We spread out our Spring Ball practices over almost a month by only practicing three (3) days a week and taking off Victoria Day Monday to add some healing time for the banged-up and the bruised. Usually this schedule is great for the squad as it is not shock therapy for bodies that have not been at football speed since November.
Well, it came as an unpleasant surprise at the end of week 1 to have our roster of 32 down eight bodies. Half of this total was the result of non-football incidents. Further, at least three of the 32 players we have out are brand new to the game so in terms of football brains, we were down to 22/30ths of the functional roster. Compounding things, 7 of the 8 missing bodies were two-way players. Psychologically, an injury is a tough, tough thing for any athlete to wrestle with from a purely individual point of view and from a team perspective, it is a big body shot as well.
I am proud to say that our players and team have responded exceptionally well! Firstly, the injured players have been very proactive in terms of their respective rehabilitation. Though the on-field portion of football has been closed temporarily, the guys have committed themselves to training the healthy parts of their bodies in the weight room; they have picked-up the academic slack and they are at their team practices as player assistant coaches, assisting their position coaches and helping keep the field equipment set-up and taken down as necessary. In short, they are taking positive personal steps for themselves and finding a way to get involved and make their team get better. This is character and it has brought us all closer.
The players that have remained have also responded. The idea of cross-training at multiple positions on both sides of the ball has manifested itself in the reality of our situation. Guys are unselfishly playing out of their preferred postion and in so doing, are building a new and important hubris of mental depth into our team. As our offensive and defensive schemes are becoming more widely understood, folks are buying in better and our long-term depth issues are in better shape. The new players are also being thrust into the mix at a far more rapid pace than they normally would. With the support of their injured comrades, they are also responding very favorably.
The end game is this: When the "starters" return, they are going to rejoin a battle-tested group of "starters" and this is going to give our team a lot more juice in September and October when we can substitute enough to never let up on the offensive, defensive and special teams throttle. The guys who have to respond now are our connective tissue and they are what is going to hold us together through thick and thin as 2009 unfolds. The injured will be back and they will have a new mental tool kit to work with long after their playing days are finished as well.
Opportunity Season is an amazing thing and we are now presented with another opportunity to get better. We are seizing the day!