April 4, 2011
WATCH: Skip's Interviews About Brian | Fitz's Practice Report (4/4)
By Skip Myslenski
NUsports.com Special Contributor
The exhortation is there on signs hung throughout the 'Cat football complex and there too in quotes dished by their coach Pat Fitzgerald. "Trust Yourself!" That is the exhortation, plain-and-simple and unadorned, but still it is a state not so easily achieved.
This is especially true for the callow initiates about to experience their first spring scrimmage, which is why, before they went out to confront that reality last Saturday, Fitzgerald encouraged them all to just go out and have some fun. "My point," he would explain Monday, "was it's almost like every first scrimmage you have in spring ball, you have so many young guys out there and they're so afraid of failure, they don't cut it loose. They focus on not making a mistake instead of cutting it loose and playing. We kept beating that drum for them. . .and I thought they played fast, I thought they played physical, and I thought they were aggressive and tried to make some plays, which was encouraging to me. So I think we're further along."
So he didn't see guys looking over their shoulders?
"I didn't feel that way. No. I didn't feel that way."
He was speaking here after viewing the film of that scrimmage and after he and his staff had reviewed it in detail with the players. They reviewed it so thoroughly, in fact, that their morning practice started later than scheduled, and then much of the practice itself was devoted to laboring on all the minutiae listed under the heading called fundamentals.
So what did he learn from watching the tape?
"Number one, that we can run on both sides of the ball. We were much more physical on the back half on defense than we were at the end of last year, which was encouraging. Much more aggressive, much more physical. Still a lot of work to be done, but I liked the way we attacked the football. I thought, for the most part, our defense tackled well. And probably most impressive, our offense didn't turn the ball over. That was the happiest thing to me for the offense and the most discouraging thing to me for the defense.
And what were the problem areas?
"Again, I didn't like that we didn't take the ball away. We've been pretty good at that. I didn't like some of the decisions that our quarterbacks made from the standpoint of holding onto the football. They would have gotten their lips knocked off a couple times, but I didn't let the guys hit them in the pocket."
Finally, when asked if the performances of any players had jumped out at him, he mentioned corner Jeravin Matthews and the wide receivers Charles Brown and Mike Jensen.
The listed weights, from left to right, for the current starting offensive line are 310 and 295 and 300 and 280 and 305. Those are substantial cuts of beef out here in the real world, but in that pit where they do their business, their sizes makes them borderline Lilliputians. This is, not surprisingly, by design.
"When you talk about body types of offensive linemen, we're not going to look for that 330-pounder necessarily," explains Adam Cushing, their position coach. "We're going to be OK with that guy who can develop into being 290, 295 max because they can move their feet. It's our emphasis with our group. We have some pretty athletic guys."
Which is a necessity to block in the spread offense the 'Cats run.
"Yes. Absolutely. We require our guys to play in space and to move their feet really well. We're not as much of a downhill run team as some teams in this conference are. We're going to do it at times. But we're going to use that as our changeup to really moving our feet and using green grass and space to our advantage."
So their off-season workouts are not confined to merely lifting weights and getting bulked up.
"We'll do," says Cushing, "a lot more athletic things in the off season."
"Instead of just constantly driving a sled, we'll work on changing directions against one of those big, brown balls that you roll into the ground. And instead of blocking this guy in a five-yard box, we'll have them blocking someone in a 20-yard box. It's all about improving agility and what we call come-to-balance ability."
We later grabbed left guard Brian Mulroe, who goes a modest 295, and asked how it was being a sleeker-and-slimmer model of an offensive lineman. "We don't like to think of it as that," he demurred. "But we all know that we're a different type of offensive lineman. We're not the guys who are 320 across the board. We're guys that are between 290 and 300 pounds, and we can run, we can move, we take pride in our athletic ability."
Well. If they don't like to look at themselves like that, just how do they want to be viewed?
"We're still running the ball. We're still running power. We like to have that mindset that we can still run the ball, we can still do the things that the 320-pounders can do," he says. "But, yeah. We know in our heads we're not going to be the biggest and most powerful guys. But we're going to do as much as we can. We're still going to work toward that."
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