The Huntsville Item, Huntsville, TX


March 25, 2014

SHSU FOOTBALL — Bearkats still hobbled from playoff run

Football coaches mentor younger players, potential starters out with lingering injuries

HUNTSVILLE — Sam Houston State’s football team wore pads Monday afternoon for the first time since the 2013 season ended in December.

Unfortunately for the Bearkats, they’re missing anywhere from 10 to 15 potential starters at spring practice, mostly due to lingering injuries suffered during last season’s playoff run.

On the defensive side of the ball, Sam Houston looks to address needs at the linebacker and secondary positions, but the few young players like Tristan Eche who did see significant playing time last year are still getting healthy.

Eche is coming off foot surgery and likely will miss spring football.

Co-defensive coordinator Mike Collins said the coaching staff is trying to help develop good habits, even for the younger players who are practicing now, but are unlikely to play for the Kats when the others get healthy.

“From stance, alignment to tackling, we’re really coaching the fundamentals and little things as hard as we can coach them,” Collins said. “I think sometimes during the season you lose sight of that. You get in bad habits because you’re not playing inside-out or outside-in, or you’re not using the proper technique tackling, or lined up in a sloppy stance. We’re trying to develop good habits this spring with those guys.”

Until Monday, the Kats spent the previous practices without pads, which Collins said is almost like practicing in pajamas.

The players were a bit more sluggish with the extra weight added, but it’s only a matter of fighting through the first few days and growing accustomed to the gear.

For the coaching staff, the biggest challenge is not having all of the pieces to work with.

“In the spring, you really don’t have the numbers you have in the fall,” Collins added. “You’d like to, but in our case, we’ve got several players who are injured and they’re not able to participate during the drills. So there’s guys getting a lot more reps than maybe what they want. We’re pushing them.

“We figure if you play for six seconds as hard as you can play every time you line up and take a snap, and give maximum effort for 75 reps during practice, we’re getting ourselves ready for the games because that’s around what (the games) end up being.”

Even though players like quarterback Jared Johnson, wide receiver Chance Nelson, center Zachary Stevens and tight end Shane Young are all battling injuries, Kats first-year offensive coordinator Phil Longo said he’s been impressed with how most players have embraced the mental aspect of the game since last week.

Johnson, along with Don King III and John Roderique, will compete for the starting job this fall. But while he’s been limited physically, Longo said Johnson has been the ultimate student of the game.

Running backs and tight ends will play various roles in four important facets of the new Sam Houston offense; both the running and passing games, pass protection and screens.

“The tight ends and the running backs have a lot to learn mentally,” Longo said. “And they usually come along the slowest. In our offense, the running backs have a much larger role. They don’t just run the ball. And the tight ends are the same. We don’t just line up the tight end next to the tackle and he blocks people. He lines up off the ball and he lines up outside and at wide receiver, in the backfield. So he needs to know pass protection, passing game, run game and screen game.

“It’s a much more challenging situation, so the learning curve is going to be even bigger.”


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