1. There were a lot of high-tempo intervals during practice today. Is this something you guys like to do during the spring?
“This was a typical practice for us. We try to keep the pace going. We try not to do any particular thing for too long where guys would lose focus, so we keep them on their toes by keeping them moving. We look at it like a theatrical production and take a lot of pride in the organizational structure of the practice.
“I’m fortunate that our staff has been together for a long time. The coordinators now have been here for 7-8 years each. Getting everybody on the same page is not a problem and I think that’s really trickled down to the kids – they really know the expectations when we come down here.”
2. Have you liked the effort and intensity of the players?
“It’s been good. Today I’d say was a little off; I thought our energy level was good not great. Leading up to today has been pretty good. Last Friday was one of the best practices we’ve had here in two and a half years. The following day (Saturday) was the first day of full pads with live contact and some guys probably got a little too enthusiastic, but it’s been a solid spring so far and I’m liking some of the leadership I’ve seen from the older guys heading into their third year.”
3. I know you’re missing some big-time offensive linemen, but you did a good job grabbing some potential replacements from the 2013 recruiting class. For those who are already here, how are they developing?
“We’re excited about the freshmen that are coming this summer, and the addition of JUCO transfer P.J. Scott. We feel like our depth will be better come fall. Last year’s freshman class was redshirted, and now they’re getting meaningful snaps in practice. Drake Miller and Steve Bell are battling it out right now for a starting job with the first group. Josh Smith hurt his knee last fall but we think he has a big upside as a center. The neat thing is that all these guys are getting a lot of work this spring.”
4. You have your all-stars Keith Wenning, Willie Snead, Jahwan Edwards and Zane Fakes back. What’s it like to have them back and how’ve they looked so far?
“These guys are all in their third year in our system and have played meaningful football in high-pressured situations. There’s a comfort level between them and a chemistry between them and they’re all very good leaders. It’s nice to have some good leaders at skills positions. They’re all students of the game. I like how they come out every day and compete, they don’t take anything for granted and they know it’s really hard to win football games. Some of these guys were around when they went 2-10, so they remember what that was like and appreciate every little thing that goes well.”
5. What is your main focus with improving the defense this year?
“We need to continue to get better as a unit. Again, it’s year three, we’ve had great continuity with the coaching staff, and these guys are getting more comfortable in our system. The players are talking the same language as we are.
“Our defensive line has a lot of experience. We feel like we’re slowly but surely building depth here, which is so important when you play a tough schedule like we do. We’re young at linebacker, but I do feel as if they’re becoming comfortable with our system.”
6. Who are the front-runners to replace Jarrett Swaby at safety?
“We moved Chris Pauling to corner so that we can have some extra competition there with Eric Patterson and Jeff Garrett. (Eric and Jeff) are returning starters, but we felt like they both needed to be pushed more. …we have some young safeties that redshirted last year like Martez Hester, Aaron Taylor and Dae’Shaun Hurley that all have a bright future ahead of them. There’s good competition.”
7. When I spoke to you in January, you told me you were “cautiously optimistic” moving into the offseason. Do you still feel that way?
“Absolutely. I’ll never change that. I’ve been a head coach for 13 years now and I’ll never take anything for granted. It’s never as good as you think and it’s never as bad as you think. One thing we fight here at Ball State is history – there’s only been six teams that have won nine games here in 90 years of football. This is not an easy place to win. We play a tough schedule every year and we play in a tough conference. We’re very grounded and our players are very grounded. One thing I really enjoyed when I got off the road recruiting and starting meeting with our leadership council is that they made it obvious to me that the key moving forward was to stay humble, grounded, earn everything you get and not take anything for granted, and that’s a big part of our theme for this year.”
8. How would you guys like to finish the spring session?
“We’ve got 85 guys out here and I want to continue to evaluate every single one of them so they feel as if they got a very thorough look this spring and so that we feel that we know where we stand heading into voluntary summer workouts and preseason. I’d like to continue to have physical practices, but smart practices, where hopefully we can limit injuries. There’s a lot of positive energy around the program right now and I’d like to see us keep that going through the second half of spring.”
You can follow coach Lembo on Twitter: @Pete_Lembo
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