Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Spotlighting Leadership

Yesterday we touched on how important it was for players to be mentally strong through the grind that is Day 3 and 4 during Training Camp.  Even before this morning’s practise got underway I tweeted (@lucmull95) out how important it was for this team to attack the workout with a maintained intensity and focus.  At this stage of the game the guys in the locker room are still working to develop their chemistry, and with it being this early, sometimes focus and intensity can be the first things to fly out the window, once things get physically draining.


Today was going to be a day where the true value of this championship COACHING STAFF was on full display; and from start to finish the Roughrider Coaches answered the bell for a team that is still in the process of having its locker room leaders continually declare themselves.


In order to keep the rabid pace of competition going through one of the tougher days of camp the coaches were going to have to set the tone VERY EARLY for the attitude required for the day and from the opening bell, led by Coach Jones, this staff did a great job of raising their own level of intensity to ensure that the players were either going to match it, or exceed it.  


It’s easy to raise your effort level when (for example) one is an Olineman and the play is just finished but the position coach has just sprinted 40 yards downfield after the entire group demanding them to FINISH!


As a defender one tends to get a lil pep in their step when the entire defensive coaching staff is pointing and screaming, “GET TO THE BALL!” even though the play may be over with.  Nobody wants to the last guy around the pile in that situation.


I felt that the entire coaching staff always had a fantastic sense of the team temperature throughout the day, and they never allowed things to slip to a point where they weren’t getting what they needed effort wise.  Even the little things that some may not have noticed like transitioning from drill to drill were pronounced and confronted.  


Attention to detail is the mark of any successful coaching staff, and this particular crew ensure that it’s a characteristic that they maintain.  As competitive and intense as things got today coaches always made sure that the guys were getting the required amount of technical advice.  


I’m sure players appreciated the balance that RB coach Craig Davoren preserved during physical 1v1 drills with the LBs. Davoren and Coach Phillip Lolley ensured that the units were getting after each other to the point where they could be evaluated, but also took the time to shore up the technical focus.


One aspect of today’s practises that facilitated ensuring that the focus and tempo was maintained came in the form of change.  


The relentless pounding of two-a-days becomes monotonous if players aren’t kept on their toes, and invested in the process with different challenges.  Coach Jones switched things up a little by incorporating different 1v1 formats during non-team periods and introduced a situational no-huddle drill where for the first time in 2016 there was only one defensive and offensive unit on the field at a time.  It’s the simple concept of PLAYING football vs. WORKING football.


This was a fantastic way to continue to foster competitiveness but at the same time it also gave the players something new to zero in on.  In turn the focus is there because it’s fresh.  


Players responded well today, and as John Murphy alluded to during our Live-Streamed Show on with Dan Plaster, Days 3, 4, and 5 are usually where we see certain players separating themselves from the pack.  If that is the case, then this coaching staff did group a huge favour by making surethat they were putting things on tape worthy enough of a fair evaluation.  


There wasn’t one point in time today where Chris Jones didn’t emphasize mistakes or lack of tempo.  He was especially hard on the defence even though they ended up winning the day on the scoreboard.  Jones was far more vocal about missed assignments and opportunities than he was about sacks and turnovers and his demand for perfection regardless of the outcome of a single play is going to go a long way for this group.  Especially when practise became stalled due to players not knowing when and where they needed to be on the field.  This wasn’t something that was taken lightly because if it happens during the year, it is far more costly than during training camp.


As the 2016 Saskatchewan Roughriders continue to learn about each other and come together as a team, this coaching staff is going to have to do some of the heavy lifting during the early phases.  Eventually the locker room is going to be able to support itself, however right now it’s a huge advantage to have a championship coaching staff that will be there to help build the foundation.


Making sure that the FOCUS and INTENSITY needed to have an efficient practise is present falls on everyone but it was sure nice to see the coaching staff willing to lead the way.


Day 4 is in the books.


As per usual in 2016 here’s some thoughts that I took down as I watched today’s proceedings unfold…


• I’ve been keeping my eye on Aaron Picton for all the people in Sask wanting to know how the hometown boy is doing.  He’s getting better every day.  One thing about him is that he’s definitely up to the task physically, and he moves surprisingly well. He’s got all of the tools.  He runs his feet through blocks, looks to finish and is beginning to get his feet and hands going against some of the more experienced pass rushers that are here in camp.  If he continues to be a high effort guy and take the coaching, he definitely looks like he could earn his keep at the pro level.


• As much as I talk about Otha Fosters ability to cover and make plays today he did a great job of taking on blocking receivers and nullifying any potential room to run for a ball carrier.  Offences nowadays are trying to get the ball out tothe perimeter through quick passes and flare routes vs. trying to run stretch plays that Defences can come downhill against.  Unfortunately it’s impossible to advance the ball if the receiver responsible for clearing space is being ejected into the backfield.  Foster’s physicality is a huge asset and hopefully it rubs off on everyone else.


• Draft pick Quinn Van Gylswyck is coming along and there’s no question about the excitement around the organization when you think of this kid as one day being a guy who is going to kick in all phases of the Special Teams.  The 2016 draft pick still needs to keep working towards getting extra height on the ball in order to not “outkick” his PUNT coverage, but while works away it’s been a welcome site to have Josh Bartel come in and be as effective as he has.  The jury was out on Bartel as far as his mini-comeback is concerned however when one considers that the Riders have both of those guys in their stable AND Tyler Crapigna, there are going to be some great options going into the season for Coach Dave Dickenson.


• Doubles and Roosevelt continue to build…the crowd was treated to ANOTHER 4 to 82 TD during ‘Cheetah’ period today.  There’s something special brewing there. #JustSayin


• Former Big 10 (B1G) standout Ryan Lankford may not be the tallest receiver of the unit but one can’t help but notice him every practise. Lankford has some real straight line speed to him and coupled with his shifty ability to run a nice route he’s proving to be a hard cover.  Just like in at the Florida mini-camp, it seems like every time one looks up, Lankford has the ball and is running away from defenders.  


• That receiving group is NICE, he hasn’t been mentioned a bunch but Nic Demski has been quietly consistent.  He broke a long TD today that the crowd loved but he’s been making some crucial possession catches while working effectively with the B group.  SJ Haidara has also been catching the rock well.  The Canadian content at this receiver spot despite losing Chris Getzlaf in the off-season is looking like it’s going to be a strength of this squad.


• I’ve been on the Sportscage all week singing the praises of the two Tennessee-Chattanooga QBs so I wanted to make sure that I showed some love to Brett Smith today because I thought he had a good day.  He’s finally starting to hunker down in the pocket and look to throw the rock, and today he displayed what many people forget…he’s got a good arm.  That’s what one hope to continue to see from Brett Smith; the willingness to make that extra look down field and make plays with his arm.  We know he’s got the ability to run, but the best QB’s are the ones that use their legs to adjust the launch point and complete passes.  He’s got so much potential, and it was nice to see him ball a lil bit today.


• Kalonji Kashama keeps getting better.  He’s starting to get a feel for what his strengths are and how they fit into what Coach Ed Phillion is asking of the group.  Kashama had a couple of sacks during the final team periods today to follow up from some pretty decent reps during 1v1 Pass Rush against the Oline.  I talk a lot about opportunity, and players needing to take advantage of every situation that is presented to them.  With Justin Capiccioti going down ealier in the week and Dylan Ainsworth missing the last couple of sessions, Kashama has stepped in nicely and produced.  It not only speaks to the depth of the Canadian content on the DLine considering SteinhauerHazime, and Agbaje are also there, but it speaks to Kashama for jumping on the chance and potentially capitalizing. #ControlWhatYouCanControl

• I mentioned earlier that the Defence won the day on the scoreboard despite Chris Jones not being terribly happy with the overall performance but the aggressive nature of this scheme has been fun to watch and at times frustrating for the offence to deal with.  There’s no better situation for the offensive players to be in right now.  The Saskatchewan O is being forced to emphasize their communication as far as what’s happening pre-snap, as well as having to make reactive decisions on the fly.  The ROI (return on investment) that they’ll have during the regular season against the ever-changing landscape of defensive schemesis something that can be attributed to what they’re seeing every snap during the month of June.  It’s all part of being put in the position to succeed.



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