The Cards held their third and fourth practices in what is shaping up to be an invigorating and energizing spring season. I can safely say in my years covering this team, I’ve not seen the sort of intensity and interest that this edition of the Cards is generating. That’s due in no small part to Pete Lembo, as Nathan references below. Lembo is also meeting with the athletics staff after each of the sessions to feed the fanbase some nuggets of information regarding that day’s work.
Recap of Session #3:
You have two healthy quarterbacks at practice this spring getting lots of practice time. How beneficial is that for the quarterback position?
Yes. Brooks Medaris had his appendix taken out last week so he is sidelined for now. Keith Wenning has been taking all the repetitions with the first group and Kelly Page with the second group. It’s all about balance. You like the personal attention and ability to work with such a small group. At the same time, you want to keep developing younger players and spring practice is a great time to do so. When preseason rolls around, we will have freshman Ozzie Mann on campus and perhaps another walk on to add to the mix. Like other positions, we are still building our depth and it’s a work in progress that will take time. Keith and Kelly continue to be extremely coachable, dedicated players. They have responded very well to Coach Rich Skrosky’s instruction and our players believe in their ability to run our offense.
You talked a lot last fall and during the offseason about the strength and conditioning program. Are you seeing the dividends of the weight room work at practice this spring?
Some guys definitely look a step quicker or perhaps a bit more explosive than they did in the past. Numerous guys are moving with better body control and change of direction. Some of the gains are offset by young guys that are still learning and processing out there. You can’t take full advantage of your strength and athleticism if you are thinking too much. I am pleased with some of our receivers so far. Jamill Smith and Jack Tomlinson look very good in the slot and catching punts. Willie Snead is playing more physical. Connor Ryan is steady and a great competitor. Chris Shillings has also made a few plays. Nathan Ollie looks pretty stout so far at defensive tackle. Our cornerbacks are stronger and seem to be playing with better physicality. Jeffery Garrett was very solid last fall and his confidence is growing.
As the school year winds down, are you pleased with the amount of community service your program was able to participate in during the academic year?
Every single player on our roster was involved in some form of volunteer activity on the Ball State campus or in the Muncie community this semester before spring practice kicked off. In the offseason, we break our team up into six “mini-teams”. Each “mini-team” has a mix of players from different positions and various years in the program. We evaluate and grade everything they do, including academic performance and winter workouts. Part of the plan is for every “mini-team” to do community service as a group. Just last weekend, we had 14 players out on McGalliard Avenue helping the folks from Muncie Clean and Beautiful clean up the road sides. Several coaches helped out too. Little by little, we are trying to build a positive culture inside and outside the program. We are all in it together both here on campus and in this community. We don’t want to live in our own little world in the Fisher Complex. We are not perfect, but we want every member of this program to promote that ideal and build that kind of support.
Recap of Session #4:
Spring Practice No. 4 was the first day in full pads. How does that differ and how do you think the team responded?
The guys came out with a lot of energy this morning. Our meetings were productive and there was good focus on the field throughout the entire session. At the end of individual drills, we had a five minute “Cardinal Combat” session. It’s similar to the old school “Oklahoma Drill” that teams have been doing since the beginning of time. It’s always a good competitive drill on the first day in full pads. We had three team periods today, including a short “move the ball” scrimmage to conclude practice. The offense had an excellent practice overall and looked to be in midseason form at times. Both of our quarterbacks were very accurate today on a variety of throws. They were aided by some impressive catches by Connor Ryan, Jamill Smith and Aaron Mershman. This is the second day in a row that freshman tailback Horactio Banks has reeled off a long run. He can really scoot. The defense was solid during the third down period. Jeffery Garrett continues to impress at cornerback. Freshman linebacker Ben Ingle and receiver Trey Gardner both made a some nice plays during the pass skeleton periods.
At the end of each practice you have an assistant coach give a scouting report on an opponent. What is the purpose and how does it prepare your players for the 2012 schedule?
With the season still months away, you want all your players to see the big picture and learn a little bit about every challenge on the schedule. Once the summer and preseason roll around, the entire focus will be on Eastern Michigan – our first opponent. So, every spring practice is a “game” against the next opponent on the 2012 schedule. Today was South Florida and Tuesday afternoon will be Kent State. It keeps things interesting and competitive. I also like to create situations for our assistant coaches to be put in a leadership role and have to address the entire team. It helps the players get to know them better and strengthens those relationships. We do quite a bit of leadership training in the offseason and our assistant coaches are also involved in that aspect of the program. We are trying to develop our assistant coaches just as we are trying to develop our student-athletes. Every assistant wants to be a coordinator or a head coach some day. Part of my job is to create scenarios for them to take on more responsibility, prepare and ultimately grow professionally.
You just wrapped up the first week of Spring Practice. What are your overall impressions of how things are going so far?
We have a really solid group of young men excited to be out there and a part of the program. They have a good feel for the routine and the expectations. The vast majority of them are pretty highly motivated. It is good to see some guys trying to step up into leadership roles. We have to keep challenging them and finding out who can handle adversity – on a personal level and on a unit level. We will inevitably have to deal with adversity at some point this fall, so we need to see who can persevere now. The offensive line is a senior laden group, but the rest of the position groups are still youthful. With a few key veteran guys like Barrington Scott, Jordan Hansel and Joel Cox out due to injury, we are getting an opportunity to thoroughly evaluate other less-tested players in team situations. We have a long way to go, but there are enough good signs out there to feel optimistic.
The Cardinals have today off, but will resume practice on Tuesday. (via)