KENT: Along with a new coach and new regime comes the opportunity for new players to make new impressions. Of all the hopefuls vying for bigger roles in Kent State football coach Paul Haynes’ system, Fabrice Pratt and Jordan Italiano have the best chance to make the most impact.
Pratt and Italiano are both former safeties being moved into Haynes’ “star” position, a central spot in his defensive schemes.
The “star” is a hybrid safety/middle linebacker that Haynes has had in all his defenses (many other coaches use a similar position but have meshed a safety with a cornerback). At Ohio State, where Haynes coached the secondary from 2005-10 and was co-defensive coordinator in 2011, Donte Whitner, Jermale Hines and Tyler Moeller all had productive careers for the Buckeyes.
“That position is probably the most important part of our defense,” Haynes said on Tuesday. “Historically, that position has been the most productive player. That guy has to be physical.”
The “star” tends to be a safety who instead of inching backward in coverage will step forward at the snap of the ball with more of a focus on stopping the run. He also sets the edge and has to be vocal, something normally reserved for the middle linebacker. In pass coverage (this position came about in part to combat spread offenses), he takes the underneath routes.
“Those guys are downhill players,” Haynes said. “You’re a run defender first and then you play to the pass. And versus the pass, you’re an underneath guy. All of those things are just in the mind-set that I’m playing run first and I’m a downhill player first.”
Haynes said when he came to KSU, he asked for the best football players and the smartest football players on the teams. Pratt and Italiano’s names came up. And during the first week of spring practice, Haynes has spent a good deal of time working with the Pratt and Italiano himself, giving specific instruction and introducing them to their new position.
Pratt and Italiano each played 13 games last season but didn’t get on the field as much as either would have liked. Both say they’re excited for the chance to play in this role, especially with their new boss taking such an interest in them.
“He really works with us to get better, helping us in the film room, helping us to learn the position,” Italiano said. “It’s nice to know that Coach recognizes the hard work you’re putting in. Frabrice and I both get after it. For them to notice, it’s nice.”
It’ll take some getting used to. Even the little things need repetition, like getting rid of the instinct to step back at the snap. They’re getting the crash course and will be up to speed soon.
“I like it a lot,” Pratt said. “First practice, me and Jordan, we were saying it’s a lot different. As we progress through practice it becomes a lot easier. ... Whatever Coach asks us to do, we’re going to get the job done.”
Get the hammer
Receivers Tyshon Goode and Brandon Wood and safety Calvin Tiggle, who all spent Friday night’s practice off to the side as they deal with injuries, got their work in with some new props. All three rotated between doing some boxing exercises, hitting a tire with a sledgehammer and pulling a sled. It was Rocky IV, MAC football style.
On the field, it was KSU’s first day in shells this spring (shoulder pads only). Monday will be the first practice in full pads. The Flashes might do some scrimmaging next Friday. Haynes wasn’t entirely pleased with the effort given on this Friday night.
“You could just tell it wasn’t where it needs to be,” he said. “If you want to be a championship team, you’ve got to have championship practices.”
Ryan Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Kent State blog at http://www.ohio.com/flashes. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/RyanLewisABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.