NATCHITOCHES – There is no such thing as status quo as the Northwestern State football team kicks off spring practice Tuesday at Turpin Stadium.
With new offensive and defensive coordinators, there are wholesale schematic changes. They’re most sweeping on defense, where Brad Laird is running the Demons’ stop troops for a third time, hoping to replicate success in two previous stints last decade at his alma mater. New offensive coordinator Kyle Manley, not new to the staff, will oversee significant shifts in how NSU moves the ball.
Starting his fifth season as head coach, Jay Thomas is also taking on a new role, stepping into his wheelhouse as the defensive line coach. He’s excited about that opportunity and the team he is fielding, with 57 returning letterwinners including 36 who started at least one time last season.
NSU has 15 workouts, the last set April 8 for the 28th Annual Joe Delaney Bowl spring game at 10 a.m. in Turpin Stadium. Scrimmages are set March 18 and March 23.
“We’re ready to go. We had a great offseason. The players did a tremendous job, and so did our strength staff,” said Thomas. “We’re looking for good carryover into spring practice.”
The offensive line, anchored by senor Korliss Johnson, returns four of five starters and nine of 10 players who finished last season on the two-deep chart. NSU also has four experienced running backs to rely upon, despite losing first-team All-Southland Conference standout De’Mard Llorens.
“We’re implementing some new looks and streamlining our offense,” said Thomas. “We still want to be balanced, and that starts with running the ball, which is the key to anyone’s success. We’re looking at play-action stuff, and how the run game pairs with the pass game.”
The quarterback contenders are headed by senior J.D. Almond, who finished 2016 starting the last three games. Redshirt freshman Kenny Sears and junior college transfer Clay Holgorsen are in the mix.
“Obviously that’s going to be a very competitive battle. Hopefully by the end of spring, we’ll know who the number one guy is, but if we have to go into August to play it out, we will. It’s only 15 days, and you’d like to have 30 to make the best evaluation. If somebody stands out, that will help settle it sooner than later.”
Defensively, NSU has six experienced linebackers and senior safety Austin Balthazar to build upon, along with several young but battle-tested cornerbacks, led by junior all-star candidate Ike Warren.
“We have an entirely new system on defense so it will be a learning process for the players,” said Thomas. “We’ll go through some growing pains and that’s part of the process to make us the defense we need to be.”
Among the points of emphasis this spring, he said, will be third downs and red zone execution.
“We didn’t do well on third down last year, offense and defense. We have to get better. Red zone offense and defense has to improve, particularly with the ball from the 10 going in. Defensively from the 5 going in, we must be better,” said Thomas.
The Demons will get in four practices this week, going to work Tuesday, Thursday and Friday at 3:30, and Saturday morning at 9:30.
2017 Demon Football Spring Schedule
Day Date Opponent Location Time
Tue. Mar. 7 Practice #1 Turpin Stadium 3:30
Thu. Mar. 9 Practice #2 Turpin Stadium 3:30
Fri. Mar. 10 Practice #3 Turpin Stadium 3:30
Sat. Mar. 11 Practice #4 Turpin Stadium 9:30
Tue. Mar. 14 Practice #5 Turpin Stadium 3:30
Thu. Mar. 16 Practice #6 Turpin Stadium 3:30
Fri. Mar. 17 Practice #7 Turpin Stadium 3:30
Sat. Mar. 18 Practice #8 – Scrimmage #1 Turpin Stadium 9:30
Tue. Mar. 21 Practice #9 Turpin Stadium 3:30
Wed. Mar. 22 Practice #10 Turpin Stadium 3:30