RUSTON, La. - The pads have not even come on yet and one thing is starkly evident through two days of fall camp – there is a much greater level of talent on the Louisiana Tech football team.
Where that leads a team with four of its first five games on the road against bowl teams with three games in the first 13 days is yet to be seen but fans will definitely see a very different team on the field than a year ago. That fact is evident to coaches and players alike.
“Well I can tell you the talent level is different,” head coach Skip Holtz said after Tuesday’s helmets only practice. “Sterling Griffin told me during individual drills while we are throwing routes on air he said, ‘Coach, routes on air is completely different this year.’ We are throwing routes on air and we are completing 95 to 100 percent of them. The ball is there with accurate throws where last year we were completing 50 percent on air as far as the throw, the catch and the accuracy. That is just on air.”
The basic talent is there for a much improved team but the test of how that translates to the game of football will be evaluated over the next few days as Wednesday’s practice will be the first in shells (helmets and shoulder pads) while Friday’s session marks the first in full pads.
“I like what I see, I like the attitude, there was much more spirit even just out there in shorts and with the weather being as hot as it is,” Holtz said. “It seems as if the cool weather has passed us now that camp has started. That is part of being in two-a-days in Louisiana. I really like the attitude and the way they are going about it right now but we will start to learn a lot more about our team when we start to put on pads here in the next couple days.”
More than just talent, the experience in the secondary has been noticeable through the first two days in camp as the sessions have focused on the installation of the game plan on both sides of the ball.
A player like Woods, who started several games as a true freshman a year ago and is expected to be a key player in the secondary this fall, is a rare find. But Holtz went out of the way to note that it is not that rare when you get a product out of nearby West Monroe High School.
“I think with that West Monroe program they do a very good job over there,” said Holtz. “I could say that about Paul Turner, Michael Mims and you can say it about Xavier Woods. They come in, they are professionals, they take care of their body and they eat right. When you look at reporting weights, they are dead on it – not a pound over or a pound under, they are dead on it rather than some guys coming in eight pounds light or eight pounds heavy. On the field with what they do, they are students of the game, they know what to do and they take care of their bodies. We give them free time in the afternoon and they are up here in the weight room on foam rollers and stretching and in cold tubs.
“Even in their free time they are taking advantage of every minute to do what they have to do to be great players. It speaks volumes for the West Monroe program and the type of players that they are turning out and the type of success they are having in our program right now. They are the leaders on this team, not only on the field with their talent but off the field in the way that they handle things, the way they take care of their business with their academics and their social life. They are great to have on the team.”
The need for mature, responsible players like Woods and Turner is important to a program has a lot of new faces in a 20-plus-member senior class.
“With so many new faces going on, [we need to develop maturity],” explained Holtz. “We talked about in the press conference [Sunday] about having 20 seniors, it’s not 20 fourth and fifth year guys in our program that have been here a long time. That is not the case with this team. Of the 20 seniors, about 13 of them are still new faces, 13 of them are guys that have been here for a year or less. From that standpoint, we are still getting there, we are getting better, it is better than it was a year ago but it is certainly not where we want to be. It’s the old expression, ‘We’re not where we’re going to be, we’re not where we want to be but thank goodness we’re not where we used to be.’ I think we are making some strides but we are not where we need to be yet.”
The development process continues on Wednesday as the Bulldogs will wear shoulder pads for the first time this fall in a 3:30 p.m. session that is open to the media and the public.
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