Spring Practice: What it Tells Us

College football junkies can attest to certain things. At the times in between the games in-season, they'll scour the scoreboards and peep the message boards to get the latest gossip. After the season, we'll keep glued to those same message boards and Rivals.com to track each potential recruit's moves on campus — how he liked the stadium, did he smile or not, whether the steak and potatoes he had at the local college super-restaurant was to his liking, etc.

And on Signing Day, we'll be locked to any ESPN subordinate channel that gives us the latest updates like CNN giving reports from the front-lines at the first Gulf War on what each prospect announces in real-time. And after Signing Day, we can thank heavens for the two words almost as big as season-opener in the world of college football: spring practice.

Spring practice is bigger now than ever due to that fact that all sports media outlets commit more time to beat writers, bloggers, and experts to cover it. It's become a big deal, amongst all other offseason things that have been placed in the Big Deal bin. It's different, however, from the others because so many plots heading into spring practice have a direct effect on how things may be on campus in the fall. So what are some of the things that spring practice tells us?

It can tell everything and/or nothing at all.

Spring practice position battles and scrimmages are intriguing, especially after that three-year starter at QB, stalwart running back, or All-American linebacker left a gaping hole or that legendary coach that has retired or been fired replaced by the new guy who is like the guy meeting his date's father. That first spring practice for some is the first impression. In either of these situations, you can have a great battle or maybe a great spring session or a disaster. The bottom line is that there is probably no way to tell how the whole season will go from the spring. Remember, leaves drop in the fall. I know a few powerhouses who had optimistic spring outlooks after practice and their seasons went in the toilet.

"He who emerges in the spring is usually king."

Speaking of position battles, it holds true to form in that that player that leaves with the edge in spring practice more than likely ends up with the job to start the season. A player has to have a near-disastrous summer to find himself out of the starting lineup. The freshman or sophomore that is looking to replace that three-year starter, or at least get a considerable piece of playing time, knows he cannot afford to have a so-so spring practice. Players who have bad spring practices are usually thrown back in the pecking order and have to work incredibly hard to get back towards the light of day in depth charts, outside of injuries to key players.

Having a good spring includes being good in practice, showing up to team activities, going to class, and staying out of trouble. Nothing could screw up a player's spring than an arrest/other legal troubles, academic troubles, or ineligibility. As you find out with some players, that could lead to suspensions or even being dismissed off the squad altogether. Nothing could be worse than losing a scholarship and future over the result of something that was due to the individual's own judgment and execution.

Whether Mr. "High School Superstar" can actually play college football.

Everyone knows the guy who arrives on campus with the big fanfare. Broke all the records to be broken, won every major award, all-state, All-American, all-world. He arrives overconfident and brash, but as soon as the first few practices take place, most can tell if he's a significant player on this level or whether he was all "high school legend." Rick "Doc" Walker once said in his pro days with the Bengals and Redskins and it still rings true today, that it takes only a practice or two for those who know the game to see if a guy can play on that level.

Football is a sport more than any other that as you step a level up, talents and accomplishments are compromised more than anything else. College football has shown its fair share of super high school heroes who have been relegated to struggles getting in the lineups on their squads and have the tag-line follow their names in broadcast such as: "Who arrived with much fanfare after a record-breaking career at (fill in the blank) High School" or "Hasn't yet reached the potential thought to be in his capabilities." When you're talked about in past-tense, it's can't be a good thing.

Scrimmages are welcome to those who love the game.

The biggest phenomenon of spring practices is probably the spring game. Marking the end of the spring in places like Gainesville, Columbus, State College, Athens, Lincoln, and Norman, you'll have crowds upwards of 50,000, tailgating and enthusiastically cheering. The intra-squad scrimmages gives fans their first taste of football after five or six months and shows them what they might be able to look forward to (or not look forward to) in the fall. With spring games now being broadcast nationally on a number of different stations, the exposure of the end-of-spring ritual offers us a another exclusive look inside the white lines. Plus, the recaps of these spring games for those of us who can't witness it first-hand are like Grammy and Oscar reviews right from the press row.

Here's to a happy spring for all. Here's to hoping folks on the Plains, in Knoxville, Seattle, Clemson, and Boston enjoy their first spring with the new guys. For their sake, let's hope they don't blow the first impression.

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