A common question in the first week of spring practice is to ask what’s different this year than 12 months ago, when Steve Sarkisian and his staff first took over.
Coaches and players almost unanimously say the biggest thing is an increased comfort level with the system and each other.
Among those who agree with that assessment is cornerbacks coach Demetrice Martin.
“It’s night and day from last year’s spring to this spring,” he said after Tuesday’s practice. “It’s night and day. I can go in and those guys know what I’m thinking when I come in the room just by my facial expression when I turn on the film. And it’s like that when we’re here on the field now. I can give them that look and they know it should be inside leverage or it should be outside leverage. So it’s night and day.”
In Martin’s case, the comfort is even greater as every significant player at his position returns from a year ago, led by the two players who ended the year as the starters — sophomores Desmond Trufant and Adam Long — as well as junior Quinton Richardson and senior Vonzell McDowell, who each have significant starting experience. Sophomore Anthony Gobern also returns.
Trufant, however, is out right now from contact work due to a groin injury, and while Martin says Trufant and Long have the edge due to being the incumbent starters, he’s giving everyone a chance to run with the first unit, also including sophomore Anthony Boyles, a converted receiver. So for fans who see the defense and wonder about the rotation at that spot, Martin says it’s just about competition and allowing everyone to work with everyone else on the defense.
“I change it every day just to keep the competition going,” he said. “Whatever we feel like is best that day we do, so we kind of do it by the previous practice. Week one, Vonzell kind of started off with the ones all the time. But Adam Long has been in there with the ones (this week). When most people look at the ones, they look at the first group to go out the first play but I like to mix the guys up to give them a chance to go with the other defensive linemen, the other linebackers. It forces them to communicate, talk, make calls, and you get to see all the different things. When you are with the group that knows everything, you look like you know everything. But when you’re with the group that may be younger and doesn’t know everything as much, all the sudden you look lost. So I try to find out those things, that’s all it is.”
Here are his thoughts on a few other topics:
On Trufant and Long still holding the No. 1 spots: “Football wise, that’s how you have to look at it that never lose your position because of injury. So both of those guys ended the season really well and I look for them to start off this season real well, too, unless they allow someone to come up and bite them in the butt.”
On Quinton Richardson: “He’s working more on his flexibility, his change of direction, all the little tedious things that I think that he kind of didn’t pay attention to before. He just kind of went out there and was a natural big guy who can run well, and he played upon that. Now he’s understanding the scheme, he’s understanding our terminology and he knows the type of techniques we want to play, so in turn he is making more plays now, making more plays on the ball. He always had good coverage, but if you don’t make good plays on the ball who cares about the great coverage? So now he is making more plays on the ball and he is getting rewarded for it by staying hungry and competing. Opportunity is there, so he’s trying to jump up there and take it.”
On Anthony Boyles: “Anthony is doing real good. He’s doing good as far as know he’s a little bit behind the guys in terms of terminology and technique, but it’s coming. You can tell that switching him over halfway in the season was good for him now, so now he’s getting a little groove and swagger and starting to make more plays here and there. So he’s doing real good. We’ve just got to keep him on the straight and narrow — he tends to make up his own stuff because he’s like ‘ah I’ll just do it like this I know what the receiver is going to do.’ But he’ll be all right. All corners got a little bit of that in them.”