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Spring Practice #14 Report

Only the career night and spring game stand between Coach Lembo, the Cards, and the long offseason. (Photo credit BSU Photo Services)

Wednesday marked the final practice before Saturday’s spring game and the conclusion of offseason workouts for the Cardinals. It’s bittersweet to be sure, as after the spring game, it’s a long wait until August, fall camp, and the hopeful optimism that the season isn’t that far off. After Saturday, we’re in the dark for roughly 3 months or so, and that’s always not a lot of fun. Thankfully, this offseason is unlike recent ones, where answers outnumber questions, stability takes the place of uncertainty, and a sweeping calmness has replaced turmoil and doubt. Indeed, these recently uncharted waters for BSU football are strange days.

Coach Lembo sat down with media relations after Wednesday’s session and gave the fans the typical glimpse behind the curtain. (via)

Final practice before the Spring Game was a little shorter. What did you do differently?
Yes, we shortened it five minutes. I am sure the guys got a good laugh out of that when they looked at the schedule. You can’t argue that is wasn’t shorter though. We need to get our work done out there. We came out in helmets and put an emphasis on fundamentals, special teams and game situations today. The offensive skill players spent some time working on how to react when the quarterback scrambles from the pocket. This is one of those nuances to the game the average fan may not appreciate. Every player that is involved in the route combination has conceptual rules to follow based on which way the quarterback exits the pocket. These rules change slightly when the line of scrimmage is down in the Red Zone. Our defense was able to dedicate practice periods to blitz adjustments against various formations. We cut back on some team periods and did additional work separate from each other. Our PAT/field goal unit was also able to cover some unique game situations that might occur once or twice in a season.

Talk a little about your annual Career Night which is Friday?
We work very hard to develop our players as students and as well-rounded young men. We want them to maximize their potential academically and to be as prepared as possible for the “real world” after Ball State and after their football career concludes. The life lessons that our football alumni can teach help our players develop a vision for where they can go with their education. One of the things they inevitably learn from our former lettermen is that their college football experience is also a huge part of their education. There is a reason why so many employers look to hire former student-athletes. Last year, our players were amazed to learn just how successful some of our former players are in their careers. You hope they walk out of the event and say, “Wow, I can be like that guy some day if I stay the course.” It is also interesting to see how much the football alumni miss their days as college football players. That tends to help our current players develop a greater appreciation for the opportunity they have here right now. The career night event is a great way to hand pick some successful football alumni and get them reconnected to the program in a meaningful way.

What is the plan after Saturday’s Spring Game?
Even though spring practice will have concluded, next week is a very busy week for each member of the football program. Our guys will have a series of year end evaluation meetings, similar to what an employee might go through with his supervisor. Each player will meet with his position coach, strength coach David Feeley and with myself. They have some paperwork to fill out including a goal setting sheet and a self evaluation form. I want to know what they think of their own progress as well as what we think as a coaching staff. Goal setting is an important piece of the puzzle. It is important goals are realistic and attainable. This is usually a very good learning experience for the new players in the program. It is also very rewarding to see how some of the older players mature and take more responsibility for their own destiny with each passing year. There are also some additional peripheral activities next week including head shot photos, the athletic department year-end banquet and a final team meeting. Perhaps most importantly, our guys need to finish up the semester strong from an academic standpoint.

So the Cardinals take today off and then enjoy a bit of time focusing on life after football before the spring game fiesta on Saturday. Personally, I’m curious to see what sort of crowd will be on hand. This is Coach Lembo’s second spring game, the team enjoyed a bit of unexpected success last season, and there’s been another several months of pressing the flesh, emailing the community, and attempting to rouse the support in Muncie. Saturday will be a great indicator (in comparison to last year’s crowd) of what we can expect when the season starts for real in August.

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Spring Practice #13 Report

Now that he has plenty of time on his hands, Rick Santorum has no reason not to attend the Ball State spring game on Saturday.

The spring football season is winding down at BSU as the Cardinals completed their second to last workout on Tuesday. Today will be their final practice, there’s a career night with alumni on Friday, and then Saturday will be the spring game. The format of the spring game has yet to be announced, but I can’t imagine it will differ much from last season’s experience with some slightly weird scoring to not only replicate a number of pertinent situations but also to help with the lack of depth that makes fielding a competitive team on both sides of the ball two or three deep a bit difficult.

The rules last year were:

The scrimmage will begin with a short PAT/field goal segment before we begin “moving the ball”. The first offense will go against the first defense throughout the scrimmage and the same goes for the 2’s and 3’s. After each stop by the defense, the field position will change 35 yards. The offense can go for it on fourth down if they choose to in or just outside the red zone. In between each “quarter” there will be some special teams drills. By the end of the day, we hope to get about 60 plays for the first team and 40 or so for the 2’s and 3’s.

Both sides have a number of opportunities to score points in the scrimmage. The offense will be awarded points for the following:
First Down (1)
Touchdown (6)
PAT (1)
Field Goal (3)
Two point conversion (2)

The defense can accumulate points in the following ways:
Stop a drive (1)
Stop a drive with a “Three and out” (3)
Takeaway (3)
Defensive Touchdown (7 – assume PAT)
Safety (2)

Whether that will be the way of things this spring has yet to be announced or released, but will probably come in the next day or so, especially if there are changes or tweaks.

Coach Lembo sat down with media relations after Tuesday’s drills and chatted a bit about all things BSU football related. The practice report from lucky #13… (via)

Today was the last day in full pads before the spring game. Did you get everything accomplished on your “to do” list?
It was a pretty solid session. We had three team periods, including one live scrimmage period in the Red Zone to conclude the session. Steven Schott has been very accurate all spring, but missed a pressure field goal today. We had two pass skeletons, including one in the Red Zone. Our kids get pretty competitive down there, even when it is just pass skeleton. We got some quality work done for punt protection and kickoff coverage. It was a pretty balanced practice with both sides of the ball having some success. I told our guys afterwards I love the enthusiasm I am seeing, but we have to balance that with better focus and awareness on the practice field. We have a lot of young guys still learning the expectations. This is a game for guys that can play with aggressiveness and detail. We are not out on the schoolyard.

We have not talked much about the linebackers this spring. How is that position group progressing?
The linebackers are benefitting from hearing the same message from the same voice for a second year. Jay Bateman has a very good rapport with his guys. I have seen him coach at four different schools and that has been the case everywhere we have been. Jay’s old players from Lehigh and Elon are always keeping in touch with him. That’s what it is all about – relationships. Travis Freeman is making better decisions and more confident decisions. He is playing with better posture and is wasting less movement. Travis is a very hard worker, but Jay and David Feeley can also take some of the credit for that. Kenneth Lee has a lot of physical tools and he has shown flashes this spring. He is currently where some of the guys were at this point last year from a mental standpoint. Tony Martin is a bright guy that understands the system. He moves well in space. I like the depth and competition we are seeing from the other guys we have in that position group. We need a lot of them to step up and be role players on our defense and major contributors on special teams. We simply did not have enough linebackers that played in games for us last year. Some of the freshmen have improved quite a bit, but a couple still have some growing up to do.

Ball State hired a new athletic director yesterday. Did you get a chance to spend any time with Bill Scholl?
I did meet Bill briefly after he introduced himself to all the head coaches on Monday. He really made a positive first impression at our meeting and afterwards at the press conference. He is a seasoned administrator that has worked in a variety of roles at Notre Dame. He seems to be very well prepared for the challenges of the top job here at Ball State. He and his family have spent many years in Indiana, so they know the culture and the landscape. I have to give President Gora a lot of credit for the confidentiality she maintained throughout the search process. Tom Collins was able to do that with the football search when I was hired in December of 2010. Fans always want to know how an important search is progressing, but you have to look at it from the perspective of the applicants. I was excited about the opportunity at Ball State, but I certainly did not want to alienate our student-athletes and program constituents at Elon. I was pleased to learn that Bill wants to jump right in and start quickly. We have a lot of challenges to attack and I am excited to work with Bill as we move forward.

Last practice before the spring game is today at 3:30, and like all of them, it’s open to the public. If you get the chance to check out a spring practice, you should. It’s not a luxury afforded to many fans of other programs, so please take advantage of this coaching staff’s willingness to throw open the doors and pull back the curtain a bit.

Spring Practices #11 & #12 Reports

Replacing Sean "Souleater" Baker is going to be of paramount importance for the 2012 Cardinal defense

The news coming out of the BSU athletics office these days is more like a flood than the offseason trickle that we’re used to. Today’s headlines were dominated by the hiring of new Athletic Director Bill Scholl, but the football beat is marching steadily on as well. The Cardinals suited up Friday and Saturday for more spring practice fun, including their first foray into live scrimmage action with officials and the gameday feel. Per usual, Coach Lembo sat down with BSU media relations folks at the conclusion of the drills to talk about what went well, and what didn’t. (via)

Spring Practice #11 Report

With one week to go in Spring Practice are there a group of players who are solidifying positions for the start of fall camp?
We will definitely have a preliminary depth chart coming out of spring practice, but it is very likely playing time at some positions will still be up for grabs during preseason practice in August. There is also a lot of special teams playing time still up for grabs. What we are finding out now is who can play, who will compete, who is coachable and who will battle through adversity. In August, we will determine how much they will play. Of course, we hope some of these new players will come in and challenge for playing time as well – much like Jahwan Edwards and Willie Snead did last year. Chris Pauling appears to be on that track at safety. He needs to help us on special teams as well. We are young at many spots and have a long way to go as a team, but a large number of guys have improved physically and mentally this spring. My biggest hope is we can play more people in games than we did last year, especially in light of the rigorous out of conference schedule we play this fall.

You have Practice No. 12 scheduled for Saturday morning and will include another scrimmage. How important is it to get reps to all the players at this point in time?
Yes, we will have officials on hand tomorrow morning and plan to do a significant amount of live work. We will cut back on individual and fundamentals in Saturday’s session and focus on just letting the guys play. We want to see who can take what they learned from a technique standpoint and apply it in game situations. We try to get every player involved in each practice, although there is not an equal distribution of repetitions in team situations or pass skeleton periods. We are trying to develop all of our players, but we definitely do not believe in socialism, either. It is a free market philosophy in our program and you have to earn what you get. I should hang a picture of Adam Smith in my office. In a typical practice, the first group sees more action than the second group and so on. However, prior to practice, each position coach may change up the individual players that will work with each group. For example, we have been evaluating guard Jalen Schlachter with the first group some. We want to see how he holds up against guys like Nathan Ollie. We have been rotating our tailbacks through as well. We know Jahwan Edwards can play. Let’s see how Horactio Banks or Toney Williams performs with the first group. You get the point. Keenan Noel returned from an ankle injury and showed some promise today working with the second group at defensive tackle. Quintin Cooper, Michael Ayers and Ben Ingle are getting better. We will keep evaluating each player and creating internal competition while we work on game situations in team periods of practice.

Today was Practice No. 11, talk a little about the importance of the athletics training staff as the spring winds down and nagging injuries begin to surface.
Shawn Comer and his staff do an excellent job working with our players on a daily basis. On most days, numerous players are here in the Fisher Complex before breakfast to get treatment to start the day off. A lot of folks do not appreciate how much time the support staff and the players put in for peripheral activities like the treatment of injuries. Shawn might get a break in the middle of the day while the players are at class, but it is still a long day when you are in before dawn and leaving well after practice ends. Many of the graduate assistants and student trainers also put in significant time assisting our players with treatments. We also have a team of doctors that make themselves available if there is a more serious issue. It might be an illness or an injury that requires additional diagnosis. We are fortunate to have a major hospital right next to campus in case x-rays or an MRI is needed. Of course, a lot of the work David Feeley does in the weight room helps prevent injuries on the field. That might be the biggest benefit of the Olympic-style weight program – the fact that the additional bulk protects your joints. Dave is helping our guys become more explosive players. The goal is to become the hitter, not the one being hit.

Nice to see the Cards shoring up areas of concern like safety this early in camp. Not that it won’t be changing, as I’m sure the depth chart put out at the conclusion of spring will be nowhere close to what we see in August, the worries about the defensive backfield can at least be settled a bit for now. David Feeley again gets a shout out in one of these post practice recaps, so I’m excited to see the work that he’s putting the players through and more importantly, how that translates to success on the field.

Spring Practice #12 Report

Practice No. 12 featured a scrimmage with officials. What were some of the highlights and how do you feel about it overall?
Yes, today was actually a very similar format to what we expect to do next week in the annual Spring Game Saturday. We had a large group of officials on hand that were conducting their spring clinic. They did a nice job calling some fouls today, which is good instant feedback for the players and coaches. It was a pretty physical scrimmage, particularly when the first unit was in there. Our defensive line generated a good pass rush today. Nathan Ollie stood out at times. However, we also had a few mental miscues on the defensive line that were very costly. Eric Patterson has picked off passes the last two days. He is gaining confidence at the corner position. Michael Ayers also had an interception off of a pass that should have been caught. Receiver Willie Snead made a nice play on a fourth down to keep a two-minute drive alive. I was disappointed with some of the dropped balls by some of our other receivers. Those are drive killers. Jahwan Edwards looked good running it in limited duty. We had a turnover deep in the red zone that was very costly for the offense. I feel like our defense has improved a bit these last few practices and our offense has hit a bit of a plateau. Steven Schott has been very consistent kicking field goals and today was no exception. We have to step it up next week and finish strong.

People ask all the time if the offense or defense is better at this point. How do you respond?
If you simply look at where there is more age, experience and returning players, it is on the offensive side of the ball. We have everyone back except for our center and two wide outs from last year’s primary group. There are also a lot of guys back that did not start, but they played a specific roll in the offense. Chris Sparrow is technically a back up, but he started the last four games last year. He is a good player and nothing changes when he is in there. So, I would expect our offense to be a bit more cohesive, especially a couple weeks ago when we were just getting started. I have enjoyed seeing some of our defensive players improve this spring and the entire unit is becoming a bit more cohesive. Regardless of age, you have to remember none of these kids have been in the same system for back-to-back years until now. Last year, a guy would make a mistake and have no idea why. Now, there is more two-way communication going on out there. We are playing a little faster at times. We are still making some mistakes and are lacking consistency at times, but we are getting better. Ideally, you want both units to have modest success on a daily basis to keep it competitive and to keep everyone humble.

Heading into the last week of practice. Do you add, change or adjust leading up to the Spring Game?
We have three sessions left, including the Spring Game Saturday. Tuesday’s practice will be in full pads and will include three team periods. Wednesday, we will back off a bit physically and focus more time on game situations and special teams. Our installation on offense and defense is basically complete. We have a few special teams wrinkles to look at next week. With one less practice this coming week, we hope to get their legs fresh for a long scrimmage in front of the fans on Saturday. In addition to the Spring Game, we are looking forward to the football alumni career night event on Friday night. Several former players from various professions will be back on campus to speak to our student-athletes about their experiences since graduating from Ball State. It is one of the highlights of the year in my opinion.

Two more sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday, then Career Night on Friday, and then the Spring Game on Saturday and that will be a wrap for spring ball. If you have a chance to make it out to the spring game, I encourage you to do so. There may or may not be a chance to meet the good folks at OTP. And clearly, aside from getting to watch the 2012 Cardinals up close, that’s reason enough to make the trek to Muncie.

Spring Practice #10 Report

The Cardinals hit double digits on Wednesday as spring practice #10 took place. Coach Lembo sat down with the media relations staff and decided to pull back the curtain a bit on the video of practice, the status of the running backs, and a reappearance of a former coach at practice. What say you, Coach? (via)

Lights, camera action at BSU's practices)

Practice No. 10 is in the books after a day in full pads. Talk a little bit about the use of video at a Spring Practice and the evaluation of that video after a practice.
Digital video has become a huge part of the evaluation process and a primary method of teaching student-athletes in today’s college football world. We typically have a minimum of two and sometimes up to three or four cameras shooting parts of practice at one time. It gives the coaches and players some very detailed, accurate feedback. The camera doesn’t lie and of course you can rewind it time and time again. It is basically ready for us to view just a few minutes after practice concludes. We can add pieces of data to each clip and later sort it various ways. This allows us to study results on paper as well as on the actual video. Today’s student-athletes have grown up utilizing technology and learn well when technology is integrated properly. The digital system we have allows each coach to select certain pieces of practice ahead of time to review in their position meeting so no time is wasted. We use PowerPoint and other software programs quite a bit as well. We also stress the importance of film study to the players in hopes they will learn to do it on their own in the summertime, the offseason and during the season itself. It’s different than watching a game as a fan. They have to learn to watch the video as a student, focusing on a handful of indicators that might give them a slight edge to win a starting position or winning in a game of inches on a Saturday afternoon.

How is the progress at the running back position this spring and where is Ball State relative to depth and injuries at that position?
I could not be happier with the group of guys we have in the backfield. They are a hard working bunch in competition with each other, but always puts the team first. They support each other and encourage each other. When we arrived last winter, this was supposed to be the deepest position on the team. That changed quickly because of injuries and other issues. Fortunately, Barrington Scott and Dwayne Donigan stepped up and made meaningful contributions last spring. They seized the opportunity when it was presented. Then, of course, Jahwan Edwards rolled in from North Carolina last summer. He made an immediate impact. It turned out to be a solid year for the backs and we only had one fumble lost in 12 games. Now, we have Horactio Banks and Toney Williams also factoring into the mix. Horactio has grown up quite a bit this year. The redshirting benefitted him a tremendous amount both on and off the field. He has had a very good spring and gives us a legitimate speedster back there. Toney Williams is a big back with some physical tools. He is still learning the system and trying to get comfortable. Barrington Scott’s rehab is coming along nicely. He has a great work ethic. I am sure he will be ready to go by the time pre season rolls around. Coach Justin Lustig does a nice job keeping them focused and preparing them to be excellent pass blockers and receivers as well as ball carriers. Special teams is another area where these guys can make a meaningful contribution to our success.

You invited former Ball State head coach Dwight Wallace to attend practice today and speak to the team afterwards. What was your motive?
It’s always a good time for a history lesson. We have great kids in the program and I want them to develop an appreciation for the growth and development of both the football program and the University. Sometimes you learn to appreciate what you have a lot more if you know about the way it was in the past. Coach Wallace spoke to the guys in a very humble, down to earth way. He gave a lot of credit to his former players and other coaches. He spoke about great leaders like Ken Kramer, who embraced weight training and made himself an NFL caliber player. He spoke about legendary Coach Dave McClain and how he built the program in the 1970’s. Dwight is still part of the family here just as are all the other previous coaches. He has an interesting perspective as a former head coach, assistant coach and athletic director at Ball State. He was here during the transition to Division I as well as during the MAC Championship season of 1978. Paul Schudel and Bill Lynch have both been back to speak to the team in the last year and I was remiss in not having Coach Wallace back sooner. He was able to sit in on position meetings today and closely observe the entire practice session. He really seemed to enjoy it. Dwight is still working as an account manager and is doing some game day radio at West Virginia University. He will miss our spring game on the 21st because WVU’s is on the same day. I was pleased we were able to spend some quality time with him in the Fisher Complex today.

Spring Practice #9 Report

As Coach Lembo attempts to bridge the BSU-Muncie gap, might I suggest a Chicago Dog for everyone? Just a thought...

Spring practice #9 in the books for the Cardinals on Tuesday and per usual, Coach Lembo was able to sit down with the media relations staff for some Q and A regarding the football Cards. I’ve mentioned in the past how refreshing it was to see the Cards do stuff like this, but I think it’s even more refreshing to have it not be chock full of useless coachspeak or sugar-coated facts to make everyone feel ok about the coming year. That’s a welcome change of pace from the last regime in Muncie.

One final word… Coach Lembo has done yeoman’s work in regard to community involvement and program connection. Calling the connection between the greater Muncie/Delaware County area and the football team icy is probably a gross understatement. Even the student body has been less than ideal, as it took an undefeated season to really pack Scheumann Stadium with rabid Cardinals fans. Whether or not the work, the speeches, the visits, or the appearances will have any lasting effect long-term remains to be seen, but the effort and approach has been staggering. Truly impressive. On to practice #9…. (via)

How does practice change in the second half of the Spring?
Not a whole lot. We have a basic practice structure we believe strongly in and typically follow pretty closely. It is always easier to get more done within in the body of practice if the players know what to expect. We always try to focus on a particular aspect for five, 10 or 15 minutes and then move on. Any longer than that and it is diminishing returns in terms of their focus. We do not have too much more to install in terms of schemes, so I hope we can build on what we already have in and execute with more consistency. These next several practices will be very important. We have some guys improving, but their consistency is lacking. As Coach Jay Bateman told the defense in meetings today, if you just think about surviving practice, it will come back to haunt us in the fall. Each player needs to attack each of the remaining practices with a real sense of urgency.

How is the progress of the young defensive backs going this Spring?
Not bad considering the lack of experience back there. Brian Jones is growing up and really trying to be focused in meetings and on the field. He understands he has a great opportunity in front of him and he is trying to make the most of the opportunity. He has been solid on special teams as well. Chris Pauling is really mature for a true freshman. He watches a lot of video on his own, is a fast learner and really loves the game. He’s a hard worker, but the game also comes somewhat naturally to him. Chris can run and hit. J.C. Wade had a good winter in the weight room and that is allowing him to play more physical. Christopher Calloway is a very good athlete that needs more repetitions. Eric Patterson has done some nice things at corner. After a solid winter with Coach David Feeley, he is playing in a more athletic position and is tackling better. Andre Dawson is an older guy, but I like how he is attacking the opportunity to be a leader in his fifth year.

You have spent alot of time speaking at various places this spring. How will this pay off this fall?
Some results are tangible and others are not. Obviously, if our attendance improves this fall or in the future, then the efforts to reach out to the campus and the community will have paid off. Beyond that, however, we are trying to build a culture around the program where people feel connected. Whether someone is a serious college football fan or not, we want them to learn about us, what we do and how we do it. Our program is a large, highly visible part of the University. If there are no secrets and people understand what goes on inside the Fisher Complex, they are more likely to value the football program. If people sense a connection to our student-athletes and our coaching staff, they are more likely to want to see our progress on Saturdays in the fall. The great thing about the Muncie community is it is very easy to get to know people. Whether it is on campus, in town or at Ball State alumni functions around the country, we have to take advantage of every opportunity to spread the message – even if it is to individuals or small groups. This is an important part of the job for me as we try to build the program, so I have to keep at it regardless of the time commitment or short term results.

The Cardinals are back it again today as they hit double digits on the practice tally with practice #10 at the Scheu at 3:30.

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.

The Best Peacemaker in College Football, Jamill Smith

Jamill Smith at spring practice. Not many can pull off wearing No. 2.

Junior wide receiver Jamill Smith may be the happiest player on the team.

“It is what I dreamed of. I always knew that I wanted to play for a college around my area,” Smith said. “Helping out my community and giving them positive role models.”

Smith played quarterback, cornerback, kick returner, and punt returner for Muncie Southside. Regular guys like us call that insane. He even held the ball for the field goal attempts. He broke school records for career passing and rushing touchdowns as he placed the Rebels on his shoulders.

Despite the statistics colleges only cared about his undersized frame. He had to walk-on to play at Ball State. Not giving the local offensive star a scholarship right way is just another scar on the Stan Parrish era, but that is history. After a red-shirt season Smith earned a scholarship in 2010 and saw plenty of action as a sophomore in Lembo’s first season. He recorded 32 receptions and three touchdowns receiving while averaging 24.2 yards per kick return.

“Its been with me my whole life being the smallest on every team I was on,” Smith said. “So I’ve just been using it to my advantage trying to prove people wrong.”

Smith has added seven pounds in the offseason to get up 145 pounds. While at 138 pounds Smith was told he was the smallest player in all of the FBS a year ago.

Maybe he still is?

Hard to forget those dreads.

No matter what his dimensions are Smith can benefit Ball State tremendously by bridging the gap between the school and the Muncie community.

“There is no relationship between Muncie and Ball State,” Smith said “In the future that is what we are trying to do. Get the community to all of our games and support all of Ball State athletics.”

As a Muncie outsider I am still trying to learn the relationship between Ball State and Muncie. I was spoiled being born in Lexington, Kentucky. I assumed that all college towns were passionate about their school the way Lexington is about its Cats. I just thought Muncie would be like that on a smaller scale.

Boy was I wrong when I came to campus as a freshman. The only people who cared about Ball State are alumni and students. To make matters worse, most of Ball State’s student body and alums are teachers who view college athletics as a headache on the education system.

Ball State faculty typically live in the Yorktown and Delta school districts. Some even commute from Indianapolis. If you are Muncie Central and Muncie Southside how do you not take offense to Ball State  professors saying they would rather waste gas and hours a week commuting from counties away than live in your city?

Ball State wonders why Muncie does not come out to its events or why the Star Press is not their buddy? If I grew up in Muncie would I want to read positive articles in the paper about Ball State? The school has enough PR and advertising campaigns doing that for them. I guess reading negative press on the school would be a form of “sticking it to the man” so to speak.

The school has to boast its achievements to attract students, but over time flaunting becomes highly annoying to those in Muncie. Especially when Muncie has lost the things it used to flaunt like the auto industry and the Ball Corporation.

There is plenty to this relationship that I do not understand, but I do know it will take more time to heal old wounds than most are willing to admit.

Smith celebrates with teammates after scoring a touchdown against Army last season. Hey Ball State plays Army again this year.

Lembo ended the insulting practice of having the team stay in Noblesville on the eve before home games. He has also been extremely open to the community.

But that is just a start, nothing more; like adding an ex-girlfriend on Facebook in an attempt to rekindle the relationship.

This is where Smith comes into play.

If Muncie and Delaware County can not get excited about their small soldier playing at Scheumann Stadium than there is little hope.

“When I was in high school we came to every [Ball State] game,” Smith said. “I know [friends] look at me and say ‘Jamill is playing so we should go watch it.’”

My friends at a local church can only name three Ball State players. Keith Wenning and Kelly Page are common, but the name I hear the most is Smith. A friend of mine who played on the Yorktown football team boasted about sacking Smith to give Yorktown a win over Southside years ago.

He gave his body to Muncie Southside playing every reasonable position. Now he is trying to give those fans a reason to come back to Ball State.

It will not be easy. Smith has to perform well on the field. If bigger receivers take snaps away from him than nothing will change. Heck, if that happens than relations could get worse.

Delta quarterback Ozzie Mann can have the same chance to improve relations in the future but he has to wait for Wenning to graduate.

Smith is simply everything a Ball State fan can ask for. Hard working, determined, intelligent, a speed king, and by God he is local.

“My end goal is make Ball State and Muncie a connection and get Ball State back to where it was [2008],” Smith said.

Muncie will be watching Smith and may the odds be ever in his favor.

Guest Coaches Announced for Spring Game

Ball State football has announced who will be the honorary coaches for the football’s team scrimmage to close out the spring practice season. Per today’s release:

Ball State head football coach Pete Lembo announced former Cardinals Michael Blair and Greg Garnica will serve as honorary coaches for the Spring Game April 21.

In addition, Coach Lembo will host a Cardinal Football Alliance meeting at noon at the Ball State Alumni Center for all interested football lettermen. The purpose of the meeting is to discuss the CFA, its future and the goals of the organization.

“We are looking forward to having two outstanding former players back for the annual Spring Game,” Lembo says. “This will be an excellent opportunity to reconnect Michael and Greg with our current student-athletes and coaching staff. We also hope other football alumni return to see their former teammates in action on the sidelines. This will be a great day for all of our constituents to come together and get a preview of the 2012 Cardinals.”

Blair earned four letters for Ball State from 1993-96 and was a part of two Mid-American Conference Championship teams that competed in bowl games. Blair helped the Cardinals to the 1993 and 1996 MAC titles and berths in the Las Vegas Bowl each of those seasons. He was the MAC Freshman of the Year in 1993, and earned All-MAC first team honors that season. Blair also earned All-MAC Second Team honors in 1995, and completed his career with a then-school record 3,051 career rushing yards. Blair was the first Ball State football player to ever rush for over 3,000 yards in a career.

Garnica lettered for the Cardinals from 1986-89 and was the MAC Defensive Player of the Year in 1987, 1988 and 1989. He led Ball State to the 1989 MAC Championship and the Cardinals first-ever NCAA Divsion IA bowl game — the 1989 California Raisin Bowl. A linebacker for the Cardinals, Garnica was an All-MAC selection in 1989 and earned second team honors in 1986 and 1988. He completed his Ball State career as the school’s all-time leading tackler with 689 career tackles — a record that stands today. Garnica also managed 13 career interceptions, which is tied for the fourth best mark in school history, while his six career fumble recoveries ties for the school’s all-time mark.

The Spring Game is set for Sat., April 21, at Ball State’s Scheumann Stadium and is scheduled for a 3 p.m. kickoff.

Last year if you’ll recall was Bill Lynch and Paul Schudel as the honorary coaches, and this year’s bunch is in all probability a more solid group in terms of BSU success. April 21, Cards fans. Make your plans now to get there and get it on, Spring game style.

Spring Practices #3 and #4 Reports

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)

Spring Practice #2 Report

Not the kind of family Pete Lembo is looking to build

The Cardinals were back at it Wednesday afternoon with their second of fifteen practices this spring. Coach Lembo… what did you have to say about numero dos?

The second day of Spring Practice was met with another great weather day. How do you think the players responded to getting back in the routine of practice?
It was good to get right back out here today after a good first session on Tuesday. We were able to make corrections in meetings and, with a few exceptions, had a pretty focused day. We did have one procedural penalty and one errant shot gun snap on offense. We have to eliminate those miscues. The defense was a bit sharper defending the zone read and covering option routes. We are putting a big emphasis on pursuit and understanding where your help is coming from. We limited our installation for today’s practice, but a little more will go in for Friday’s session. The overall effort and competitiveness has been very solid.

How much time is spent on special teams during a typical Spring Practice session?
We have a 20-minute special teams meeting every day. Coach Justin Lustig is very organized and does a great job covering a lot of material in that amount of time. In addition to the installation for particular units, we spend a lot of time teaching concepts. We have a half a dozen special teams “mantras” we expect all of our guys to thoroughly understand. Better awareness leads to better decision making in pressure situations. In a typical practice, we spend 35 to 40 minutes on various aspects of the kicking game – from basic fundamentals to unique game situations. These are typically five to 10 minute periods spread out through the practice session. The combination of meeting time, practice time and head coach involvement sends a clear message that this is an aspect of the game we take very seriously and expect consistent results.

How important is it for your veteran players to assist the younger players in a daily Spring Practice?
That is a big part of the culture we are trying to put in place. We are all in it together. Everyone must take responsibility and ownership of our destiny as a football program. We are competing with each other right now, but at the end of the day it is all about the program having success. We have some really bright guys. That has impressed me since we first arrived at Ball State last year. We have about 15 guys that have Ivy League type intelligence. They learn quickly and can turn around and teach others around them. Sometimes it is a specific technique they are helping a teammate learn. We also have some players that might be more modest students in the classroom, but they have a good football IQ. The game does not move too fast for them. Some guys still have a lot to learn and that is okay as long as they are committed to getting it done. In some situations, the support from teammates is more general – such as helping a guy get refocused or bouncing back after a miscue. Football is a tough game and there is adversity on a daily basis. Whether it is a coach or a player, we must try to attack challenges with a positive attitude.

Day 2 was another practice in shorts and helmets. How do those practices differ from the days of full pads?
Our practices don’t differ a whole lot whether we are in helmets, uppers or full pads. They have the same basic structure and flow to them. Once we transition to full pads and contact, we will back off some of the time spent on individual techniques and fundamentals and dedicate more time to interior run and 11-on-11 team periods. We have three “tempos” for any team period and it is critical every player understands what mode we are in at that time. The last two days was basically “tag” tempo because of just being in helmets. Most of the time, we operate in “thud” tempo, which is full speed, but form tackling without bringing the ballcarrier to the ground. We expect everyone to finish the play on their feet and there is no cut blocking when we go “thud”. Throughout the spring, we will mix in some scrimmaging on days when we are in full pads. Those periods typically have an emphasis such as first downs, third downs or red zone. If everyone is on the same page, we can reduce the amount of injuries sustained in practice.

Defensive improvement, attention to special teams, and building a family atmosphere through tutoring and mentorship? Me likey.