March 17, 2012
Cullowhee, N.C. - Western Carolina football and first-year head coach Mark Speir wrapped up the first week of spring practice on Saturday afternoon, working nearly two hours in full pads for the first time this spring on the turf at E.J. Whitmire Stadium / Bob Waters Field.
The fifth practice session of the spring concluded a week that saw two practices in just helmets on Monday and Wednesday, which was followed by helmet and shoulder pad workouts on Thursday and Friday evenings. The squad worked through a normal practice period under partly cloudy skies with a slight breeze - much different than the rain showers that danced around the turf for the first practice of the spring held earlier in the week.
"Overall, I was really pleased with the intensity and focus and the way our guys came out and attacked this first day in full pads," said Speir on Saturday afternoon. "I thought both sides were very, very spirited and that led to an intense practice. We had a lot of individual improvements, and I was very pleased with our first day in full pads."
With a small crowd which included parents and former WCU coach and administrator, Bob Setzer, gathered on the west-side stands, Saturday's practice culminated with progressive scrimmage that lasted around 25 minutes with the offense allowed to drive on the defense. With five different quarterbacks alternating series in the spread shotgun, the offense was able to sustain several drives with the defense not allowing any big plays from scrimmage.
"I really thought our defense stepped up. It was by far the best defensive day we've had just five days into our spring," Speir said. "Our offense was able to move the ball, sustain some drives and score some touchdowns - all positive things for us offensively; but improvement we showed from last year is that the defense didn't give up any big plays over 15-to-20 yards. That's a positive and something to build on."
Three running backs shared the load on Saturday with rising senior Michael Johnson reeling off several impressive and equally as punishing runs from scrimmage. Shaun Warren and Michael Vaughn both took turns handling ball-carrying duties from the range of signal callers in the offensive backfield.
"I was very impressed with Michael Johnson today. He's impressed me as a SoCon-caliber running back, showing some nice moves with some good, strong runs today. I also felt offensively that Shaun Warren had a really nice day, as did receiver Jacoby Mitchell and Tyler Klipa - he's fighting his rear-end off as a walk-on, sprung two nice plays during group work with blocks on the outside," said Speir.
Defensively, Speir commented that the defense - which was not permitted to blitz by design during Saturday's scrimmage - had a very nice scrimmage. He highlighted linemen Eric Banford and Brian Johnson as having good days up front, with backs Terrence Green and Elijer Martinez doing nice things in the secondary.
"We had three turnovers on offense which are negatives on that side of the ball - we're really stressing to hold onto the football as that was a big thing that killed drives a year ago. But forcing the three takeaways on defense was a positive thing for us there. We've got to get better on our pass rush with our front four; it's a positive for our offensive line in the way we protected the quarterback, but we've got to find a way to get more pressure from our front four."
Western Carolina returns to practice on Monday, March 19, on the turf that evening. Spring drills will culminate on April 14 in Cullowhee.
Upcoming Catamount Football Spring Practice Schedule:
(Practice schedule subject to change)
Monday, March 19 - 4:30-6:30 pm
Wednesday, March 21 - 4:30-6:30 pm
Friday, March 23 - 4:30-6:30 pm
Saturday, March 24 - 11:00-1:00 pm
Monday, March 26 - 4:30-6:30 pm
Wednesday, March 28 - 6:00-8:00 pm
Wednesday, April 11 - 4:30-6:30 pm
Thursday, April 12 - 4:30-6:30 pm
Friday, April 13 - 4:30-6:00 pm
Saturday, April 14 - 1:00-3:30 pm