After 15 spring practices, there's just a flow about things -- a predictability and routine that makes everything blend together. Truthfully, this set in after the first few practices, but as the spring wore on, it began to feel like the same thing on a different day. That's the nature of the spring session, where repetition and teaching are paramount, and routines are established as a building block.
It's not a bad thing, of course, but after the first few practices, the novelty wears off and it's all about business. For the most part, the drills were always the same, arranged in the same order and timed down to the second. Visit enough of Mike Leach's practices, and one could almost organize the drills themselves.
Tuesday, the final practice of this spring, was no different. Players were in full pads, a product of the last shorts and helmet practice being burned last week, but it was a lot of the same things we saw throughout the last month -- though the third-team got a lot more work, especially at the end of practice.
There is always something interesting or noteworthy to break the monotony, though, and it just happened to occur within the first three minutes of practice. Joe Salave'a, a hulk of a man, was so fired up by Bull in the Ring, that he ripped his long-sleeve shirt off and was swinging it around his head while yelling and dancing around the circle. If you've seen Salave'a, you know why this was amazing to watch.
- You're probably wondering what prompted Salave'a to get all fired up and go topless for a moment. Travis Long and Logan Mayes went at it in the circle and fought to what was, essentially, a stalemate after a lengthy battle. So they were told to do it again to decide a winner. There was hooting and hollering, and a large former NFL defensive lineman spinning his shirt around his head like a helicopter. Mayes and Long scrapped again, this time with even more intensity, and the circle that surrounds the drill moved a good 20-yards downfield as they battled. It was a great way to start practice.
- Mayes, by the way, took a helmet to the neck from Carl Winston during the spring game. It looked like he was attacked by a tiger, with a large chunk of his neck flesh exposed, and a huge red mark with some bruising both visible and gruesome. Football!
- I was almost sure Salave'a was going to jump into the ring and go it with Long, and it wouldn't have surprised me one bit.
- Salave'a's enthusiasm illustrates another point that was apparent throughout the spring: The assistant coaches are likable as hell and, from observing them, bring it every day. There's yelling and screaming, as with any group, but there's also constant coaching. Salave'a, who is just an excellent guy, can be heard from anywhere, voice booming encouragement or "correcting" mistakes. Every coach is this way -- intense, but also sending a message all the time. From Eric Morris and Dennis Simmons constantly working on the receivers' technique to Jeff Choate, Mike Breske and the rest of the defensive staff hammering home the basics, the coaches stayed busy and enthusiastic.
- Jim Mastro, the running backs coach, is another example of a detail-oriented coach. Every day he had the group of backs working on one technique or another, usually the most basic of things. One day, he'd be working on how to take a handoff, going down the line and moving each players hands so they were in the right position. Another, it'd be the first step for each play, then the second, and so on until the group was basically walking through the motions needed for each type of handoff.
- It's pretty normal to have quite a few wounded bodies by the end of the spring, and this year was no different. A large chunk of the defense was out, and the number of players watching was the highest it's been this season. Of note, the two converted fullbacks -- Corey Laufasa and Jared Byers -- were the only WIL linebackers available. Chester Su'a, Casey Locker, Tyree Toomer, Kristoff Williams and Henry Eaddy were a few of the notable players to sit out the full practice. Others were half-participants.
- The threes spent a lot of time on the field during the team drills, battling it out against what was, essentially, a scout team defense. And they were able to move the ball well -- both Cody Clements and Jesse Brown. This will be a theme throughout the season, Leach said, while explaining Thursday Night Football. The third-team will get a good number of play late in practice on Thursdays as a showcase and a reward. He also mentioned the third-team would get a lot of reps during bowl week.
- Bobby Ratliff had another strong day, hauling in a tipped ball in the back of the end zone while getting his feet down. He also made a few other excellent catches, continuing to build on his strong spring. Expect to see him on the field quite a bit this fall.
- Daniel Simmons also put together a superb spring and had the catch of the day at corner. Simmons jumped an out route, watched as the ball was tipped in a battle with the receiver, then snared it with one hand as he was diving out of bounds, getting a foot down in the process. It's hard to describe how great of a play it was, but the balance, concentration and coordination displayed was special.
- Probably the biggest test of mettle is facing off against Andrei Lintz in a one-vs-one goalline drill. The spotlight is on, and Lintz is just a bear one the goalline, pushing, shoving and doing anything he can to forcefully shake a defender off him. That said, Matt Simmons handled himself well against Lintz, even when everyone knew what was coming.
- The team will have a few weeks off before gathering again in May for offseason work -- voluntary, of course. There will be conditioning, which Leach said is needed as he mentioned he wasn't quite pleased with where they were at yet, and a ton of throwing, which Tuel said will look the same as what we've seen all spring.
That's it for the spring, and now the long offseason begins. It's been fun!