University of Akron football coach Terry Bowden quickly established one rule in the first spring-practice session for his Zips: There’s no looking forward.
With UA coming off its third consecutive 1-11 season (Bowden can claim only one), establishing consistency in a positive way is key.
It’s a definite change from last season when Bowden tried in earnest to ensure that his team could grab at least two wins. That second win never came.
“The last thing we need to be thinking about right now is win No. 2,” he said Tuesday morning after practice at the Stile Athletics Field House.
Too many unanswered questions remain to think about that.
Who will back up sophomore quarterback Kyle Pohl? Who replaces defensive end J.D. Griggs? How does the defense take another step?
“We have to focus on development,” Bowden said. “We have to win the day, win the series. Win the day and that will take care of itself. When you get back to the season, there’s going to be no doubt in anyone’s mind that we need to step up and get win No. 2.”
Point of emphasis
One thing the Zips want to concentrate on in spring practice is improving their turnover rate, associate coach and defensive coordinator Chuck Amato said.
It was difficult to do with the team working out in helmets and shorts on the first day, but once the pads go on and the players can tackle, the emphasis will be on creating turnovers on defense.
The Zips were minus-14 in the turnover category last season, according to Mid-American Conference statistics. Of equal importance to Amato, however, is the number of big plays and freebies the Zips gave up in crucial spots.
When we got to our two-minute drills, we were horrible at the end of the half and the end of the game [on big plays],” he said. “Some of it had to do with penalties. In one game, we had five penalties.”
By Amato’s recollection, those mistakes led to two scores in that game.
“They were aggressive penalties,” he said. “We have to find ways to not get called on them.”
St. Vincent-St. Mary wide receiver Fransohn Bickley watched the first practice. Bickley, a speedy guy who drew interest from several Mid-American Conference schools, confirmed to the Beacon Journal that he intends to enroll at UA with the goal of eventually walking on for the Zips.
If that happens, Bickley said he’d be a slot receiver and kick returner for the Zips, the former is a huge need for UA, given its suspect performance in the return game last year.
Bickley played an integral part in the Irish’s Division III state football championship last season, but probably didn’t receive tons of notice because of his 5-foot-6 frame.
“I wasn’t looking for offers. I was just trying to win a championship in high school,” he said. “In the summertime when I came to the Akron camp, I just enjoyed it so much it felt like home here.”
Bowden couldn’t comment about Bickley’s status because he’s not enrolled at UA.
For anyone looking for spectacular play right out of the gate, think again. It’s called practice for a reason.
With that being said, however, a couple of moments stood out for the Zips in their first session.
The first came courtesy of running back Jawon Chisholm who not only hit holes with confidence, but with speed. Chisholm looked faster than last season and hit the backfield on more than a few occasions, ripping off significant runs.
Malachi Freeman looked formidable at cornerback, especially on one play when he not only found the ball, but twisted his body so that he could adjust to it and grabbed an interception during the reps near the end of practice.
Senior transfer C.J. James didn’t participate in practice. James is getting acclimated to the game after recovering from an undisclosed illness.
George M. Thomas can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Zips blog at http://www.ohio.com/zips. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/GeorgeThomasABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.