You were a little disappointed with Tuesday's practice. How did the team respond today?
I was pretty pleased with the energy level and competitiveness the guys displayed out there today. Today's practice opponent was Northern Illinois. We were in full pads and had three team periods mixed in throughout the session. This was one of the better days our defense has had so far this spring. Some guys stepped up and made plays. Jeffery Garrett continues to impress me at cornerback. Jonathan Newsome is starting to get more comfortable with the system at defensive end. Nick Miles is quicker and stronger than he was in the fall. We are showing flashes of improvement on defense, but we are still inconsistent at times. We need to communicate better and some young guys need more time to build confidence with their specific responsibilities. We finished practice with a brief "move the ball" scrimmage. The first offense continues to look solid and finished their first drive with a touchdown. The defense stiffened from there and forced some punts. We got a lot of quality fundamental work done today with our kickoff return and punt pressure units.
Talk a little about the kickers and their role and development in a Spring Practice setting?
As we have talked about in the past, we dedicate substantial practice time every day to special teams. Our kickers, punters and long snappers are obviously an intricate part of those periods. During the remainder of practice, the specialists have a number of specific projects to complete as per Coach Lustig's instructions. It may be a specific technique or a unique situation that they need to work on. Sometimes, our specialists go through fundamental drills such as tackling with our defensive players. Sometimes, they are simply stretching. You have to be careful that you don't overwork the kicking leg and we talk about that with them often. We want them to feel good mentally and emotionally as well as physically. We give those guys a hard time about the "country club lifestyle" they have, but the truth is they work just as hard and are just as dedicated as anyone else. They take great pride in doing the job the right way. The bottom line is that we want results when it counts on Saturdays. Scott Kovanda and Steven Schott will both be fifth-year seniors and we are counting on them to make a big impact this fall. Both are also great leaders and excellent students. I like the personalities of the the guys we have in the specialists group.
How are the student-athletes handling the academic side of their responsibilities now that Spring Practice is well underway?
It has been a pretty solid semester so far from an academic standpoint. Our coaching staff always takes a hands on approach to academics and works closely with both our student-athlete and the academic support staff. Each player is required to have a weekly grade check meeting with his position coach and we talk weekly as a staff about academic progress. We also meet with the academic support staff quite often, so there is a good system of checks and balances in place for each player in the program. As we transitioned from winter workouts to spring ball, the guys had to do an even better job of managing their time, because it is closer to an "in season" commitment in terms of time. Last week, our guys did a nice job making sure they got all their study table hours in. If anyone falls short, they are required to come in over the weekend and study while the coaches are grading the practice video. We will see how this week goes. I have been pleased with our two true freshmen - Osa Igbinoson and Chris Pauling, from an academic standpoint. They seem to be making a smooth transition to college classes this spring. With the spring game on April 21, there should be ample time afterwards for our guys to be focused for final exams.