I have not made it up to spring practice yet, but I assure you that one of the student writers on campus is attempting to get out to watch the guys before the Black & Gold game next weekend. My trips are limited since I am on prolonged baby watch from now until miniature in-utero T-Mill is born, but I am still going to try and go to the Spring Game itself if we're not in the hospital. It is a full week before the due date anyway.
Judging from Twitter, however, spring practice has been very positive and wide open. There are a large number of spots that need to be filled and I think it is safe to say that even incumbent starters are not guaranteed anything. Arguably four of the best players we had (Kawann Short, Josh Johnson, Akeem Shavers, and Robert Marve) are all gone, leaving plenty of opportunity to impress the new coaching staff. Based on reports, here is what has stood out.
There is no answer yet at quarterback - This was expected, but it is a tight four-man race between Austin Appleby, Danny Etling, Bilal Marshall, and Rob Henry. Henry is the closest thing we have to an incumbent starter. I would bet that if he does not win the starting job he will shift to a receiver/running back hybrid because he is still dangerous with the football in his hands. Multiple times, however, the coaching staff and Offensive Coordinator John Shoop have said there will be one QB period. That's good. I can see Henry taking the occasional wildcat snap, but it looks like someone will win the position hands down.
I would bet that we see all four perform just about equally in the spring game. Judging anything before that is pretty much impossible.
David Yancey seems impressive - Yancey graduated from Lake Central early in order to get to spring practice and it seems to be paying off. There have been multiple reports of him being used in roles such as running back and punt returner.
That said, it looks like Akeem Hunt will be the No. 1 back going into the fall. He has the experience and he can split time with Brandon Cottom. Both were criminally underused in the Nordfense, so I would not be surprised if both broke out.
Injuries - Several players are out, as there is no use risking them for spring practice. Danny Anthrop, Landon Feichter, and Brandon Taylor have had recent surgeries. Ricardo Allen tweaked an ankle, but has been working incredibly hard when he has been in. Bruce Gaston and Ryan Isaac have also been limited.
Offensive Line in flux - Coach Hope did leave behind a stable of solid young players on the offensive line and since there have been multiple combinations thrown out on the top of the depth chart we can see some of them finally perform. Jordan Roos, Jason King, and Robert Kuglar are battling for first-team spots. Line coach Jim Bridge has also been noted as riding them constantly, which is good. The O-line was pretty soft the last two years.
The Annual Gabe Holmes Breakout Watch - I jokingly call this annual because coach Hope constantly raved about how good Holmes could be, but he continues to not break out. Well, he's a senior now and it is time. Last season he was plagued by drops and so far they continue, but they are talking All-Conference if he puts it together. We'll see.
Wide Receivers - In reading all the practice reports it is clear there is a lot of big play potential on offense. The ongoing O.J. Ross saga has opened the door for guys like Charles Torwudzo and Shane Mikesky. It would seem that coach Hazell prefers bigger receivers on the outside with Dolapo Macarthy among them. Gary Bush is the smallest receiver getting mentioned, which is a step forward from going with three small, fast guys.
That's all I really have. James is supposed to attend a practice sometime soon and someone will report from the spring game, which is where we will really see the new look Boilers for the first time. Overall the vibe does seem more positive with coach Hazell. Not everything is all rainbows and sunshine like under coach Hope, which is good. We'll see if it pays off.