The Valdosta Daily Times
Last week Valdosta State football kicked off the 2014-15 season by holding practice on six consecutive days. By the sixth day the Blazers' intensity began to dwindle, that wasn't the case at Saturday morning's scrimmage.
"I think we've gotten a lot better," said VSU coach David Dean. "We had good intensity except for one day, I was just really disappointed in that one day, but other than that we've been good. We've come out with a lot of focus, a lot of fire, and come out to get better.
"We've just got a long way to go. We've got a lot of young folks playing for the first time who are still learning, learning how we practice, and it's a grind.
“You're practicing right now for really nothing, you're not playing a game, the only thing you're doing is you're practicing to get better, and sometimes when you get to eight or nine practices you've got to find it in your heart, find it in your mind, to want to get better as a football player."
VSU has now completed seven practices and two scrimmages and it's safe to say the Blazers found the intensity Dean is looking for.
On a cool morning in front of some of the team's most dedicated fans, the Blazers came out and practiced hard with a noticeable spark.
That was the theme of the day, an engaged, physical defense and an offense that had its moments.
Early into practice VSU broke into position groups to work on fundamentals before moving to red zone work and finishing with an intra-squad scrimmage and while the offense showed flashes, the “Black Swarm” looked fantastic.
"Defensively, I thought we played outstanding football today. I thought we tackled very well, especially when we were down in the red zone," said Dean. "We were very solid down in the red zone stopping the offense. With the exception of one time, we were only able to score on one run down in the red zone, the rest of them were all passes, so that says a lot for the way our front line and linebackers were playing."
The physical play on defense was not limited to the front seven though, as VSU's secondary played fast and hit hard Saturday, forcing the receivers into some drops early on. However, Dean doesn't believe the hits are the issue; it's the focus.
"I don't know if that had a lot to do with it, it probably does, whenever you're physical against a wide receiver they're always going to be thinking about that," said Dean. "But we've taken hits like that all through practice; it's just a lack of focus.
"Not finishing plays or trying too hard to make plays, basically it was all focus. Towards the end of the scrimmage I think we started making those plays even though they were making those big hits on us."
Despite the inconsistent receiver play both 2013 part-time starter Kaleb Nobles and the junior Florida International transfer Jake Medlock protected the ball well and made some good throws in less than favorable conditions including a great jump ball into the end zone on the last play of the scrimmage — Quin Roberson wrestled the ball away from Amel Magwood as they went to the ground.
"I thought they both made some good decisions," said Dean. "We've got a lot of offensive linemen that are out. As we went into this scrimmage we only had eight offensive linemen and they were having to take a lot of snaps, but for those guys to stand back there and deliver the throws that they made, I thought they did an outstanding job."
Near the end of Friday's practice John Gray went down with a knee injury, and while there is no official diagnosis yet, Dean believed it wasn't as bad as it initially looked and with just five practices remaining, including the annual spring game, the Blazers are looking to finish strong, but more importantly, healthy.
"Well we've got five left, obviously, we want to continue to get better, but the one thing I want to see our guys do now is finish off this week with high intensity, great effort, and obviously stay healthy as we go through these last few practice," said Dean.
VSU will be back on the practice field in full pads Monday at 3:30 p.m. and the Blazers' spring concludes with the spring game at 10 a.m. Saturday.