As the season gets closer, the behaviors that we are exhibiting in workouts now are slowly becoming our team’s identity. It’s apparent the way our guys trained on their own in the off season and have competed thus far throughout the preseason that we are going to be a bigger, stronger, faster and deeper team than we were last year.
However, to compete in the SEC this year we must be a really good defensive team. As we continue to work at building our defensive foundation, it’s apparent that we have a ways to go. The numerous easy baskets given up by our guys throughout our 1-on-1 closeout drill had Coach Forbes face turning beet red. However, the exciting part is that these struggles were not because of lack of effort. In fact, most guys gave up direct line drives because they closed out on their man so hard that they got off balance or stood too high.
To be a great defender you not only have to know your opponent’s strength and weaknesses but more importantly you need to know your own. For instance, Dane Bradshaw was a solid defender because he used his basketball IQ, Wayne Chism because he used his quickness and JP Prince because he used his length. Everyone is different. Melvin could be a really good defender for us this year because he is committed to making a difference with his quickness and physicality to pressure our opponents point guard. All of these guys developed their strengths and weaknesses by learning from their failures. It takes time, effort and guidance.
Although 40% of our team is completely new, the preseason is designed for all our players to improve their individual skills and begin to develop their role within our team. With the loss of three All-SEC caliber players, everyone is working to find their niche. This is most difficult for our five new guys. Since we play at a very up-tempo pace in games we practice that way. Therefore, it is even tougher on the new guys to learn the intricate details of our offensive and defensive principles as Coach Pearl constantly jumps from drill to drill.
One way for our players to learn our system is to watch and talk to our returning players. As a piece of a team, organization or business it is important to learn from those with experience. Sometimes you learn tips or behaviors to do while other times you learn things not to do. As I watched yesterday’s practice this morning, I noticed our new guys were trying to pick up on things our veterans were doing. Whether it was John Fields trying to learn how to step-in against cutters or the correct timing for setting ballscreens in transition from Brian or Jordan McRae trying to learn how to use his length on defense from Cameron, there is a huge learning curve for these new guys. This is normal. This is the SEC. Learning and executing the little things is what’s going to separate the eventual champion from the rest of this deeply talented conference.
One of the biggest differences and most important things for these new guys to grasp is the need to constantly be engaged in every play. You can’t relax because every action has a reaction. For example, in high school, if their man didn’t have the ball, they probably just stood around. But at this level, most offensive players can beat their man 1-on-1. Therefore, their constant off the ball help positioning and communication is vital to our defenses success or failures. Or, on offense in high school, most of these guys either dominated the ball or just stood if the play wasn’t designed for them. However, in order to execute against defenses in the SEC, guys must learn that even if the play isn’t designed for them to score, their screen, pass, cut or spacing is what enables our TEAM to score. This can also work the other way too. A great teaching example of this was the way the Green Bay Packers played against Daaaaa Bears last night. The Packers had tons of great plays taken away from them because one player was holding, committed pass interference or missed a block. Although 10 guys on the field may have done their job perfect on that play, it only took one guy mess up his assignment to negatively affect the outcome of that play. Eventually, those missed assignments led to a gratifying Packers loss and beautiful Bears win that I will gladly take and brag about to all my cheese head friends.
As one of the most penalized teams in the NFL last year, Green Bay Packer fans shouldn’t be surprised with last night’s result. It’s part of their identity. Every day we make choices that solidify or alter our current identity. What will we do today? With many more steps forward needed to achieve our goals, our focus must remain on getting better every day and in every way.