Spartans Looking To Younger Players To Help

During their bye week, the San Jose State players will focus on fundamentals and indvidual improvement, while the coaches take the opportunity to spend time working with the younger players; several of whom have been impressing the staff enough to warrant increased playing time.

With their 41-21 loss at Fresno State last Saturday night, which dropped their overall record to 1-5 (0-2 in the Western Athletic Conference), the San Jose State players and coaches are now dealing with the reality that, as a football team, they are not where they either hoped nor expected to be prior to the start of the season. With the season now at the mid-point, and any realistic chance of a WAC championship or bowl berth out the window, the mission of the coaching staff is to keep the atmosphere around the team positive, and to have each player focus on personal improvement as a way to make the team better as a whole. "It's our job to stay very positive about what outcome can be for this team" said Head Coach Dick Tomey in his address to the media on Monday. "At the same time, (we need to) be realistic about the fact that we have a lot of work to do to be better."

The Spartans do not play this weekend, which is their second and last bye week of the season. They will travel to Boise State next week to face the Broncos, who are currently the No. 4 ranked team in the initial BCS poll. With the extra week to prepare, the coaches are looking for the players to focus on self improvement. "Our team needs to focus on personal improvement. Individually, in practice, we need to try and improve" said Tomey. "Each person has got a laundry list of things that he has to do to get better, to give himself the best chance to finish the season feeling good about where we are." Tomey went on to say that "there's a lot of realization that we're struggling as a football team. We're not at a good point."

As a way of keeping the team's focus on the positive side, Tomey indicated that the players will be reviewing tapes from Saturday night's game, which, said Tomey "show some really positive things." Tomey was quick to point out that several younger players have come on strong, and will undoubtedly be contributing at a greater level in the second half of the season. "The good news is" said Tomey, "we've identified players at some key positions that I think are doing a really good job; that did not necessarily start out with the first group." During the Fresno State game, Tomey said "we had some young players go into the game that did an excellent job. So, I think we're identifying players all the time that we think can be a big help." Tomey specifically pointed out the play of two freshmen cornerbacks, Ronnie Yell and Chris Hill, as well as another freshman, defensive end Travis Johnson. Tomey also praised safety Manu Ngatikaura, a walk-on transfer player from San Jose City College, who he said "did some outstanding things." Andres Vargas, a sophomore offensive lineman, and wide receiver Josh Harrison were also singled out by Tomey for their improved play. One could read into Tomey's comments regarding increased playing time for those younger players as his looking to either shake things up in hopes of sparking the team for the season's second half, or perhaps having them gain valuable playing experience towards next season.

The Spartans will be practicing at 8:00 AM on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of this week, and on Sunday. Wednesday will feature a full-contact scrimmage, although it will be mostly the younger players participating. The coaching staff is looking at this week as an opportunity to work with and develop the younger players. "We're going to spend extra time at the end of the practices with young players" said Tomey. "Freshmen, sophomores, juniors, whoever they are that are not getting to play. We're going to use the bye week to continue to work on fundamentals; continue to analyze ourselves."

Despite his team's struggles, Tomey remains ever optimistic, and sees the Spartans poor performance in the first half of the season as a motivational force to drive improvement. "We're not where we wanted to be" said Tomey. "That's OK, because a lot of times, people don't get better until they're struggling. They fight their way through it. That happens all through your life." Tomey pointed out that last season Rutgers began their season with a 1-5 record, but managed to win their last five games and make it to a bowl game. "You have to find a way to win the struggle. And you've got to find a way to maximize what happens from then on" said Tomey. "Obviously, nobody is going to feel sorry for you. You've just got to keep fighting. That's what pays off."

Injury Updates

The coaching staff feared that starting offensive guard Ailao Eliapo had torn his anterior cruciate ligament in practice last week. But, upon further examination that turned out to not me the case. "We thought he might be done for the year" said Tomey. "But, it appears he's going to be back in several weeks."

Similarly, center Ronnie Castillo's leg injury during the second half of the Fresno State game was feared to be a broken bone, but turned out to be a high ankle sprain. No time table was provided for his return.

Defensive tackle Kalvin Cressel wasn't quite all the way back from a dislocated elbow injury to play against Fresno State, but is expected to be available for the Boise State game.

Senior offensive tackle Jon Moreno, who tore a pectoral muscle shortly before the season started, will not return the remainder of the season, ending his career as a Spartan.

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Mike Morgan is a Senior Editor for Inside Sparta. You may contact Mike with any questions, comments, or tips at mike@insidesparta.com

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