that each day as we progress through the spring."
Willingham was asked if the results of last year would be used as a motivational tool for his team. "It always depends on who it is. There are certain people that are better off putting the past behind them and not leaving memories to deal with, and there are others who like to carry it forward as a motivational tool. Whatever works best for that individual is what you want them to do. Team-wise you learn so long ago to play it one play at a time. You don't get ahead of yourself or behind yourself and what we do today will make a difference in what we do tomorrow."
The Irish have a few goals they'd like to accomplish according to Willingham. "The first thing is that you never want to get anyone hurt because that is the thing that can really prevent the progress that you really want to get during the course of the spring. So number one is no injuries. And hopefully we took one step today, we didn't have any. Two, you want to be fundamentally sound - I think the more fundamentally sound your team is, the better off you are. Three, of course, would be to perfect the system, both offensively and defensively and be able to play things in the manner we would like to see things played as coaches."
Defensive coordinator Kent Baer says he still has a lot of talent to work with this spring despite the graduations of some and the injuries of others. "I'm not going into spring to game plan against our offense; I just want to develop the young talented kids I think we have. I was just asked the question about losing a lot of guys up the middle and I am not sure we did. We lost Darrell Campbell but really we didn't have Cedric all year so we have two or three guys coming back who have played a lot of inside – Pauly, Landri, Beidatsch, I like Trevor Laws."
"If you really look at it, we have three starting linebackers coming back even though we lost Courtney," Baer continued. "We've got Goolsby coming back, Curry, Corey Mays has played a lot. We lost Glen Earl down the middle but we lost him at SC so we've played football games without Glen Earl. When you look at the number of guys who have played a lot of football, we have about 17 guys on that list so the key is I think we have some really talented young kids and we just have to give them as many reps as we can."
The secondary is one area that the Irish will be inexperienced. The loss of Vontez Duff, Garron Bible and Glenn Earl could prove to be costly. Baer said he isn't concerned about defensive back heading into spring. "I wouldn't say it was a concern, I like some of the younger guys who are playing. Looking at playback, when you really look at the secondary and you look at the last five games, we are really only losing one guy. Burrell is back, Jackson is back, Ellick is back – that's three guys out of the four who started a lot of games at the end of the year. I think we are going to be talented enough back there; it's just a matter of learning what we are doing. Again, that is why you go through spring practice. It doesn't concern me right now, if we feel like we don't come as far as we think we can at the end of spring and after fall camp then that would be a concern.".
Offensive coordinator Bill Diedrick says the spring practice will be different than it has been in the past. Diedrick says the Irish coaches have an idea what each player can do now. It's just a matter of figuring out what role each player will play this year.
"You can only have 11 starters but really you are looking at a much more defined role, you are looking at what role can this guy add to our team,' said Diedrick "Whether it's a tight end for a specific situation, whether it's a running back to in a specific situation because there is always going to be competition, there is probably more competition across the board at each position so that is the advantage right now, that you can probably be a little more selective as ‘does he fit this particular role?' ‘Is this exactly what we are looking for here?' and you've got guys that can fill that now whereas before you were trying to fill a starting position. I think that is why, at least on the offensive side, we are really excited this spring."
The Irish coaches had the difficult job of replacing most starters along the offensive line last year. Diedrick says the return of most of the starting cast will help the offense develop this spring. "There is no question, when you have got one returner back and he really wasn't even a returning starter at the time, you've got blanks up there and it took a long time for those kids to really feel comfortable working with one another and getting into groove."
"You've got a veteran group coming back, you've got some experience and you've got an opportunity to build some depth, but then you also add with that the experience of the other positions so it's not like all and none and then none and all. You've got some experience across the board and you've got an experienced quarterback and you can't speak enough about that. I think it gives you an opportunity to take that next step and we are trying to be more specific and look at roles that guys fit into and not so much who is our best 11."
The Irish will resume spring practices today at 4:15 PM. Irish Eyes will be there bringing you all the latest on spring practice.