Yes, there is a discernible difference when walking into Stile Athletics Field House these days.
Talk to observers and they mention the energy that new University of Akron football coach Tom Arth has brought to the team and how it’s rubbed off on his players.
Nah, that’s not it.
Then upon seeing quarterbacks Kato Nelson and Robbie Kelley rotating in to take snaps and taking position under center, it becomes obvious. Arth certainly is bringing a lot of change to the position, increasing competition and bringing his experience as quarterback for St. Ignatius, John Carroll and in the NFL for several teams.
“Absolutely,” he said when asked if he would spend significant time with that unit, “with the offense and the quarterbacks. I think that's a very important position at every level of football and that relationship between quarterback and head coach is as important as any relationship in football.”
On Tuesday, Arth interacted with each of his signal callers, coaching each and never hesitating to pull them to the side to speak with them regarding what happened during a series of plays. It’s a necessity, given every position is up for grabs this spring.
“In terms of the units, we have two quarterbacks working with the first group,” Arth said after practice. “They're working with the second group as well. We just have a good rotation going with those guys. Their performance, their production really dictates their reps.”
Coming off his first season as the team’s full-time starter, Kato Nelson embraces the challenge.
“I think it's a big adjustment, but it hasn't been a hard adjustment,” he said. “The No. 1 challenge is getting the offense down. I think once I feel comfortable in the offense, everything will flow together.”
It’s an opinion shared by Kelley, who was granted a sixth year of eligibility because of a season-ending shoulder injury last year.
He understands what he has to accomplish to win the job.
“Just get more comfortable,” he said.
He’s also realistic at this point.
“It's the third practice. You can still tell I'm rusty because I haven't practiced since the Boca Raton Bowl,” he said. “That was the last time putting on pads, so it's just getting more comfortable and leading [and] at the end of the day execute and make plays.”
With a new coach looking over their shoulders, no one could blame the group if a few jitters accompanied the start of spring practice. Nelson said the opposite is true.
“I just think it's a big help especially because he played at the pro level,” he said. “Like I said, we're in a pro-style offense, so him being in the meeting room and explaining to us from his point of view really helps us out on the field.”
George M. Thomas can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ByGeorgeThomas.