Spring Practice Opens At Indiana
March 23, 2002Bloomington, Ind. - There is no doubt that one of the most exciting days of the year as it pertains to college sports is the first day of spring football.
Indiana opened up spring practice at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, and the excitement and intensity that comes with the beginning of spring camp was magnified even more by the fact that Saturday marked the first practice under new head coach Gerry DiNardo and his staff.
"The enthusiasm certainly was good," DiNardo said. "The will to learn has been good from the beginning. I give the team a lot of credit for concentrating. I have got to give them the credit from where they have come from since January 8 to today."
DiNardo referred to January 8, as it was the day he was hired to take over the reigns of the Hoosier football program.
Under the watch of DiNardo and new offensive coordinator Al Borges, Indiana figures to go away from the option offense it has run in recent years and go to more of a West-coast offense.
"We felt like it was the best-designed offense," DiNardo said. "A lot of offenses have come and gone, but the one offense that has maintained itself is the West-coast package. It's a fun offense and recruits will enjoy being a part of it."
Current players aren't complaining, either.
Senior quarterback Tommy Jones, who figures to be the front-runner for the starting position in the fall, said he and the rest of the quarterbacks enjoy the prospects of being able to throw the ball more than they have in the past.
"All the QBs are happy with it," Jones said. "Things are going to be different now. We have different calls, we use different words, but Coach Borges has done a good job of getting us ready."
Senior fullback Jeremi Johnson, another player who figures to be a prominent part of the Indiana offense, said the opening to this year's practice had a different feel to it than it has in past years.
"It felt good," Johnson said. "It felt totally different than it has in the past. We worked on things like ball security and catching the ball...little things like that."
Practicing in sweatpants and without pads, the offense ran drills stressing good footwork and ball protection, while the crimson-clad defense saw pursuit and finishing plays off as two of their main focal points.
Among the more eye-catching things at practice was the intensity of the new coaching staff, in particular, defensive line coach Joe Cullen. Cullen's passion did not go unnoticed by senior safety Joe Gonzalez, who will likely be one of the leaders of the Hoosier defense during the fall.
"Coach Cullen is one of a kind," Gonzalez said. "It's cool when you can look at a coach that is so into it and is as passionate as he wants us to be. It spreads. Our spirits are high."
Gonzalez said the defense also focused on the basics.
"We're starting from ground zero," Gonzalez said. "We got a dose of the defense today, but it is always important to lay the foundation."
One of the biggest question marks regarding Indiana during the spring season is the durability of Jones' right shoulder, which suffers from tendonitis. Jones practiced with the rest of the team on Saturday.
"I am trying to throw as much as I can," Jones said. "We are shooting for the end of spring practice for me to be throwing normally."
Does Jones anticipate being at full strength by the fall season?
"Oh, definitely," Jones said. "We just figured it was better to get it taken care of now and maybe miss a little bit of spring ball than to let it go on."
After running through several individualized drills that were broken down by position, the offense and defense had a seven-on-seven scrimmage with no tackling. Among those looking particularly sharp was redshirt freshman running back Yamar Washington, whose elusiveness and quickness should make him fun to watch.
With the first practice now behind them, the Hoosiers return to the practice field again tomorrow. The excitement generated by new coaching staff, however, promises to remain the same throughout spring ball.
"They're just excited, emotional, crazy, energetic and passionate," Gonzalez said of his new coaches. "Every coach has their own style. I definitely like this approach. This is football. You have to have passion in football."
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