April 8, 2010
RUSTON, La. - As the Louisiana Tech football team works through its first spring practice season with new head coach Sonny Dykes, LATechSports.com will be taking a look at the progress of various positions on the team. Eighth in this series of installments is a look at the safeties with defensive coordinator and safeties coach Tommy Spangler.
The safeties are one of the youngest groups on the Louisiana Tech team but have a veteran leader in Tank Calais. Calais, a product of Patterson, La., was second on the team in tackles last season with 77 total stops and 3.5 tackles for a loss. Calais set a school record against San Jose State with his 96-yard interception return for a touchdown on Dec. 5, 2009.
"Because of the type of offense we're going against, Tank Calais has been playing more nickel back, which is a glorified outside linebacker, than he has safety and he has had a great spring," explained Spangler. "He had a little bit of a setback with a pulled muscle but he's coming around and is doing a great job. Tank has kind of been the bell cow for us back there even though he's playing nickel. He's been a better leader than he's ever been. He has set the pace for those young guys. It is like we have a couple seniors and then it is a drop-off to sophomores and freshmen."
One of the more underrated players in the Western Athletic Conference, Calais has quietly become a leader on the team and among his young group of safeties.
"Tank Calais is a guy that has always been a much respected player amongst his peers," continued Spangler. "I think he has as much respect from his peers as anyone else on our football team. What he has been lacking is the leadership qualities. Some guys sometimes don't realize how big a leader they can be and I think Tank is finally realizing that. He is stepping up and being a guy that is affecting others in a positive way. Those guys on our team see Tank, who has been with this program for four years, and he is out there busting his fanny just as hard as anyone else and probably working as hard as or harder than anyone else. He looks around, sees some younger guys on the back end with him and he is trying to help them, encourage them and is setting an example with his style of play."
Working with Calais is a pair of rising sophomores who saw extensive playing experience as freshmen, C.J. Broades and Chad Boyd. Boyd played throughout much of the 2009 season while Broades was expecting to redshirt the year until Antonio Baker broke his leg on the first play from scrimmage against No. 5 Boise State on Nov. 6, forcing the coaches to burn Broades' redshirt and putting him on the field for his first collegiate play against the fifth-ranked team in the country and a squad that went on to win the Fiesta Bowl.
"I would be disappointed if I didn't think that C.J. Broades and Chad Boyd weren't progressing but they are," Spangler said. "They are getting better each day and they are both maturing each day. You have to remember, this time last year they were sitting in a high school classroom. They are still very young even though they played a bit as true freshmen. Those reps helped - they played a bit on special teams and on defense. Chad probably played a little bit more than C.J., who got indoctrinated against Boise State for the tune of 70-something plays. What a trial by fire."
"We're getting plenty of reps and plenty of work. That's what our guys need and it is quality work. Overall, I've been pleased. You can ask the guys, it is never good enough for me but that's just the way it is but their work habits are good and we just have to keep progressing."
Defensive Coordinator Tommy Spangler
"But both of those guys are good solid people, good character kids," continued Spangler. "They both do a good job in the classroom, they both are willing to want to work and they let me coach them. They seem to learn from their mistakes, they remember and they try to correct it. We hit a home run when it comes to signing both of those guys when it comes to the kind of people they are and the kind of workers they are. They have had a lot thrown at them and they are still around 18 years old. But they are guys that are projected to play a lot so they have to grow up and mature quickly and keep getting better. There again, all of these reps have done nothing but help them improve."
Following Broades and Boyd are a group of guys that have started to see more reps in practice despite not having much, if any, game experience.
"There are guys working out there that haven't had much playing time but they've earned their stripes," Spangler said. "Guys like Sumner Ellis, who has been a journeyman. He is finally getting reps this spring and he hasn't had that in the past. He's made mistakes but I see the improvement and that is the beauty of competing. He is a competitor, he busts his fanny and he works hard. It is good to see improvement and possibly being a guy we can count on."
"Then there are guys like Jared Edwards and Drexel Perkins. Drexel has kicked back from safety to running back, back to safety then back to running back and back to safety again. He's a guy that just comes to work."
With the safeties working hard and the entire secondary seeming to have more pep in their step this spring, there has been a lot of learning as the spring continues.
"I have been pleased with the progress and that's what you have to do - feel like you are building on something and continuing to improve day-to-day," commented Spangler. "For the most part, we've done that. We've had some setbacks here and there but sometimes to learn from mistakes, you have to make mistakes. We've had plenty of mistakes to learn from but they are all into it, they all have great attitudes, they are all dialed in, focused on the task at hand, they are good meeting room players, they study film and it is a good group to work with."
"We just have ways to go and it is hard to really correlate where you are right now. We still have plenty of time with some spring left, all summer and fall camp. We're getting a lot of reps and that is what Coach [Sonny] Dykes and Coach [Tony] Franklin have brought to this program. We're getting plenty of reps and plenty of work. That's what our guys need and it is quality work. Overall, I've been pleased. You can ask the guys, it is never good enough for me but that's just the way it is but their work habits are good and we just have to keep progressing."
The new style of practice has had its impact on the defense and the safeties as well. With the increased speed and pace of practice and facing some very talented athletes on offense, the safeties have started to build a confidence level that adds to their improvement.
"I don't think that there is any doubt that the pace that our offense plays," said Spangler. "There's no doubt that the system that we're going against - the fast pace, the spread out, all the screens, downfield throws, the good running game - it makes you have to be an all-around good player. You can't just focus in on the pass, especially because we are spread. I think our offense brings a sense of toughness too."
"There is no doubt that the pace that our offense plays at is making us tougher mentally and physically," Spangler continued. "Our guys get tired and when you are tired, you have to reach down and focus on execution, not only physically but mentally. You not only focus on what you're doing but the what to do, the how to do it and all that. That part of it is getting us better - the fast pace, the up tempo and the multiple plays that our offense runs. It has been great to go against this offense all spring."
The question facing the safeties now is whether or not the average pace of a regular WAC game will start to seem slow after spending all spring with such a fast-paced practice and mentality.
"In the long run when we go up against some of these teams that go in the huddle and take their time lining up, I don't know what our guys will do. They'll be sitting there, waiting, anxious - I hope they don't jump offsides. I think it can't do anything but make us better. Now when people try to two-minute offense us late in the game, we're going to be used to the pace and the quickness. From a work standpoint, we've always worked hard. But the pace of the practice and the reps has made us better."
The safeties and the defense are gearing up for the annual T-Day Spring Game set for a noon start on Saturday, April 10 at noon.
For the most comprehensive coverage of Louisiana Tech's spring football practices, check out Spring Football Central at LATechSports.com. For complete coverage of Bulldog Football, please visit the official home of Louisiana Tech Athletics at LATechSports.com.