STORRS, Conn. -- Despite what college football coaches may believe, no games are actually won or lost during spring football practice. Nobody’s keeping score, everybody’s wearing the same uniform, and there is playing time for all.
But many of the players who will decide wins and losses are made in the spring. Many of the offensive and defensive schemes that will decide wins and losses are made in the spring. Many of the plays that will decide wins and losses are made in the spring. The fall may be when seasons are built, but the blueprints are drawn up in the spring.
There are always new hopes, new dreams, new enthusiasm and new excitement on the first day of spring football practice. There was a little extra of each on Tuesday, when the UConn Huskies took the field at the Mark R. Shenkman Center for their spring debut. The clean slates that automatically come with a new coaching staff tend to produce that – every player itching to impress his position coach, his coordinator, and his head coach.
The coaches feel it as well. No matter how many meetings, film sessions and discussions take place during the winter, there is nothing that compares to seeing the players performing on the field. There will be 15 days of spring practice, followed by the start of fall practice on July 27.
“It was good to be out there and get started,” UConn head coach Randy Edsall said. “I thought the kids really worked. The effort, the enthusiasm, the communication part was pretty good. We’re not going to be the finished product by the end of 15 days, but now I want to see improvement with every practice.
“I’ve been impressed by what’s taken place so far. They’ve done the things we’ve asked them to do through the winter conditioning and lifting sessions. They have attempted to do the things the way we want them done and do them with enthusiasm and energy. I know that today they were excited to finally get out on the field and learn the new system. That’s one thing that I have been impressed with --- their ability to adapt and buy into what we want done.”
Senior linebacker Junior Joseph admitted that first-day nerves were apparent, but only natural.
“Yeah, of course, it’s a little nerve-wracking,” he said after practice, “You don’t know the plays yet and you’re still adjusting to the new defense. But by Day 3 or 4, we should be much better. Coach just told us to do everything 100 percent. If you mess up, don’t mess up at half-speed, do it at 100 percent. It’s always a challenge to learn a whole new system, but that’s why we have spring ball. This whole spring, we’re going to be learning this defense and by the end of spring ball, we’re going to have most of it down pat.”
Joseph has already seen what the new system is designed to produce.
“It’s much more aggressive,” he said. “We’re definitely going to have more sacks, more TFLs (tackles for loss), a lot more turnovers for us.”
Offensively, the speed has been turned up a notch as well.
“People are fresh, ready to go and hit the field with passion,” said senior tight end Tommy Myers. “From every single coach, you get real energy and the players feed off that. It’s a faster pace and football is fast-paced. We’re mixing it up, spreading the love to everybody, getting everyone involved.”
While Joseph and Myers are clearly two of the elder statesmen on the team, don’t expect them to be named team captains. Why? Because Edsall and his staff have a different idea --- team leadership in place of individual captains.
“That’s another thing about which I’ve evolved over the years,” the head coach explained. “In this day and age, I’m not sure how many kids really want to be leaders anymore. That’s one of the things I have seen change over the years. What I’ve gone to is having a leadership council, where I take one guy from each position. I think it’s hard to lead 105 guys if you have just two guys and I’ve found that by going this route, it’s more productive -- where I can take a guy from each position and meet with them every week and help them take care of their own positions. Then you have four or five guys taking care of the offensive side of the ball, as well as the defensive side of the ball. Then you get them to start developing the younger guys in their room as leaders.”
Spring ball is a time for the coaching staff to learn about the players and vice versa.
“They are still learning how high the expectations are that I’m going to hold them to and their coaches are going to hold them to,” Edsall said. “As coaches, we’re not going to lower our expectations, they’re going to meet our expectations and they’re going to do it all the time.
“These kids really want to win and they really want to do whatever we want them to do to help them win. It’s our job as coaches to get them to be as good as they can be or maybe even above that. And when you all have that attitude, you’ve got a chance.”