New football coach Bill Clark experienced a case of deja vu at spring practice this year. After all, he's been through this before - last year at Jacksonville State. After all, the new Blazer coach was also the new coach at Jacksonville at this time last year. And he faced some similar problems.
"Both situations were similar because we needed to establish who our quarterbacks were, create a depth chart and statistically we were bad at defense," Clark said Tuesday at his post-spring press conference, "I do think the situation was a little worse here as far as numbers wise.
"We went into Jacksonville State not being where we wanted it to be," he added. "However, at UAB we have a lot of guys coming back this year with game experience, so I feel like the players have gotten a lot better. We still have a long way to go, but defensively the team has improved."
Clark was particularly happy with the attitude and effort of the team. "I was really pleased with the attitude and effort from the players when dealing with a new staff," he said. "From January to today, the improvements we have created include the understanding of urgency we are looking for and gaining the idea of what our practices should look like."
His only disappointment was the number of injuries on the team, a holdover from last season. "We have referred often to the number of injuries we had going into this spring, and I think we got as much as we possibly could from those guys," he said.
Clark was also pleased that many players stepped up their effort and showed that they want playing time in the fall. "I do feel like we have a depth chart coming out of this spring and as these guys get inserted in, we will see where they fit," he said. "There are a lot of older guys and we have made plans for players to come in and compete.
"We told our players they should still be ahead because they have been here, they understand the system, and have lifted and trained with the staff," he added. "I think a lot of those [new] guys will have to adjust and get used to the tempo we practice at and what we are asking for in the weight room."
"We''re excited about the talent coming in, but we do feel the guys that are already here have a leg up on the incoming players."
Clark was particularly happy with the work of his offensive unit. "One of the best things they did was get ahead on our offense," he said. "They adapted to it pretty quickly. We want our offense to be simple for our players to understand, yet complex for the defense. I think that is where the coaching is right now."
That includes the work of the quarterbacks. "You have all these different facets to being a quarterback: how you throw the ball, understanding the offense, the physical demands of taking hits, the multi-purpose aspect of "run-and-throw," and leading the team. I've been pleased with the guys we've got and we have a couple of more guys coming during the summer to add to that mix."
One big question remains, i.e., the Blazer defense ranked #117 last year and was one of the worst in the nation. Can they be better next year? Clark sees improvement.
"I don't know if I'm ever satisfied, but I have seen improvements on our defense," Clark said. "Getting off blocks, running to the football and tackling have improved. I think we saw our guys, . . . specific to tackling, improve immeasurably. We have got to keep taking those steps and get a few more guys in here. We need some guys to get well as we start workouts in May, but we have improved."
A bigger problem may be the level of competition that UAB will face in Conference USA next season. Even if the team is improved, can they pull off a winning season next year? "It is daunting," Clark said. "You look at some of the teams that we have to play, how well coached they are and the effort from their staffs. There are some great offenses in this league and some well-coached teams. We have a lot of work to do and it is what we work for every day to compete with these guys."
Still, Clark is hoping to put a team on the field that will bring pride to the Blazer fan base. For Clark, the key word there is "commitment." I believe they are going to see that commitment," he said. "They are going to see it through the upgrades we are making to our facilities. Hopefully, they are going to see a great product on the field.
"We all want the wins, but there is a lot more that goes into making a great team, specifically training, facilities and nutrition," he added. "We have made a commitment to these aspects. Our guys have seen this and I think it has helped them buy in.
"We are in a great location, so we have a lot to sell. I think they are excited about where we are currently, but I want to see that in the fall."
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