Spring practices can be a headache for head coaches in the Southeastern Conference. It’s a time for instruction and implementation for newcomers and returning starters alike hoping to make that next jump before the season.
With a global pandemic, that task is expectedly more daunting. Luckily for Gus Malzahn, he has clarity.
Malzahn has the luxury of a returning starting quarterback in Bo Nix who already has a year under his belt. Last season, Nix endured a quarterback competition during fall camp and came out the starter as a true freshman, beating out Joey Gatewood who has since transferred to Kentucky.
"That's probably the No. 1 advantage — teams that do have a starting quarterback coming back," Malzahn said during a teleconference. "... I think all that will be determined how big of an advantage that will be when we see how much time we have to work with our players."
The Alabama native had his share of struggles in his freshman year, but showed his ability to respond when criticism arose defeating rival Alabama in the season finale, as well as earning SEC Freshman of the Year.
Nix broke every major freshman passing record in his first season under center.
"I think any coach's son that is prepared and has been prepared helps," Malzahn said. "And then I think the fact there's a year under Bo's belt of experience in our league — I think that helps, too, especially with the grind of our schedule that he went through. He experienced a little bit of everything — ups and downs and in betweens and great defense after great defense."
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Virtual meetings affect the entire team and its coaching staff. But the quarterback position, and the offensive coordinator who runs that offense, more than most, have an uphill battle not being able to practice and make in-person adjustments.
Newly appointed offensive coordinator Chad Morris will mostly be tasked with the installation of the Tigers’ offense, as well as guiding their second-year quarterback. And as Nix puts it, the circumstances have given him time to focus more on himself and what he can do specifically to reach that next level.
“Well, I think it’s great self-evaluation,” Nix said in a teleconference Thursday. “…It gives you a chance to experiment with new things. When you’re by yourself and you’re training by yourself, you can zone in on personal things that you want to get better at.”
Nix and his room stay in contact meeting once a week for virtual instruction with Morris. Cord Sandberg, who backed up Nix last season, and newcomer Chayil Garnett are expected to compete for the backup position.
Coaches are allowed four hours a week to work with players over video chats, and strength coach Ryan Russell is sending workout plans weekly so his players can stay in as good of shape as this pandemic allows.
Routine is something that is ever so crucial for an evolving, young quarterback in the SEC. For Nix, he’s using his family to try and get that routine to as close to normal as he can.
“I don’t like going out there just to throw; If I’m going out there, I’m going to get better at something,” Nix said. “Usually what I’ll do is I’ll script out a certain number of plays from our offense and I’ll call the play in my head and make sure I know where the guys would be, and essentially have a spring practice by myself.”
A timetable for the college football season is still unknown, however ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported earlier this afternoon that there is a “strong conviction” around the college football world that there will be football at some point.
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