This is a different spring football session than what the Ida Baker Bulldogs have come to expect. For the last couple of seasons, spring was a chance to fine-tune coach Brian Conn's system.
The Bulldogs were a senior-laden team in 2013, a roster filled with two- and three-year starters that earned a berth in the Class 6A playoffs. This year, however, spring is far more of a learning process.
"I would say (different springs) have different values," Conn said. "This spring it's trying to get guys who maybe don't have as much experience and get them caught up.The springs before it was maybe putting in a wrinkle or two that you wanted to see if it would be worth carrying over to the fall. That really hasn't been the case this spring. It's been doing what we know we're going to do for sure - our base package. We're trying to get the kids fundamentally sound on techniques and assignments."
Ida Baker linemen work through some spring drills earlier this week as practices enter their final stages.
One key player the Bulldogs have returning is senior-to-be quarterback Sage Attwood, Baker's starter the last two seasons. Attwood had 2,200 yards and 17 touchdowns passing for the Bulldogs last season while running for 776 yards and 10 more TDs.
"Sage is with us, and it always helps when you bring back a quarterback that can help out some of the younger guys," Conn said. "He's almost served as an assistant coach with some of the receivers and runningbacks in our up-tempo game, trying to teach them the signals and where they should line up."
It's been a process getting the newcomers up to the up-tempo style favored at Baker.
"I think it may be harder at first just because they're still trying to process 'What do I have to do? That's the sign and now I have to figure out what I have to do'," Conn said. "We have noticed just a little bit of a lag in snap times, but I think it's just something that takes repetition. The more you do it over the course of spring and summer it'll become secondhand."
The younger Bulldogs are making progress.
"Sometimes it's tough when you're early-whistling some contact drills," Conn said. On May 9, "We had our intrasquad scrimmage where the winners get steaks and the losers get hot dogs. It was competitive and ended up being a little better than probably we anticipated. We saw some good things from some young guys."
Conn added, "A couple of our D-linemen have really had a good spring. Chandler Tew, Mike Rodriguez, Nick Raby. Trevor Mitchell especially, changing positions from a linebacker to a defensive end and has had a really good spring. So I think if there's one thing that we come out looking at as our strong suit besides obviously having a three-year starter at quarterback would be our D-line."
For the second straight spring, the Bulldogs finish with a real test at Naples on May 23. The Golden Eagles are coming off yet another playoff season.
"It doesn't count in the win-loss record, but we still keep score," Conn said. "We want to be competitive with one of the best in Southwest Florida, and try to see what we need to work on because I'm sure they're going to exploit anything that you need to work on. That'll give us some time to get it fixed by August."
As for the coming summer workouts, Conn said, "One thing that sticks out would be our linebackers don't have a ton of experience across the board. There's some bright spots there. They're intelligent, they work hard, and those are always good things to start with.
"And then our offensive line. They're again a really smart group, they work hard together, they work well together. They've got great coaches.?"In the summer, I've told several of them that the weight room is going be huge for them. While they're mentally pretty close to being ready, physically they've got some improving to do. The weight room is going to be big for them this summer."