Spring Ball Review Part I

Spring practice review

UCF will conduct their second scrimmage of the season on Saturday. The lack of experience and execution still put a damper on the fluidity of the game. Before spring practice began this season, Coach Kruczek knew the preparation would be"accelerated to some degree." His goal has always been to evaluate how the team did in the fall, more specifically, the schemes on offense, defense and special teams. This is part one of two parts of spring practice review.

Kruczek wants to find reasons why his team failed in certain areas last season, and at the same time, have a plan for the young players to follow next year.

In the fall, new recruits will have to fill the void left by the graduating seniors. The coach feels he has done this with the exception of two positions; on the offensive line and at the punter position. At quarterback, UCF is looking to sign only one player, because it would be a waste of scholarships to see talent sitting on the bench. It is the same at the running back position.

"We signed two very good college football players, a tailback along with a full back, so we met our needs there," Kruczek explained. At the tight end position, UCF signed two tremendous athletes (Harvey Joyner, Mike Merritt), who should make an immediate impact. At wide receiver, four players have lost eligibility, so Kruczek went out and got four more to replace them, all of whom he couldn't refuse. The weakest link in this years' recruiting class has to be at offensive line.

"We set out to sign five offensive linemen, four tackles and a guard. Well, we've signed two tackles and one guard," Kruczek said. He still believes he can find a prize at the junior college level.
Robert McFarland, offensive coordinator and line coach, is in charge of putting together what is now a broken puzzle at offensive line. Three members of the starting lineup moved on from last years' squad, four players are currently out due to injury, and two can only practice on weekends for academic reasons. Still McFarland feels optimistic and at the same time realistic. "We're very young," McFarland said. "During the week I'm sitting out there with seven freshmen, one senior and one sophomore. It's been a learning experience for them. The great thing is our defense is throwing a lot of stuff at us."

All of the different looks shown by the defense have been transformed into positives for Coach McFarland. "It's mistakes you make usually during the season that you've got to get corrected. They're getting them corrected now. We're able to learn a lot this spring and I think that's been the positive thing," McFarland added.

There should be signs of improvement for the line during the second half of the spring. As they pick up the stuff they've been missing, a lot more consistency should be seen in their play. They will soon get a feel for the game, which will slow down the pace and help them focus on the responsibilities. As of this time, there are still no set starters.

"I think we have definitely found players," McFarland said. "I feel after coming out of these next five practices we will be able to set a two deep chart. Exactly who will win starting jobs, I don't know. I think we've got some in the air."

On a good note, guard Norm Lewis returned to action after almost a year of absence. He suffered a knee injury and received reconstructive surgery. Lewis is a sophomore and should bring some knowledge and inspiration to the line up.

Defensively, UCF brought in all the talent they had hoped for. Kruczek signed four defensive linemen, which is what he set out to do, and Four linebackers have also been added to the squad. . Also, UCF pounced on five new talents at defensive back.

"Anytime you could find quality defensive backs, you've got to sign them. We found five of those young men, one or two of those are going to be blue shirt, which they will come in January probably because of grades." Kruczek said.

On special teams there is one position that leaves the team a little skeptical. At punter, the Knights are losing Ryan Flinn, a player who graduated this year and was the top rated punter in the MAC.

"Spring practice is going to be very pivotal for a couple of guys that we're looking at right now, but I'm real comfortable with where we're at with that process," Kruczek commented.

The punters have been competing head-to-head for the starting position, and every statistic, including hang time and distance, have been recorded. When asked if any one out of the five punters stood out from the rest, this is what Robinson had to say: "No, they're really not. They kind of take turns who's going to be the best each day so it a very close competition right now and nobody is taking (the starting job).

First-year coach Joe Robinson has the duty of rallying the special team troops. Formerly a coach for Houston, Robinson refurnished the Cougars' net punting ranking from 10th in Conference USA in 2001 to 1st in just one year. He also saw increased yardage on punt and kick returns. Coach Kruczek has high regards for his new coach and what he brings to the team. "I think he is a tremendous special team coach, he was highly recommended by a number of head coaches," said Kruczek. "You have to have a guy that can motivate young people to step up to be on your punt team, your punt return team, and your kickoff return team. Those factor into the game because they are just as critical to the success of the football program as offense and defense. He is unique at what he does on special teams. I'm excited on what he does and I'm happy to have him here."

Even though Robinson is coming from a different school, he isn't implementing a new scheme at UCF. If Robinson is changing anything at all, it is the teams' frame of mind. "What I want our guys to do is, I want them to understand how important every special teams play is," Robinson said. "Every special teams play is a big play, and they got to go out there with that kind of passion and enthusiasm for each play. If we do that with each play, we'll dominate the battle of field position, and we make it a lot of easier for our offense and defense."

So far, Robinson's unit has been focusing on field-goal and punt protection, as well as field-goal blocking. Later in the spring season, the group will work more on punt and kickoff returns and kickoff coverage. Because of this, no decision has been made regarding the kick or punt returnees. At this time, UCF has three players catching the punts and ten receiving the kickoffs. No matter if the player is a starter or non-starter, Robinson is obligated to get the best players out there, and he has a pretty easy philosophy to break down the process. "They (players) have to have passion and work hard," said Robinson. "If they do that and we have a focus and a single objective and philosophy, then that should show on the field."

With only a few spring practices left, it is hard not to look at the schedule UCF has to contend against in the fall.

"This is a very balanced schedule in terms of the timing of home and road games," UCF athletics director Steve Orsini said. "Our fans will have the opportunity to see the team play at home early in September for the first time since the 2000 season." Kruczek doesn't see the timeliness and balance when he looks at the upcoming games. "We're looking forward to the challenge of competing for the East Division title this year," Kruczek said. "This is a tough league and our players realize there are no weeks off when you are competing for a conference championship."

There is also one unique advantage to joining the MAC that will help the recruiting process for years to come. "In addition to competing for a championship, another benefit of being in the MAC is its national television package," Orsini said. "We are excited to showcase our program because we play in a great facility and have great fan support."

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