By Brian George
First, we need to get better fundamentally. I think that is going to be a big focus of our spring. We have reduced the amount of what we do in terms of calls, and therefore we are going to spend a lot of time teaching, coaching, learning fundamental parts of the game – pad level, tackling, block destruction. We are still going to teach the concepts, but we are going to focus more on becoming better fundamentally.
The other thing we want to do is figure out who are best 11 are. Who are the guys we can count on? It starts with those fundamental things, but also we have to find the competitors in the group. Better yet, if we find 22 of them or more, we need to find spots for those guys who are going to compete and finish, no matter what the situation.
If we find guys who want to compete but are a little behind in their understanding, well, we want the guys who will compete. So we are going to coach those guys and use this opportunity in spring to get them to the place where they are to where they need to be, because those are the guys you are going to win with. Technique and understanding the defense is important, but competing and finding a way to get things done is even more important.
There are a number of guys who can step in and take over some of the leadership roles that we lost to graduation. That’s the interesting part of college football. Guys graduate and leave. New guys are responsible for taking over that leadership role. We aren’t ready to stamp anyone yet as those new leaders because they haven’t been fire tested yet. But I think new leaders will emerge this spring.
We have a lot of guys who have played and are doing all of the right things, and I’m anxious to see what kind of a jump they make this spring – guys like Nate Terhune and Matt Dellinger, who really played his first full season for us last year. Having an entire offseason in the weight room is going to help him. DeVante’ Strickland is in the same boat. He missed an entire offseason to injury, and by the time we get to the fall he will have had a complete offseason to develop.
Obviously we need Jordan Italiano to continue to grow. Nate Holley is a kid who played for us who has to continue to emerge vocally and in understanding. The more he understands, the more he plays and the more he can be a leader. Nate Vance is another guy who always does a good job leading by example and is never afraid to step out on a limb. He will be physically unable to play during the spring, but he can continue to develop in his understanding and as a leader.
We have some young guys who we believe have the ability to lead, but it is now a matter of putting them under pressure and seeing who rises to the top. The good thing for us is that this should be a very competitive spring. There is nobody slated as a starter at any position, and those guys will emerge through competition. You may walk out to practice on day three or four and see a completely different group out there when we call out the first unit.