JONESBORO, Ark. (ASU) – It was the defensive unit that turned the intensity up a notch during the Arkansas State football team's second spring practice Wednesday at Liberty Bank Stadium, but the entire team showed positive signs of progression from its initial workout according to head coach Bryan Harsin.
A-State opened its spring camp Monday, and was back on the field this afternoon in shorts and shoulder pads for the second time in as many practices. The Red Wolves continued the early stages of installation on both sides of the ball, and the defense came up big with several turnovers during practice.
"You could kind of see the second day of install starting to slow the players down a little," said Harsin. "As we put more in, that's where the mental side of things starts to come into play. I thought they did well though, especially on the defensive side of the ball with the way they flew around. They had a pretty good day with their pursuit, making it a point to get everyone to the ball and creating some turnovers. We've got to keep doing what we did today defensively, but we still have to make some strides on that side of the ball as well."
While ASU must replace two-time Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year at quarterback, several key players return to run Harsin's offensive system that consistently ranked among the best in the nation while he was offensive coordinator at Texas and Boise State.
"You could really see some thinking going on out there today on the offensive side of the ball," Harsin said. "I think guys were getting lined up correctly and working hard on the details and their execution. We've just got to keep working that, but it takes time and there is a process to getting it all in. We have a large volume of install and we'll keep pushing offensively."
With the Red Wolves' first workout under their belt, Harsin noted that the team's efficiency improved today and the players were able to adjust in certain areas the coaching staff wanted to emphasize after watching film.
"We wanted to stress our defensive intensity more this practice, and I thought it showed with the way we swarmed to the football," said Harsin. "That wasn't so much the players on Monday as it was putting them in a good position to do that by working certain plays into the scripts.
"Guys had a better knowledge of where to go on drills, so they were able to get from drill to drill and period to period with more urgency. Monday, there was obviously some looking around about where to go and what they should be doing because it was the first practice, but today was better. What we don't want are guys just standing around. I thought you could see our players being more efficient, but that will still get better and it needs to. We've always got to maximize every minute of the two hours we're out there so we can get the most out of it we possibly can.
Assistant head coach Kent Riddle is serving as special teams coordinator and that is an area that continues to be a focus for the Red Wolves as well. ASU returns a number of contributors on special teams from last season, including Lou Groza Award semifinalist and second team All-Sun Belt Conference kicker Brian Davis.
"I think Coach Riddle has a great plan for our special teams," Harsin said. "What we're emphasizing in special teams right now is just the fundamentals. We're working field goal and punt early on, and then we'll start mixing in punt return and kickoff return. We mostly want to get fundamental work done right now – allow those guys to learn the schemes, but fundamentally get better at special teams. So, we're doing a bunch of drills with circuits where guys are getting a work at different skill sets that they're going to be utilizing on all those different phases of special teams."
In just its first week of spring camp, A-State is still looking at several players competing for playing time all over the field and trying to get as many players as many reps as possible.
"We're rotating a lot of guys right now at a lot of positions," said Harsin. "We'll get into a flow when we get into that sixth, seventh, eighth practice, and that's when different position groups and players will start to standout. I thought the defense today as a whole flew around, and I thought they did a nice job understanding what we're trying to get done. The defensive energy really looked good, although it's still not where we need it to be on either side of the ball for the entire practice. There is still some newness to everything, but we ultimately want a bunch of guys flying around and getting better."
Arkansas State will hold one additional practice this week at 6 a.m. Friday before spring break. The Red Wolves will have a nine-day break before hitting the field again on March 26.