In Division I football, helmets, pads and cleats don’t stay dormant for long.
Although non-scholarship football programs put their equipment away in late fall and don’t start seriously preparing for the next season until summer, the big boys begin fine-tuning their rosters in the spring.
That’s why the University at Albany has been conducting spring football for the last three weeks. The Great Danes played a modified scrimmage — actually a point competition between the offense and the defense — on University Field Saturday afternoon. They wrap up their 15-session workouts Wednesday morning.
Due to a shortage of offensive linemen, UAlbany did not play an intrasquad scrimmage by splitting its roster into the Purple and Gold squads like it usually does. Instead, points were awarded for both offensive and defensive plays. The losing unit was given more duties for UAlbany’s campus clean-up day on April 26.
NCAA rules allow Division I programs to conduct 15 practices over 29 days. Only three of those practices can be helmets-only, and only three can be all-out scrimmages. The rest of those practice sessions can have some contact, but in less than 50 percent of the practices is tackling allowed.
Why spring football?
“It gives you a jump-start on the fall,” said veteran UAlbany head coach Bob Ford, who begins his 39th season next September with a 247 career victories, first among active NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision programs.
“There is a lot of teaching involved. Sure, the kids forget a lot over the summer, but at least you ring some bells where seeds were planted in the spring. You can also develop some leadership. There are always questions like who is going to lead this team. And those leaders don’t have to be seniors.”
Although a program like UAlbany doesn’t have its spring scrimmage games televised on ESPN like Texas and other major powers do, Ford pointed out that he and his staff get plenty accomplished during the spring.
“There is always the team factor. What you want to do is solidify the team and bring them together,” said Ford. “You set some goals and you work toward that. Plus, you always want to answer some personnel questions. You want to know if a kid is ready, or does he need another year? Also, one of the things you can do in the spring is move kids to new positions. It’s not an easy thing to do, but a program like Penn State does a superb job of that. All of a sudden, a fullback is playing on the other side of the football after learning a new position in the spring.”
Ford has been coaching for nearly 50 years overall, and he has his spring football priorities down pat.
“For me, the first goal of spring football is to come out of this thing healthy,” he said. “The second goal is to answer personnel questions and move personnel around. My offensive and defensive coordinators want to look at schemes. There are things they picked up from other schools or at clinics, and they want to see if some of them will work. I have two excellent coordinators in Ryan McCarthy, who is a very young offensive coordinator, and Mike Simpson, who is a veteran defensive coordinator. I am surrounded by very good people, and they have their own things to look at during the spring.”
UAlbany, which has 51 letter winners — including 14 starters — back, was 6-5 a year ago. The Great Danes have won four Northeast Conference championships in 11 years. UAlbany established a program record with its fifth consecutive winning season in 2010.
So far this spring, a lot of questions have been answered.
“We have a good defensive line that is fairly deep, and that includes good corners and safeties, and good inside linebackers,” Ford said. “Our No. 1 question, defensively, is our outside linebackers. That is a huge question for us. We have a lot of guys there, but nobody has stepped up yet.”
On offense, Ford has plenty of skill-position players, but he is light up front in the trenches.
“We have talented running backs and receivers, and we have a quarterback with some ability. But we also have 10 kids recovering from off-season surgery, and some of them are pretty good,” the veteran coach said.
“My biggest concern is our offensive line. We weren’t real good last year after having really good lines for the last six or seven years. We’ve lost some kids for various reasons who we expected to play. I think we’re a little thin on the line.”
Ford said that a few junior college linemen might fill some of the gaps.
“We have a junior college transfer from Iowa, and we’re bringing another kid in from prep school. Those two kids may jump into the equation,” he said.
“But the thing I’m impressed with so far is that this team really can compete. I think if you took our offensive linemen out of the equation, we would be a pretty good football team this fall.”
Among UAlbany’s top starters returning are tailback Dillon Romain, the NEC Offensive Rookie of the Year, and defensive end Eddie Delaney, a two-time all-conference selection.
UAlbany begins the season Sept. 3 at Colgate.
3 — at Colgate, 6; 17 — MAINE, 6; 24 — at Columbia, 12:30.
1 — at Saint Francis, Pa., 1; 8 — DUQUESNE, 1; 15 — ROBERT MORRIS, 1; 22 — at Central Connecticut State, 12; 29 — at Wagner, 1.
5 — BRYANT, 1; 12 — at Monmouth, 12; 19 — SACRED HEART, 1.
Home teams in CAPS.
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Categories: College Sports