Success starts during spring

Contact is limited and so is the number of players, but spring practice is still a valuable time for college football programs.

Originally Published: December 11, 2003
By Jim Donnan | Special to ESPN.com

Spring practice is in full bloom all over the nation and every program is working hard to develop its squad in preparation for summer workouts.

Each team has different areas to improve in the spring, and during my years as a coach I always tried to impress on our players the opportunity to further develop our strengths and work doubly hard on our weaknesses. Every team knows what won for it in clutch situations and what got it beat and the main spring goal is to work hard on specific situations during the spring to master how to handle them and build the confidence needed to prevail.

Teams are limited in terms of numbers because seniors have used up their eligibility and most freshmen will not report until the start of fall practice, and in an effort to curtail a growing number of injuries during spring drills the NCAA now limits teams to 15 practices, including only three full-contact scrimmages and limited contact in other practices. But these are good rules for both coaches and players because they allow for a heavy emphasis on teaching and fundamentals.

One of the keys to emphasizing those fundamentals is applying pressure in every drill a team executes, naming a winner and maintaining competition in each situation. For instance, a team that needs work in two-point conversion situations may start and end every practice with the offense and defense going head-to-head on three two-point tries.

If a team was bad in the red zone, it could start every possession in one of its three full-contact scrimmages from the 20-yard line, or a team that struggled in third-and-long situations may run drills in which its secondary covers receivers without the benefit of a pass rush.

Evaluation of talent is also imperative during spring drills. Coaches must consider whether a second-stringer at one position could be a starter at another. Change is good, and while a coaching staff has certain philosophies for every phase of the team, it has to be willing to listen to new ideas and incorporate them into the program.

Spring drills develop toughness, unity, a sense of direction and the attitude needed to get a team ready for the tough fall grind. They also help build morale and unity heading into arduous offseason agility drills and strength and conditioning work. A coach will begin to learn who he can count on when the game is on the line and continue to build a sense of urgency through spring by focusing on the elimination of mental errors, penalties and turnovers as prime goals.

The college season is rapidly approaching, and players will soon be getting ready for fall practice. But a coach who can cultivate a team now will see those seeds reap big rewards in the fall. He must set lofty but realistic goals and make his players realize that every other team is working toward those same things.

The regular season is only a few months away and I'm already excited, but there is work to be done before we get there. Be sure to check back in the coming days for more in-depth information on the inner workings of spring football.

ESPN.com college football analyst Jim Donnan takes part in chats and makes observations on Saturdays as part of College GameDay Online.

Jim Donnan

College Football
Jim Donnan was the head coach at Georgia and Marshall and is an ESPN college football analyst.