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Spring Practices #5, #6, #7, #8 Reports

Pete Lembo is all smiles with the effort of these Cardinals

We are halfway to home in the 2012 Spring Practice season for the Cardinals, and with the Spring Game looming on April 21, the Cards have just 6 more practice sessions to get themselves ready for battle. Against each other. With odd rules again I presume. But I digress. Despite the fact that BSU will not have a Crimson Tide-esque 90,000+ at the spring game, the news and information coming out of Muncie has been quite positive and enthusiastic. Perhaps even more impressive than the tone and energy of the updates is the fact that the updates are as frequent as they are.

It wasn’t long ago that news out of spring ball trickled out at a snail’s pace, if at all, and relying on the mainstream media alone proved a totally fruitless endeavor. The fact that BSU has stepped their game up in this regard to open the program to the fans, the supporters, and yes, even the blogger(s) has in my opinion made a world of difference in the perception of this program and this team. On to the recaps, via BallStateSports:

Spring Practice #5 Report

Today was the start of the second week of spring practice. How did you feel about today’s session?
Quite frankly, I felt like today was a half step backwards. Too many guys just tried to survive practice instead of being on a mission to get better today. We have been off since Saturday afternoon and we were just in uppers today. I assure you we will be in full pads tomorrow even if it is 100 degrees. We have a number of guys who are very reliable and several others that need to earn the trust of the coaching staff and their teammates. It is not a right. There is no entitlement. You don’t earn trust just be showing up. When the plane leaves for Clemson we will know why 66 guys are on it and why some others are not. The best practice players are usually the same ones that play on Saturdays. In order to have a successful season, we need every single guy in the program to step up every day and embrace the challenge. We won’t have success in 2012 just because we won six games last year. Like it or not, we are counting on a number of untested guys to step up and fill key roles. That being said, we do have a number of guys that are proving to be consistent and continue to improve each day. Chris Pauling is a true freshman that arrived on January 9th and he is getting it done. Jahwan Edwards has been doing it since the first day he arrived here as well. So, it can be done. We just need more guys to fit into that category, regardless of their year in the program.

The receiving corps lost two major offensive contributors in seniors Briggs Orsbon and Toriel Gibson. How is that position group progressing so far this spring?
Yes, Briggs and Tori were really a pleasure to work with last year. Both really improved as the 2011 season went on and made a lot of plays for us. Both have been out at practice watching the guys, too. I told them both that I wish they were redshirted as freshmen because I would really enjoy another year working with them. I have been pleased with Jamill Smith and Jack Tomlinson. Both were very focused throughout winter workouts and have given great effort in these five practices. They are determined to get better and increase their roles on the field. Connor Ryan is a tremendous worker. He is one of our toughest and most detailed players. He gets everything out of his ability and can play effectively, even with bumps and bruises. Willie Snead has definitely benefitted from the winter program. He has better body control and is playing with more physicality. Willie had a couple drops out there today, but he will bounce back. Chris Shillings has the combination of size, speed and athleticism to be a good player in the league. He needs more repetitions. Some other guys have shown flashes. Jacolby Owens got banged up last week, so we have not seen what he can do at this point. Our tight ends have done a nice job making some plays in the passing game so far this spring. It is a huge help to your overall offense if you can throw it from running sets and run it from passing sets.

You announced the honorary coaches for the Spring Game today in Ball State football alums Michael Blair and Greg Garnica. How important is it to the program to have the alums involved and interested in the Cardinals?
Interest and support from alumni is critical to the success of any football program at any level. Some former players simply underestimate that fact. It is still their program even though their playing days have concluded. The coaches may change and the players may change, but the program is the one constant the brings us all together. Everyone still has a role to play, just as they did when they were playing. We have gone to great lengths to open our doors and communicate with our football alumni. We always want them to feel welcome in the Fisher Complex. We will continue make efforts until every former player feels connected in a meaningful way to the current program. Our student-athletes can learn a great deal from the alumni that played on the same field and dressed in the same lockers. Successful alumni like Greg and Michael can help our young men develop a vision for where they can go with their lives. Too often, players take what they have for granted. When you hear from alumni that miss the game and the days with their teammates, you learn to appreciate what you have. I invited Michael and Greg back because I know they would love to be 20 years old again and playing for Ball State. Several other football alumni will participate in a career development event the night before the spring game. That networking function was very successful last year.

Spring Practice #6 Report

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.

Spring Practice #7 Report

The team practiced in shoulder pads and helmets as opposed to full pads. What was the reasoning?
We go in uppers or half pads for several reasons. First of all, we have to have a number of practices in the spring where there is no live scrimmaging as per NCAA regulations. Today’s session met one of those requirements. We have a pretty quick turnaround with a morning practice tomorrow, so we wanted to go a little lighter today, knowing we will do some live work on Saturday morning. Perhaps most importantly, we work very hard at teaching our guys to play at full speed, but to stay up off the ground. This is the best way to replicate game speed, but to avoid injury. We call that “thud” tempo and we should be able to execute in that mode whether we are in full pads or uppers.

Your offensive line is a pretty veteran group. You have made some position switches with that group. How are they progressing?
I have been pleased with the offensive line so far this spring. They are an experienced group and, as we previously discussed, they are adapting very well to Coach Tabacca’s teaching style. The major move we made was to bump Dan Manick to center. Dan has embraced the change and is getting better every day. He has occasionally drifted some of his shotgun snaps, but again, he’s getting better and more comfortable. Guard Jordan Hansel has been limited this spring due to the fibula injury he suffered last fall. We are very pleased with the job Chris Sparrow is doing filling in for Jordan. Chris started the last four games in 2011 and continues to improve. Cameron Lowry is having a really good spring. The game has really slowed down for him. The same is true for Kitt O’Brien. He is playing with more detail than he did last fall. Some younger guys in the two deep like Jalen Schlachter and Matthew Page are also making progress.

Fridays practice saw another large number of recruits at practice. Do you have primarily in state players or do you invite from all over?
I have been really pleased with the turnout of visitors every day at practice. We have had over 20 recruits show up at most practice sessions so far this spring. Indiana and most of the bordering states were all represented out there today. We actually had a large number of recruits from Chicago and the suburbs on campus today. I am also very pleased with the number of Indiana high school coaching staffs that have been attending our practices. On Wednesday, we had the coaches from Snider, Southport and Leo high schools here in the facility to watch video, sit in on meetings and watch us on the field. Coaches from Minster, Ohio, and Shenandoah in Indiana were here today. We have also had some football alumni that are college coaches attend practices. It was good to see former Ball State captain Colin Johnson out there with us today. He is now the offensive line coach at the College of Wooster in Ohio.

Spring Practice #8 Report

You have reached the halfway point of Spring Practice. Are you excited about the direction of the program at this point in preparation for the season opener vs. Eastern Michigan?
We are making progress as a team, but still have a long way to go. We are probably a little more physical across the board than we were at this point a year ago. We won’t know for sure until the rubber hits the road in the fall. In terms of individual players, there is still a lot of evaluation that needs to take place in the next two weeks. That being said, we are definitely getting some questions answered every day about individual players. We are finding out who is learning, correcting mistakes, overcoming adversity and performing under pressure. It was good to see Nick Miles return to the scrimmage after turning his ankle. That shows some toughness. The game is definitely slowing down for Chris Shillings and Horactio Banks. Both of those guys have a chance to help us on the offensive side of the ball and on special teams. Some older guys are also improving. Travis Freeman, Armand Dehaney and Andre Dawson all seem to be much more comfortable in the defensive system. We have to keep in mind that young or old, this is only the second spring these players have worked with these same coaches.

Saturday’s Practice No. 8 included a scrimmage with game officials. How does this help in your preparations and the rest of Spring Practice?
Having officials on hand helps the coaches emphasize some “coaching points” with the players. You can point out a hold or a pass interference penalty on video, but having an official on hand to call it and throw the flag is instant feedback. There are some new rules in the kicking game for 2012 and it was helpful to talk with the officials about their interpretations. There are a couple nuances we want to iron out this spring relative to those new rules. We plan to have officials on hand the next two Saturdays as well. These spring practices are also beneficial for the officials themselves. It helps keep them sharp in the off season.

Your team has chosen “Rise Up” as a theme for the 2012 season. Can you explain a little bit about the process and what this entails for the team?
One of the projects for our leadership council every offseason is to develop a theme for the year that is meaningful to this particular team and the unique situation they are in as a team. Ideally, you want a theme that can somehow relate to every single player in the program. “Rise Up” is basically an internal challenge to improve on an individual, group and team level. Every single player needs to improve physically, mentally and emotionally for us to reach our goals. Our offense, defense and special teams units need to improve. We have graduated some excellent leaders and those voids need to be filled. We also want to reach our potential off the field in terms of academic progress, campus visibility and positively connecting with the community. The great thing about this particular theme that the players selected is it can also carry over to the external side. Our players are very aware of our initiatives to improve the football program. They know we need help from former players, other Ball State alumni, students, Muncie residents and the University administration to make it happen. We are trying to build a battleship and it takes a lot of help from a lot of people to make it happen. So, “Rise Up” is also a challenge to all the constituents of the program to jump on board and become a part of this ride with the team.

You heard him Cardinals fan… Rise Up and be part of this ride. Welcome aboard. The Cardinals are back it again today with a 3:30 practice at the Scheu.

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