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Spring Practice #1 Report

Jessie Spano is so excited for BSU football! She's sooo excited! She's so.... scared.

Once again it appears that BSU fans won’t have to kick over rocks in social media for spring practice information or wait to be trickled information from the mainstream media outlets that have apparently more important things to cover. Toward the end of the Parrish era and continuing into the Lembo era, the athletic department staff has been on top of their game in terms of recapping what went on in that particular session. This season, as it did last year, the recaps come in the form of a Q and A with Coach Lembo, and unlike many things with FBS coaches, it doesn’t seem exceptionally coachspeak or gussied up for public consumption. I’ve found the answers and insights given by Coach Lembo to be a realistic dose of the positives and negatives and just another step in the reloading process for BSU players on the field, and the creation of togetherness for BSU fans off it. Today’s report (via)…

First day of Spring Practice under perfect conditions. How do you believe the first of 15 practices went today?
I was pleased with the balance of enthusiasm and focus out there today. Everyone got back into the flow of a full practice in a seamless fashion. Some older guys picked up right where they left off last fall and some younger guys showed promise. We moved Dan Manick to center from strong tackle and he made a smooth transition on the first day. Practice always goes a lot smoother when you have accurate shot gun snaps. There were no procedural penalties today, which also reflects well on our recall. I liked how our cornerbacks competed during the “one on one’s” and in the two pass skeleton periods. Quarterback Keith Wenning showed good accuracy on several throws to the flat and over the middle. Our special teams got some quality work in on punt, kick off coverage and PAT/field goal.

There is a new addition to the coaching staff in Ball State alum Nick Tabacca. How much of an adjustment is there for a new coach learning a new system?
First of all, it is great to have eight of nine assistant coaches back from last season. Continuity on the coaching staff is a critical piece of building a competitive program and a factor often under appreciated by the average fan. It is easier to pick up where you left off as a player when you are receiving the same message from the same voice. In Nick’s case, he has made an incredibly smooth transition. Being an alum and former graduate assistant has helped because he knows the environment. Perhaps more importantly, Nick spent considerable time studying under former offensive coach John Strollo. Nick believes in the same teaching philosophies and techniques as John. He even knows John’s unique vernacular. John really liked Nick and shared a lot of nuances with him. Our players are benefitting from having a coach that fully understands the world they live in as well as how they were coached last year. Nick has been with us for about two months and I am impressed at how quickly he learns and adapts. It speaks highly of a Ball State education!

What are some of the things you look to accomplish in the first week of Spring Practice?
We are trying to thoroughly evaluate every player in the program and thoroughly teach every player in the program. I was really pleased with the detailed teaching going on out there today. Our coaches treat the walk on who is fourth string no differently than the senior that is a returning starter. Everyone has an important role to play. We will move at a relatively slow pace in terms of installation so guys don’t have to think too much. We don’t want to slow down a younger player that is athletic because he is thinking too much. The players are anxious to start hitting, but you have to crawl before you can walk. Fundamentals are the key building blocks and that will continue to be the emphasis this week and throughout the spring. We will dress in helmets again tomorrow and transition to uppers for Friday’s session.

There were a number of alums at practice today. How nice is that to see to know they are interested in the program even after they have completed their careers?
I was really pleased to see so many different constituents out there at practice today. We had faculty, staff, football alumni, high school coaches and about 25 recruits in attendance. Even former head coach Bill Lynch stopped by today. That is exactly the kind of open environment we are trying to create around the program. It was great to see some seniors from last year’s team out there supporting our efforts today. It speaks volumes about their experience last season and their feelings about the direction of the program. I told our team afterwards to savor every opportunity because time flies by. Guys like Briggs Orsbon, Toriel Gibson and Sean Baker would give up just about anything to have another chance to play college football for Ball State this coming fall.

So pretty standard fare for the initial spring get together of the Cardinals. Some things I took away from this:

  • It’s not a shock at all to me that Coach Lembo and staff are focusing on fundamentals. To me, that was perhaps the biggest reason for .500 last season compared to the few years before it: This team seemed not to beat themselves, which in the MAC is often the difference between .500 and a two-win season.
  • The need to shuffle the offensive line may concern other programs but this offensive line is eerily similar to 2008 when it was a senior-laden squad that was experienced and dominant. Obviously 2008 was a once in a lifetime season, but the parallels between that squad and this one is striking. More on that as the season gets closer.
  • I’m continually impressed with the emphasis and attention that Coach Lembo pays to special teams. It won the Cardinals more than a few games last season, and much like the focus on fundamentals, excellence in special teams in a conference like the MAC that is laden with parity can mean the difference between a post season bowl and just going home for the holidays.
  • Continuity on the coaching staff? That’s a great thing.
  • Perhaps the last bullet point is the most important with the return of alumni and the BSU football family. There were early rumblings from people presumably unhappy with their individual situation that Coach Lembo wasn’t the right fit for the program or the players. If that was indeed the case, then I’d say former alums and coaches wouldn’t be there to celebrate the opening of spring ball, no matter how starved for football they may be.

Today at 3:30 is practice #2 for the Cards, and if you’re anywhere close to the Scheu, I strongly encourage you to check it out for yourself. Go Cards!

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