March 22, 2012
By John Lock
CARBONDALE, IL - Spring football is almost here. The Salukis will start spring practice on Monday and hold the allotted 15 total practices over a four-week period, culminating in the Spring Game on April 20. Here are 10 questions we posed to Dale Lennon.
What's a typical spring practice like and why do you prefer to hold them at 6 a.m.?
We try to install our offense, defense and base philosophies. We maybe look at a few wrinkles here and there. We will go through and have position analysis after we're done with spring ball. We like to have the depth chart set by the end. And number three, we want to test our young players. We want to give them an opportunity to perform, and we want to see where they're going to be able to contribute next fall.
I like the morning workouts. It's nice to have it done early. We get the players when they're still fresh on the day; they haven't had classes and social things going on to distract them. It's a big benefit going in the morning. You get them first thing. The players like it, too, so it's a win-win on both ends.
Is there any update to Paul McIntosh's status, and are there any other injuries that will keep players out of practice this spring?
Paul McIntosh will not participate in spring drills. We expect him to be at 100 percent by early June, so he'll be able to train throughout the summer and into fall camp. We do expect a full recovery. Everything with the surgery was very positive and they've corrected what they think the problem was. So hopefully he will be bulletproof from here on out. Linebacker
Victor Burnette has a bone fracture in his foot, so it's the same thing with him. He won't be able to participate in spring drills, but he will make a full recovery by the end of spring drills.
I think the offensive line is key for us. We have some big shoes to fill, losing Boemer and Pickard. But at the same time, we return a lot of people with starting experience, so that's positive. We just want to make sure those guys are ready to step up their level of play, so we can be at the level we were last year.
How do you size up the running back position heading into spring ball?
It's going to be competitive. We think we have four quality backs. We know a lot about two, Mulko (Kalokoh) and Steve (Strother), and then we need to find out what Antonio Banks and Mika'il McCall can do. I think all four have strengths and can be part of the offense.
If you could prioritize one or two things that you really want to improve upon this spring, what would they be?
Our theme for spring is "Get Better." We want to get better at everything we do. I've told the team that we were in every game last year. We had a chance to win every one of them, but we didn't do it. So what do we need to do? We need to get better. Tackling is something we need to improve. We had too many tackles that led to big plays. Our red-zone performance, both on offense and defense, needs to get better. And our third-down efficiency on offense has to get better, as well. We've identified those areas specifically as areas to get better, but we're looking for overall improvement everywhere.
Who are some of the redshirt freshmen who could make an impact this spring?
I don't like to brag up any redshirt freshmen until they get a chance to do it on the field. We have some individuals that seem to be ready to contribute, and they've been preparing hard in the offseason. But that's what spring ball is for--giving those guys the chance to step forward and make their mark. Once they've made that mark, then I'll give them some notoriety.
Explain how you integrate the mid-year transfers into the program during the spring.
They've actually adjusted very well. We had six guys come in--three JCs and three Division I guys. I've been very impressed with how they've handled it. They've made a social network with friends, they've been able to adapt to what we've been asking from them, and they've really been a low-maintenance group so far. They don't need a lot of TLC to get them to adjust. They've all done well in their own way.
What will be some of the more interesting position battles to keep an eye on?
There are all sorts of position battles. We don't want anyone feeling too secure in their position. We have some key guys coming back, but we need to find the support cast. That's what we're looking at: What's the support staff? We think we can take a big step forward at the quarterback position. Kory (Faulkner) got thrown in the fire last year in a tough stretch of the season, and we needed him to perform at a high level. He played well but not quite at the level we needed him to be at. I'm curious to see how he progresses from that and how he handles taking the No. 1 snaps this spring.
How much do you typically tweak the schemes on offense or defense during the off-season?
Going back to that theme, we have to do it better. We know what we have defensively and we know what can work. It's a matter of knowing we're capable of doing it. We want to be thorough in our presentation of what we want them to do and then make sure they're capable of doing it -- same thing offensively.
We're in constant adjustment -- that's just football. It seems like there's changes every month. There's always new schemes coming out, and you always need to be ready to defend certain concepts. We went through all the film. We looked at schemes that gave us troubles. We're making sure we look at those in spring and adjust the defense accordingly.
How are players responding to the new strength and conditioning program under new strength coach Clete McLeod?
Strength and conditioning has been a big positive in the offseason. I love Coach McLeod's philosophy and approach he's brought in. He's done a great job of working with the leadership concept in the weight room. We're seeing some very positive dividends in the attitudes of the players right now, so I think that's a huge step forward, also.
We've set up what we call the Warrior Elite Club. We have 10 leaders that have been voted upon. Everything we've set up has been based on the Warrior Elite Club -- competitions, being accountable for each other. We've also put in a concept called "battle buddy," where every player is responsible for another player. If someone shows up late, both people are responsible for the consequences. We try to create as many situations as possible where the players are responsible to each other. In the weight room, you can do a lot of that. It's a concept that we've done in the past and Coach McLeod has done in the past, and I think we've taken it to a higher level now. He has a military background, which I think is a big positive. He has leadership skills that he brings to the table that I think he's transferred to the Warrior Elite captains. I like the mentality these guys have.