I know we're all pretty wrapped up in basketball, but there is this little thing called spring football practice taking place right now, and I've got a couple of observations on the goings on from the past couple of days.
Andy Mattingly became the first casualty of the spring when he tore his right pectoral muscle a couple of days ago, and it looks like he'll be missing out on the rest of spring drills. Word is that the injury isn't likely to linger into the fall, although they won't know for sure until they get the results of an MRI today.
As Grippi noted, this is the reason coaches have spring practices as early as the NCAA will allow -- to give players maximum healing time for injuries such as these. Wulff tried to spin it into a positive, saying that it will allow other guys an opportunity to get reps, but I'm thinking of all the guys to get injured, Mattingly is quite possibly one of the worst options.
Normally, I yawn at spring practice injuries. But here's a guy who broke out as a hybrid outside linebacker/pass rusher in 2007, but had a terrible go of it in 2008 as a full-time defensive end. Some might say the move back to linebacker would be an easy one for Mattingly, but remember -- he's now playing linebacker in a scheme in which he's never played linebacker (save for the Apple Cup).
Mattingly is one of our few proven, legitimate playmakers on a defense that was simply atrocious last year. We need him to be at his peak. And while Wulff said he has no doubt that Mattingly has the kind of work ethic to make sure he's completely ready for spring, it cannot possibly be beneficial to him or the team to have him missing spring drills. Linebacker is a position of instinct, and more time on the field equals less time thinking and more time reacting.
This guy ostensibly was going to be one of the leaders on the defense, and now he's going to have to do it from the sidelines until August. Not good, in my estimation.
The team has spent extra time in spring practice working on special teams. I love this more than I can tell you. There's nothing sexy about working on special teams, but for a squad that is desperately searching for ways to improve from a disastrous season, this is a relatively simple area to improve that can make a huge difference in games.
Special teams are all about discipline, and if the players feel confident in what they're doing, they're a heck of a lot more likely to execute in that area come fall. Think about the difference one big offensive play can make in a game (hello, Logwone Mitz!) or one big defensive play (hello, Jahvid Best, Jeremiah Johnson, Dez Bryant and ... oh, you get the picture) can make on a game. Well, special teams can do the same, and if we can figure out a way to spring James Montgomery for a big return, or pin a team deep with great coverage on a punt, we give ourselves that much more of a chance to make the most of our limited talent.
If we're going to win more than a couple of games next fall, I have a feeling we're going to have to win them in Apple Cup fashion, where the opponent mutters to themselves at the end, "How in the heck did we lose that game?" Great special teams are the best way to do that.