I think it’s said every spring (and every summer and preseason) by every team in the country about how players are working harder, have better chemistry and are hungry to build on the previous season’s success/get rid of the bad taste in their mouths.
I’ve heard Paul Johnson make light of this notion more than once. I am warning you in advance that I will probably be writing something touching on those themes later this week. So you can take with a grain of salt defensive coordinator Ted Roof’s comments about practice this spring.
“I tell you what – I’ve really enjoyed this spring as far as the process of just working to get better,” he said. “I think our kids have approached it in a very good way and brought a lot of energy and enthusiasm. We’ve enjoyed the work.”
I will say Roof didn’t say this spring was better than last year or the best ever. He just said he really enjoyed it, and he said it with apparent sincerity. Roof often balances praise with phrases such as “we’re not where we want to be yet,” but didn’t in this instance.
One reason he’s liked what he’s seen is the competition for spots in the lineup. The No. 3 linebacker spot is being contested, and I think there’s some uncertainty on the depth chart at cornerback. A player like defensive end Anree Saint-Amour, who may not start ahead of KeShun Freeman and Roderick Rook-Chungong but can challenge for more playing time, can make practices more competitive.
Last year, “I think maybe some guys that were backups saw themselves as backups and, as a result of that, I think that human nature is to approach it a little different, even though you shouldn’t, but some guys do,” he said. “I don’t think they saw the opportunities in front of them that maybe were actually there. We’ve got some competitive battles going on, so that part’s been good for everybody.”
The secondary would have been a logical place for backups to feel this way, as cornerbacks D.J. White and Chris Milton and safeties Jamal Golden and Demond Smith had their jobs locked up. Still, as A.J. Gray showed, there were snaps to be had in place of (or alongside) the esteemed foursome.
Roof said that redshirt freshman cornerbacks Meiko Dotson and Dorian Walker are inconsistent, but “are competing and working hard and are pushing each other. And, at the same time, Lamont Simmons is right in there with that group as well. And Step (Durham) has been a backup or a spot nickel guy for us. So all of those guys together, along with Lance Austin – Lance really hasn’t been a consistent starter for us. So they’re all hungry, and they’re all fighting for it, and we’ll see.”
Roof also touched on the third linebacker spot in the 4-3 defense (the other two are held by P.J. Davis and Brant Mitchell), which is being contested by Terrell Lewis and David Curry. Lewis is a rising junior and Curry is a redshirt freshman. The two are splitting snaps with the first-string defense, and Roof said he didn’t foresee that competition being settled anytime soon.
Spring practice ends Saturday with the annual spring game, which will be the first to be held on a Saturday since 2011.