COACH SPEAK – PAC 12 STYLE – MAY 28
By Leo Haggerty
Part IV of our trip around the “Power 5 Football Conferences minus the Southeastern Conference” takes us to the West Coast for a visit with selected PAC 12 coaches. But before we get there, a quick reminder as to what is transpiring with these four columns.
I will be asking the same question of head coaches in four of the Power 5 Conferences. What I am trying to accomplish is to see if there’s one prevailing answer that permeates all four conference football coaches when it comes to spring practice.
For the final time, and even I had to recheck to make sure I had them right, the two questions are as follows:
Question 1 – In your opinion, what’s the hardest position to develop in spring practice?
Question 2 – What was your major goal going into spring practice?
Most of you, including myself, expected quarterback to be the stock answer of all the head honchos. As you will have heard from the coaches I’ve interviewed, there’s no stock answer. It all depends on their situation heading into spring practice.
I hope you have found the answers as interesting, as well as diverse, as I did. So read on and enjoy installment #4 from some of the PAC 12 head coaches. Then Coach Speak takes a hiatus until late August when it starts back up for real.
As a bonus, I threw in a couple questions to HC Chris Petersen on the Bucs first-round draft pick who was Huskies DT Vita Vea. Below are his rather interesting responses.
LH : When the Buccaneers traded down, I won the media pool because I said right away it’s going to be Vea. The Bucs got a huge man with a unique skill set, didn’t they?
CP – Oh, yeah. No question. He’s unique and that’s why he’s a high first round pick. He’s got some God-given tools that he’s been blessed with but, the cool thing is, he put them to use. He’s a great person. He’s a likable guy to be around and to coach. The nice thing about Vita, even being that high of a draft pick, is that he still has an upside. He still has stuff to be developed when he gets to Tampa Bay.
LH : Being that you know Coach Koetter, did you give Vita any advice on what to expect when he gets to Tampa Bay?
CP : He better bring his A-game every day because Coach Koetter is going to demand that from his guys. I think it’s going to be a really good fit because Vita wants to do the right thing. Whatever your program is all about, he’ll try to do that. I know Coach Koetter has a strong vision on how he wants things to go and how he wants the defense to play. Vita will fit right into that and buy into that so I think it’s a win-win for both of those guys. I’m excited to watch how that whole process unfolds.
WASHINGTON HC CHRIS PETERSEN
Q1 – They all have their unique challenges. In some ways it can be your quarterback depending on your numbers. That’s because I also feel that the quarterback can’t get enough team reps. We don’t do a ton of team things in the spring. That’s a problem when you have three or four or five quarterbacks that you’re trying to develop in the spring. You just can’t get enough reps for those guys. You can’t just compete that long because you don’t have enough bodies. So, in some ways, it’s the quarterback because you have to play 11-on-11 football and you have to build skill. It’s just hard to get those guys reps.
Q2 – Yes, we have a major goal and that’s get back to basics and start teaching. We need to teach our guys how to practice and. throughout that process, we’re trying to teach fundamentals and techniques. That’s our goal and that’s what it is every year. We teach them how we want them to practice and we drill that over and over.
COLORADO HC MIKE MACINTYRE
Q1 – In the spring, you’re always trying to develop your offensive line. You’re trying to instill as much physicality as you can. The one good thing about spring is that you can spread the dates out now so you have more time. You can have a physical day and then take a day off or take a weekend off and go back on Monday. So, we really tried to improve our offensive line and their physicality. It was nice we could space out our spring practice and that allowed us to do that. It’s not like the fall where you have physical practices back to back to back. In the spring, that’s what we were looking to do.
Q2 – Well, one of the goals that we have going into spring is to make sure we get more physical and finish off games better. We focus on those things and a lot of in-game situations in the spring. We wanted that on their mind. The physicality was key. Then you start working on the little things. That was our goal for the overall team. Then, you’re working on things that get certain guys better and then work on certain schemes to get better. Those types of things but, overall, we tried to get more physical. We came out of spring with a lot of in-game situations that we covered because we didn’t finish off games last year. We put our guys in a lot of those situations so we could work on them over and over.
UTAH HC KYLE WHITTINGHAM
Q1 – That’s a good question. I always think quarterback is the hardest position to develop during the spring. Really, no matter what the time of year. Aside from that, probably the O Line. The continuity of the O Line particularly if you lost players. Last year, we lost four lineman to graduation. I think getting the O Line put together and to have them feeling comfortable playing together and learning to trust each other. I would say quarterback number one and O Line number two.
OREGON HC MARIO CRISTOBAL
Q1 – I would say quarterback. Only because, in the spring, you don’t have your normal numbers. You’re down numbers. When the second and third team quarterbacks are up, and they are typically running plays behind an offensive line that may be decimated by injury or attrition from graduation. There are some things they can’t do offensively. Sometimes, you find yourself limited. Again, you don’t want to slow the development of your quarterbacks by curtailing what you’re doing over the course of practice. You definitely want everyone working on the same stuff. I always think that’s going to be the most difficult one. With that being said, our second team offensive line did an admirable job staying in there and hanging in there and protecting the quarterback. Because of that, those guys really showed that they could play winning football and that they had a promising future at the quarterback position.
Q2 – We had three, really. They were discipline and culture and fundamentals we going to be at the forefront of every day whether it was a meeting or practice or a walk through. From a cultural standpoint, it was knowing that we would not tolerate anything less than their best. There were things that we would uphold and establish. I felt from a turnover standpoint and a penalty standpoint, discipline was a thing that stood out that made those poor areas of play for us last year. We had to make that a huge point of emphasis. Every single scrimmage and every single practice had multiple officials out there to give us a better reading on how we’re playing the game. We want to play just as hard but cleaner. You want to mention this one too. This is another on, and it was listed at the top of every single day, and that is being more physical. Being able to knock the other side of the ball backwards. Being able to control the line of scrimmage. Being able to control the perimeter. It was really a huge point of emphasis. The battles went back and forth on a day to day basis. I think our guys bought into it because of our strength and conditioning department. They do a great job with our players in the off season.
OREGON STATE HC JONATHAN SMITH
Q1 – There’s a couple of them that stand out. The first one is the quarterback. For certain situations, it may be the O Line or the D Line but the quarterback has a lot to deal with from play selection to clock management to the play clock and what happened on the previous down. These guys aren’t getting hit that much at practice so recreating the game for the quarterback can be a little more challenging. That’s what stands out to me.
Q2 – I really think the major goal that we had was setting the tone on how we practice in regards to the effort and the detail of what we’re doing. The scheme and the coaches were new on these guys. I wanted these guys to come out of spring ball with the expectation is of practice and I feel we got that done. For sure. As you know, setting the tone in practice is more important than playing games. At practice, we have to be able to improve and compete and get better during this time. The first couple of days, the guys saw how practice was going to be structured from rotating to a station to fundamental work to the competition part and, obviously, learning the scheme on both sides of the ball. That was the major emphasis. Learning how to practice.