Tag:Spring Practice Preview
Posted on: March 28, 2011 11:25 pm
Edited on: March 28, 2011 11:29 pm
  •  
 

Spring Practice Primer: Florida State

Posted by Chip Patterson

College Football has no offseason. Every coach knows that the preparation for September begins now, in Spring Practice . So we here at the Eye on College Football  will get you ready as teams open spring ball with our Spring Practice Primers . Today, we look at Florida State , who started spring practice last Monday.


Pegged as early favorites for the ACC (and possibly National) Title in 2011, are the Seminoles for real?

In a word? Yes.

From 1987-2000, the Seminoles did not have a single season without double-digit wins. From 2001-2009 Florida State only accomplished that feat once. One of the purposes for utilizing a "coach-in-waiting" is to limit the negative effects of transition in a coaching change. For Florida State, giving the head coaching seat to Jimbo Fisher was a much-needed upgrade.

Fisher has not just returned Florida State to the double-digit wins club, he has rejuvenated the entire program. For the first time since conference expansion brought Miami, Virginia Tech, and Boston College, Florida State is entering the 2011 season as favorites to win the ACC. If you have any wonders as to why so many people are high on the Seminoles, just look at what returns from 2010.

Florida State returns eight starters on offense and defense as well as both specialists from their 2010's ACC Atlantic Division Champion squad. They won four of their last five, only losing 44-33 to Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship game and finishing the season with a Chick Fil-A Bowl win over South Carolina. One of the main reasons so many experts favor Florida State in 2011 is the return of so many of the same players who stood on the podium in Atlanta on New Years Eve.

For example, take a look at the running back position. Florida State never put up dazzling numbers with their ground game, but their running back-by-committee attack wore teams down and consistently became a factor late in games. Junior running back Chris Thompson (846 yards, 6 TD) led the way in 2010, but Ty Jones (527 yards, 5 TD), Jermaine Thomas (490 yards, 6 TD), and Lonnie Pryor (112 yards, 4 TD) will all be back and looking to increase their workload in 2011. Thomas recently rejoined the team after serving a suspension resulting from a driving with a suspended license arrest, reuniting the group once again on the field.

"I love Jermaine to death and it just feels good to have him back," Pryor said after Thomas' return. "We need all of us again to do the same things we did last year."

Thomas may be back from suspension, but the Seminoles still have an extensive list of inactive players for spring practice due to injury. While many people have high expectations for the Seminoles in 2011 because of all the returning talent, the look of spring practice has been much different. Fisher hopes that the extra attention for the young talent will help the Seminoles in the future.

"We got a lot of issues going on," Fisher told Seminoles.com. "Hopefully, we'll develop our top 22 guys out there. We know the guys that have started that won't be in there, but develop some of these young guys and some depth."

One position that will undergo major development for Florida State this spring will be quarterback. The Seminoles may be returning 8 starters from each side of the ball, but there will be a brand new starting quarterback under center. Except, the thing is, he's not really brand new.

E.J. Manuel saw his first action on the field as a true freshman in 2009, taking over for the injured Christian Ponder for the final four games of the season. Manuel was wildly inconsistent, but finished the season 3-1 as a starter and was named MVP of the Gator Bowl. The win secured a 7-6 record for the Seminoles, avoiding the only losing record in the Bobby Bowden era at Florida State.

He was asked to do the same thing in 2010, filling in for Ponder who struggled through a nagging elbow injury all season. After falling behind early, Manuel put together one of his best individual performances against Virginia Tech in the 2010 ACC Championship Game. Manuel was not phased by the big stage, calmly completing 23 of 31 passes for 288 yards and a touchdown. He carried that momentum into the Chick Fil-A Bowl against South Carolina, when he was once again asked to take over for Ponder in the second quarter because of injury. Manuel threw for 84 yards and ran seven times for 46 yards to hold off the Gamecocks.

With two bowl games under his belt, it is easy to forget that Manuel is just now completing his first spring practices. He injured his hand in his first spring practice two years ago, and missed all of 2010's spring drills while recovering from shoulder surgery. Now he will have to get used to running the offense on a full-time basis with two starting tackles sitting on the sideline and new faces at guard and center.

"It's a big difference, not having Ponder there," running back Chris Thompson explained. "He was a big leader on our team. But E.J. has stepped right in on that. With him stepping up, being a leader - like when we are going through workouts and fourth quarter drills he has always been vocal with us - it's been a real help for us."

On the defensive end the Seminoles are not only returning eight starters, but also several reserves that saw quality minutes in 2010. One of the focuses on the defense hasn't been on trying to fill out a depth chart, but instead players trying to win the few starting spots available. Not a bad problem to have for defensive coordinator Mike Stoops.

"We got everybody coming back from last season with a lot more experience," said defensive tackle Jacobbi McDaniel. "Coming together as a defense, we know what it takes and the high standards. We set the bar last season, and now we know in spring everyone is going to come out ready to practice."

The high standards demanded by head coach Jimbo Fisher include constant effort and an always-present toughness. The fast-talking West Virginia native wants to practice fast and hit hard. He is never hesitant to criticize his team when he feels they deserve it, but he will also sing praises when they have been earned.

"I was very pleased," Fisher said after Florida State's first practice in full pads on Saturday. "We had toughness and we had effort today which I questioned the other day and I was very pleased. That was one of the first real practices we've had. I liked what I saw on both sides of the ball - kids competing when everything wasn't right, guys making some plays on both sides. Effort was good. I thought we had a good day on special teams. I liked the way we practiced today."

Are the Seminoles legitimate contenders in 2011? Absolutely. Unfortunately their status as national contenders could be determined before the the end of September. Before they even have to face their first conference opponent, Florida State hosts the Oklahoma Sooners in Tallahassee on Sept. 17. The Sooners are also considered to be among the top contenders in 2011, making the game a "must-win" for both teams with BCS dreams.

Florida State does not have all the tools in place to win a championship yet, but returning 18 starters and a Gator Bowl MVP quarterback is a great way to start.

Click here for more Spring Practice Primers
Posted on: March 28, 2011 7:02 pm
Edited on: March 28, 2011 7:04 pm
 

Spring Practice Primer: Louisville

Posted by Chip Patterson

College Football has no offseason. Every coach knows that the preparation for September begins now, in Spring Practice . So we here at the Eye on College Football  will get you ready as teams open spring ball with our Spring Practice Primers . Today, we look at Louisville , who started spring practice last Monday.


First-year coach Charlie Strong turned last year's team of veterans into winners, but can he repeat the success with much less experience on the roster?

After the departure of Bobby Petrino, Louisville football fell into the cellar of the Big East. In three seasons under head coach Steve Kragthrope, the Cardinals only won five conference games. They had gone from being conference champs to conference chumps, a change had to be made.

Enter Charlie Strong. A seasoned veteran in the coaching community, Strong entered with a tenacity and energy that had clearly been building up during his 20+ years on the sideline as an assistant. After being passed over for multiple opportunities, Louisville was the school that gave him the keys to the kingdom. Cardinals fans may have been skeptical of the long-time assistant coach, but after seeing what he was able to do in 2010 there is only optimism for his potential with the program.

Louisville's 2010 squad was littered with frustrated upperclassmen, but that is to be expected after back-to-back 1-6 records in conference play. Strong saw potential in this group, and he was determined to get the most out of his players before they left the program. He liked the potential, but was dissatisfied with the attitudes - and he let them know. Strong ripped into the roster during his first team meeting in December 2009, shortly after his hiring. He criticized their lack of commitment in the classroom and on the field, introducing a new standard around Louisville football. Strong held up his end of the bargain, committing himself to the players and serving as an example of the energy and toughness he wanted to see on the field.

The result was their first postseason berth (and win) since the 2007 Orange Bowl win. It wasn't always pretty, but the turnaround was enough to revitalize the fan base and create a new sense of belief around the program. Even in the games that the Cardinals lost, they were almost always fighting. Five of the Cardinals' six losses were by 8 points or less. Not quite enough to become competitive in a wide-open Big East title race down the stretch, but enough to get the Cardinals back to the postseason.

One of the immediate concerns for Louisville in spring practice is their running game. At 175 yards/game, Louisville led the Big East in rushing offense last season. Much of that weight was carried by senior running back Bilal Powell. Powell racked up 1,405 yards and 11 touchdowns, despite missing a majority of two games due to injury/illness. He was spelled mostly by freshman Jeremy Wright, who picked up 327 yards and four touchdowns in limited appearances. But with Wright missing spring practice rehabbing from offseason knee surgery, opportunity will knock again for senior Victor Anderson.

Anderson exploded as a freshman in 2008, rushing for 1,047 yards and being named the Big East Rookie of the Year. But a nagging shoulder injury in 2009 eventually ended his sophomore campaign in surgery. Anderson stepped up with a 108 yard performance against Arkansas State early in 2010, but failed to find the end zone and saw his carries diminish as the season came to a close. With Powell graduated and Wright missing spring practice, Anderson can use the opportunity to reclaim his position in the running back rotation.

Finding those holes might be difficult early, with Louisville only returning one starter from last year's offensive line. Center Mario Benavides will be counted on to lead a new group of trench warriors in 2011, but for now he'll have to lead from the sidelines as he recovers from shoulder surgery. But Strong doesn't need the an experienced offensive line to lead vocally, he just needs tough players to lead by example.

"We have a lot of skill guys coming back," Strong explained to the media before spring practice began. "But what you don't ever want to do is let that be the core of your team. The toughness of your team is built up front, with the offensive and defensive lines.

"I don't mind leadership coming from that group [of skill players] if it has to, but the core of our team has to be from the front people."

That core group of offensive lineman will also have an important task this spring: getting used to a new quarterback. For now, that starting quarterback appears to be Will Stein. Formerly a walk-on, the redshirt junior is the heir apparent to the position with both of last year's starters (both seniors) gone. Louisville fans will want to see early enrollee Teddy Bridgewater, the nationally ranked dual-threat quarterback who chose the Cardinals over Miami after Randy Shannon was fired. But according to reports from practice, it seems like Bridgewater has a lot of learning left to do before he can line up with the first string.

But along with Bridgewater, there will be many inexperienced players who get to see increased time this spring due to injuries. Strong announced a list of 14 players who will miss spring practice due to injury and/or offseason surgery. The list contained several potential starters, including the aforementioned shoulder injury to Benavides, and yet another knee injury for redshirt freshman wide receiver Michaelee Harris. For a team that will be looking to replace 14 starters on offense and defense, it certainly does not help having those candidates on the sideline. Strong put is putting a positive spin on it, arguing that the extra development will only improve the depth in the long run.

So what can Cardinals fans expect from Louisville in the fall? My guess is that they will be a team that develops as the season is progressing. They kick off the season with Murray State, Florida International, and Kentucky before getting a bye week at the end of September. The advantage for the Cardinals will be game-speed experience and one true road test before ever having to play their first conference game.

The obvious disadvantage to Louisville's schedule is nine straight games without a break to close the season. The coaching staff can only hope that the health issues of the spring don't linger into the fall. A college football season often will take its toll on a team around late October/early November. With no weeks off in their conference schedule, surviving the Big East round-robin will be the ultimate gut-check.

Last year, that would have been time for the seniors to step forward and provide an example for this team. With a younger squad, the challenge becomes greater for Strong to get the most out of his players. When they are banged up and beaten down, they will look to Strong for energy and toughness.

Luckily, those qualities don't to seem to be in short supply with Charlie Strong.

Click here for more Spring Practice Primers
Posted on: March 22, 2011 11:59 pm
Edited on: March 23, 2011 12:11 am
 

Spring Practice Primer: NC State

Posted by Chip Patterson

College Football has no offseason. Every coach knows that the preparation for September begins now, in Spring Practice . So we here at the Eye on College Football  will get you ready as teams open spring ball with our Spring Practice Primers . Today, we look at N.C. State , who started spring practice last Friday.


Head coach Tom O'Brien is prepared to repeat 2010's success without Russell Wilson, but are Mike Glennon and the rest of the Wolfpack ready?

For the last three years, N.C. State quarterback Russell Wilson has been the face of the football program on and off the field. Even splitting time and missing games due to injury, Wilson has been the favored signal-caller since his arrival on campus. In 2008 Wilson was named Rookie of the Year and selected to the All-ACC first team. In his three seasons, Wilson racked up 8.545 yards and 76 touchdowns and wrote himself into the NCAA record books by completing 389 consecutive passes. He has also served as a perfect ambassador for the program, an active member of the N.C. State community.

But #16 will not be on the field for the Wolfpack this spring. Wilson has not ruled out returning for his senior season, but for now he is playing with the Colorado Rockies organization. Wilson maintained this fall that his goal is to play major league baseball and NFL football, but his indecision is not something that head coach Tom O'Brien wants to wait on moving forward.

“We just can’t sit here and say, ‘OK, we’re going to wait for Russell to come back,’ O’Brien said. “We have to move forward.”

So now the reigns have been handed to redshirt junior Mike Glennon. Glennon, ranked a top 5 quarterback coming out of high school, is also the younger brother of former Virginia Tech quarterback Sean Glennon. He spent last spring with the first-team while Wilson was playing baseball, but now enters spring practice expecting to be the man under center come September.

O'Brien has an impressive list of quarterbacks that have succeeded under his tenure, dating back to the Hasselback brothers at Boston College. Glennon hopes to add his name to that list with two years of eligibility left with the Wolfpack to prove himself as much more than "the guy after Russell."

 It takes little to no time to point out the initial contrasts to Wilson. While the 5-11 Wilson tormented defenses by extending the play, the 6-6 Glennon is much more of a traditional pocket passer. With the sightline to scan the whole field and impressive arm strength, Glennon has all of the tools to be just as successful as Wilson. The question will be whether he can still put them to use in a game after three years on the sideline.

One uphill battle that Glennon faces is the departure of Owen Spencer, Jarvis Williams, and Darrell Davis. Wilson benefited from having big targets that he could rely on to get up and catch it over defenders. Spencer and Williams were the leading receivers in 2010, combining for 1,625 yards and 9 touchdowns.  One piece that Glennon does get back is senior tight end George Bryan. Bryan has had at least 35 receptions and 350 yards receiving in his last two seasons, and the 6-5, 265 pound Castle Hayne, NC native began to generate some draft buzz among scouts.

"I considered [declaring for the NFL draft] pretty good for a little earlier," Bryan told PackPride.com. "I talked to some people but we just felt like, my family, coach Bridge, coach O'Brien, all the coaches felt like it would be a better fit for me to come back because I still have stuff to work on. "There is no rush. I love playing for the Wolfpack, and I want to graduate as a Wolfpack."

That kind of leadership and dedication is something the 2011 Wolfpack will find necessary in 2011. Don't be surprised if Bryan becomes a frequent checkdown for Glennon if he can't get his first reads. It will only benefit Glennon's confidence knowing he has that big reliable target underneath when things get uncomfortable in the pocket.

Spring Practice Primers

But there are some fundamental differences in the way O'Brien runs his spring practice that will benefit both sides of the ball, not just the offense.

"As long as I'm the head coach, our focus in spring will be to get better as individuals," O'Brien explained. "Spring practice is still about being a better fundamental football team. Everybody can improve at something, players and coaches. The benefit of having experienced players and more depth is that you can hone in on the things that are really important, but the goal is still the same."

O'Brien does not even release an official spring depth chart. He releases what he refers to as an "organizational chart." Even then, don't expect everyone to be in the exact same position in a few months. Even with eight returning defensive starters, O'Brien will do some shifting before the season kicks off. With almost guaranteed plans of mixing things up, it only further supports his method of focusing on individual players instead of general scheming in the spring.

"We like to bring versatile people in - guys who can play multiple positions," O'Brien added. "Then as we grow as a football team and they grow as individual players, we can decide what each individual's best position is and how he can best help the team."

N.C. State's outlook for the fall is difficult to predict with no official knowledge of Russell Wilson's decision. But my assumption is that Glennon will be the man under center for the Wolfpack in September. O'Brien may prefer to focus on individual players in the spring, but only one will be held under a microscope by the fan base. This is Glennon's second spring practice with the first-string, but it has a whole new feeling with the ball coming his way in the fall.

Click here for more Spring Practice Primers
Posted on: March 21, 2011 4:37 pm
Edited on: March 21, 2011 4:39 pm
 

Spring Practice Primer: North Carolina

Posted by Chip Patterson

College Football has no offseason. Every coach knows that the preparation for September begins now, in Spring Practice . So we here at the Eye on College Football  will get you ready as teams open spring ball with our Spring Practice Primers . Today, we look at North Carolina , who started spring practice last Wednesday
.

Is it possible that the suspensions of 2010 better prepared the Tar Heels for 2011?

With how publicized the program has been in the last 12 months, it is easy to forget that North Carolina head coach Butch Davis is only entering his fifth year in Chapel Hill. Davis had plans of bringing top notch talent to North Carolina, and the records show that it has worked. After going 4-8 in year one, Davis has rattled off three straight 8-5 seasons and in 2010 delivered the first bowl win for North Carolina since 2001.

But the dark cloud has not completely been lifted off the North Carolina football program. After finishing with that Music Bowl victory, too many Tar Heel fans were left saying "what if?" What if North Carolina had all of their suspended players for the whole season? Bruce Feldman of ESPN.com wrote that if all of North Carolina's suspended players had played the Tar Heels might have contended for a national championship. Obviously this claim is a little far-fetched, but with 12 Tar Heels showing their stuff in the NFL combine, it is easy to see why fans are asking the "what ifs'."

With all that talent at the NFL combine, you would think that there would be a drop-off for North Carolina coming into 2011. But the players, and those close to the program do not expect a drop-off at all. When you have a recruiter like Butch Davis you don't need to rebuild, you just reload.

With all of those players missing action early in the season (and some for the entire year), a crop of young talent got to see the field much earlier than expected. Those players are back for 2011, and are ready to form their own impressive combine group. At least 12 backups saw much more action than they ever expected in last year's season opener against LSU. The game, played in the Georgia Dome, was a real taste of big-time southern football for those players. They will take those experiences on the field, and enter spring practice hungry.

On the defensive side of the ball the Tar Heels only return six starters, but many of the reserves saw significant action on the field due to suspension and/or injury. The playmaking ability of Bruce Carter and Quan Sturdivant will be missed, but look this spring for significant changes in the attitudes of Zach Brown and Kevin Reddick. It will be their duty to carry on the torch from the previous two star linebackers. The line is back with even more depth, and most of the secondary got to see the field during the suspensions of Deuntae Williams (4 games) and Kendrick Burney (6 games).

Things are less certain for the offense. Most important for the Tar Heels offense will be seeing how Bryn Renner does stepping into the starting role. In his four years on the field, Yates set the school records for career and single-season passing yards, as well as single season total offense. Now he passes the torch to Renner, who has been taking notes for the last two years.

"I learned everything I knew to be a college quarterback from him," Renner said after his first practice as the starting signal-caller. "Just the way he handled himself on and off the field, and the way he conducted himself on the field, so I learned a lot from him."

Renner enters spring practice as the starter, but he will be pushed for the job. With A.J. Blue healthy, there will be an open competition for the backup spot with Braden Hanson and the highly sought-after Marquise Williams, who enrolled early. The hope being that the competition will only improve all of the quarterbacks, giving offensive coordinator John Shoop some comfortable depth at the quarterback position.

One thing that Renner does have going for him from the beginning is a talented crop of returning wide receivers. Dwight Jones, Erik Highsmith, and Jheranie Boyd are all familiar with Renner from practice in previous years and should waste no time getting their timing back. Ryan Houston, who led the Tar Heels in rushing TD's in 2009, is back after redshirting a year ago and should help take the pressure off the first-time starter.

"We are really excited to get Ryan back, that was a big help," Renner explained. "I'm really excited to see Giovanni [Bernard], I think he's going to be a great player and has great upside. I'm really looking forward to handing the ball off to those two guys."

Despite the optimism and excitement from the players, there still is an unresolved NCAA investigation. While the athletic department remains optimistic that no major sanctions will be placed on the program, there is the possibility that a punishment will be handed down from the NCAA that could hurt the Tar Heels' chances of continuing the postseason streak that Davis has established.

But until then, the expectations are the same in Chapel Hill, and the campaign to return to a bowl in 2011 has already begun.

Click here for more Spring Practice Primers
Posted on: March 16, 2011 1:01 pm
Edited on: March 16, 2011 1:07 pm
 

Spring Practice Primer: Wake Forest

Posted by Chip Patterson

College Football has no offseason. Every coach knows that the preparation for September begins now, in Spring Practice . So we here at the Eye on College Football  will get you ready as teams open spring ball with our Spring Practice Primers . Today, we look at Wake Forest, who starts spring practice Thursday
.

How will Wake Forest's recent coordinator shuffle effect the productivity of spring practice? Will they be able to take advantage of the 17 returning starters?

Wake Forest knew they had a lot to improve on from 2010. There were all sorts of issues on the field that were going to require attention during the offseason. But plans to improve were thrown off momentarily with the surprise departure of Brad Lambert to UNC-Charlotte. The former defensive coordinator had been in Winston-Salem as long as head coach Jim Grobe, and been a crucial piece to the program. He was linebackers coach of the 2006 ACC Championship team, and helped develop Butkus Award winner Aaron Curry, now with the Seattle Seahawks.

So Grobe was forced to act quickly and unexpectedly to even get spring practice off on time. Grobe began by promoting from within, calling on Brian Knorr (wide receivers) and Tim Billings (outside linebackers) to be co-defensive coordinators. Knorr, who served as a linebackers coach under Grobe at Ohio University, will split both the coordinating and linebacker coach duties with Billings. The move promotes two seasoned assistants with head coaching experience, while also returning Knorr back to the defensive side of the ball.

But in filling Knorr's old role as wide receivers coach, Grobe got a chance to enhance his staff. West Virginia receivers coach Lonnie Galloway was officially announced on Tuesday as the latest hire in Wake Forest's coaching shuffle. Galloway was a four year letterman at quarterback for Western Carolina University. He graduated in 1994 second on the school's career passing list with 5,545 yards. Galloway should also help with recruiting, serving on staffs at Elon, East Carolina, and Appalachian State before West Virginia.

So now that the coaching staff is finally in line, the Demon Deacons can turn their attention towards 2011. Which is good news for Wake Forest fans, who have been looking forward to forgetting the 2010 season for some time. After the exhibition season-opener against Presbyterian and and a 54-48 footrace victory against the lowly Duke Blue Devils, Wake Forest dropped nine straight games. Thankfully, they were able to finish the season with a 34-13 victory over Vanderbilt, but it was a frustrating 1-7 ACC campaign for the Demon Deacons. They were consistently overmatched, being outscored in conference play on average 38.5-16.875.

Granted, it was a rough initiation for true freshman quarterback Tanner Price (pictured). Price, who has shown potential at times, was thrown into the mix early in the season and finished with nine starts under his belt. As expected, the consistency was lacking in the freshman's efforts. But with 1,349 yards passing and a year of experience with offensive coordinator Steed Lebotzke (one of the only coaches still in his 2010 role), Wake Forest fans are hoping that Price's growth will help improve the entire offense.

But Price's learning curve is no explanation for the poor defense. In 2010, the Demon Deacons were last in the conference in scoring defense, and only ranked higher than Duke in total defense; giving up 429.6 yards per game. Grobe sang Lambert's praises as he departed for UNC-Charlotte, but where was the proof on the field?

The difference between 2010 and Grobe teams of old came down to experience. Wake Forest finished the season staring 8 underclassmen on defense, including 3 freshmen in the secondary. The defenses during the postseason run from 2006-2008 were led by a core group of juniors and seniors. Grobe and his staff are known for their ability to develop talent, but unfortunately most of the Demon Deacons had to go through on-the-job training.

Which interestingly enough is one of the greatest strengths Wake Forest has moving towards 2011. With 17 returning starters, the Demon Deacons are the second most experienced team in the ACC. The players should enter spring practice with little/no learning curve. While the coaches might be shifting, the players are all back.

Regardless of the assistant coach jumble, Jim Grobe is still the head football coach at Wake Forest. He will have the same message and same expectations as always, and there should be no misunderstandings on the rosters with this large crop of returning players. Grobe has proven he can win with experience before, but Wake Forest fans are hoping to see that on the field sooner rather than later.

Wake Forest begins Spring Practice Thursday March 17

Click here for more Spring Practice Primers


 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com