Coach's Corner

Don't look now but spring practices are about a third over. Considering that you only get 15 total practices to begin with, and that the NCAA rules of engagement further restricts football to only 12 sessions involving contact (with none of those taking place before the third practice), the importance of good quality workouts is even greater in the spring than in the fall.

Especially when you are coming off back to back terrible years, the need to improve is paramount and each practice is another opportunity to improve your ball club.

The rules further stipulate that you need to complete your 15 days within a 29 day period, omitting of course, vacation days or examination days. Many teams in warmer climates have already completed their 15 practices and are gearing up for an early run at their 20 days of "spring" evaluation for recruiting.

Washington, because of its quarter system, never starts early, although this year they are packing their 15 days into really about a three and a half week period. Their practices run concurrently with their annual spring clinic designed to help the high school coaches, so the early practice drill review was helpful in two ways - to reacquaint the players, and two to assist in teaching the coaches.

They didn't put on pads until Saturday but this week features five practices with almost all of them involving "pads".

I understand the safety issue but football without pads is sort of like basketball without a ball or baseball without bats. The NCAA further specifies that the "non-contact" days shall only include a helmet as the one piece of protective equipment. I think this is probably a good addition to the rules because I have seen "no-contact" practices end up with some pretty good scrimmages in the past.

The NCAA further restricts football by only allowing tackling on eight of the 12 permissible "contact" days. I'm not kidding. No tackling! The rules go on to state, "Of the permissible contact sessions, eight sessions may involve tackling, and no more than three of the eight tackling sessions may be devoted primarily (greater than 50 percent of practice time) to 11 on 11 scrimmages. Tackling shall be prohibited in four of the 12 contact sessions. An institution has the discretion to determine the practice activities (other than tackling) that may occur during the four contact non-tackling sessions as well as the protective equipment worn by the student-athletes."

Talk about NCAA administrative overkill. Why not just let the kids play the game? Do those restrictions really make the game safer?

For Washington, when the practices get so structured and watered down, it makes it even more difficult to progress in catching those teams who got those 15 extra unrestricted bowl practices during December.

Further slowing the development each spring is the MIA's - missing in action - category of players who have to sit out spring practices because of injury or operational rehabs. Both Jordan White-Frisbee and Johnie Kirton are in this category. Both are limited in what they can do and so spring is a wash for them.

This is one area of improvement though from the Neuheisel years when regularly at least a dozen front line players would be taking the spring off. Rick's kids got hit with a rash of shoulder injuries – which typically are a result of by playing kids too early too often. Sometimes it's necessary, but that is the risk you take. Then it becomes a never-ending cycle because when you hurt your shoulder, you can't lift weights. When you can't lift weights, you don't get stronger. And when you don't get stronger, your shoulder can't take as much abuse. And it just goes on and on.

But as a coach, all you can do is play and practice with who you have available.

Currently there are slightly over a hundred kids trying to make the Huskies a better team come fall. They know the system and they know Coach Willingham's expectations. Still, until you put the pads on, you never know what you've really got. Hitting is still the essence of the game and the teams that do that the best are usually the best teams.

My point is this - if you don't really get to hit in half of your practices, football isn't really football. I know there is danger in the sport but the NCAA doesn't restrict pole vaulters from using a pole in their practices or divers from using their springboard or soccer players from practicing their headers or skiers from using their skis.

That is why I don't attend the practices where there is no hitting. I like interior drills, tackling drills, blocking drills, contact drills. I think this team would have been much better off by just banging away all 15 days. They need to find out who can hit, who likes contact, and who is tough. It's time for some hard hitting and aggressive play out of this bunch.

So this week they FINALLY put the pads on and start finding out who the tough guys are. I'll be there and I'll share my thoughts with you good folks here on Dawgman.com.

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