NATCHITOCHES – The second spring football practice under coach Jay Thomas kicks off Tuesday afternoon at Northwestern State, with the Demons hoping to carry over the momentum from winning three of their last four games in 2013 to finish with the program’s best record since 2008.
“We’ve been looking forward to this day for a long time,” said Thomas, who guided his first Northwestern squad to a 6-6 record that included a win over nationally-ranked Central Arkansas and a 5-1 homefield record. “I’m really excited to get the guys on the field after nine great weeks of offseason work in strength and conditioning. Each and every kid has improved.”
This week’s workouts will have the team in shorts and helmets Tuesday and Thursday afternoon, shoulder pads on Friday, then full gear Saturday morning in Turpin Stadium. All practices are open to the public. Weekday workouts start at 3:30 with Saturday morning sessions beginning at 9:30.
Spring practice culminates Thursday, April 10 with the 25th Annual Joe Delaney Bowl spring game at 5:30 in Turpin Stadium, capping 15 practices.
Northwestern will return eight offensive players who started at least half the games last fall and six more on a defense that ranked second in the Southland Conference in 2013. Another 11 players (four offensive, seven defensive) started at least once. A group of 58 letterwinners, 26 offensive and 27 defensive along with special teams performers, is ready to begin spring practice.
Headlining the veterans is 2013 Southland Newcomer of the Year Zack Adkins at quarterback, junior cornerbacks Imoan Claiborne and Fred Thomas, senior running back Garrett Atzenweiler and junior Daniel Taylor, junior receiver and return standout Ed Eagan, senior defensive tackle Deon Simon and 2013 Freshman All-America defensive end JeMarcus Marshall.
“We have areas we need to develop, and obviously always the main focus is quarterback, even though in this case we have a tremendous player back in Zack Adkins,” said Thomas. “He’s a senior now so bringing along the other guys and having a high level of competition is very important this spring.”
“Offensive line is an area where we have starting jobs to fill, depth to develop and improvement to make, with the challenge of making progress with in all likelihood, nine guys to handle the workload this spring. We have to be very smart in how many contact work we do, and that is so crucial to developing other areas of the team,” he said, noting NSU graduated three senior starters up front on offense.
“Defensively we need to continue to improve, especially at linebacker and safety. We have a number of quality guys back at cornerback, so that’s a strength, and we also have a lot of proven veterans and ability at defensive end where competition will be fierce. We have some good players back inside up front but we need to find more who can help us this fall,” said Thomas.
“In the kicking game, we’ve got to become more consistent kicking and punting the ball, and better in coverage. We believe we can accomplish that,” he said.
Spring practice will be the first extended evaluation for Thomas’ 2013 signing class, with several redshirt freshmen expected to push for playing time, especially on special teams.
“We’re very blessed we were able to redshirt 95 percent of that signing class. We’ve seen these guys change physically and mentally, and now we will see them cut it loose on the field and we’ll see how well they learn, which dictates how soon they can play,” he said. “Really, a lot of these guys could have played for us last year and helped in the kicking game, but we bit the bullet, so to speak, and those kids will benefit from that decision.”