Growler1 expresses legitimate concerns over the the future of Grizzly Football in his thread.  He states that he hopes his concerns are unfounded and I would echo that opinion.  All of the concerns brought forth (loss of key coaches, amount of seniors graduated, unknown QB situation) are very real.  Growler’s thread include his opinion of a few year downturn and other posters state similar sentiments.

These areas of concern also have me concerned however I would like to offer a slightly sugar-laden but what I’d call a more hopeful outlook for the state of Grizzly Football.

Think back to the 2007 off-season, the Grizzlies suffered a crushing 1st round loss and the graduation of what many believed (at the time) one of the most talented overall group of players the team has had.  Most all of the defense plus our workhorse running back (Hilliard) was gone.  Add in that our two most hopeful players to fill gaps (Jamaine Olsen & Lyle Brown) both transferred out in the off-season.  A few key things helped rebound the team:

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  1. A combination of some of the more talented recruiting classes from both the 2007 and 2008 seasons which added some key role-players including not only the high-profile guys like Trumaine Johnson but also brought up key walk-ons and prefered walk ons like Marc Mariani and Chase Reynolds.
  2. The addition of running backs coach Mick Delaney sparked a new era of a smash-mouth running game and a tougher mentality.  More regimented ways crept into the system.  Team focus improved.
  3. The team had one solid constant – a rock solid & O-line that was big/mean and experienced.

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Now fast forward to the 2012 team:

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  1. Looking at the 2012 team it consists of several younger stars and a rock-star recruiting class that could also fill some gaps that will pop up as the 2008 team had.  Spring ball has given preview of a few that are rising up already, Haynes, Lebsock, Rominger, Murray, Harris, Crittenden, Owen, Saylor, and a few more.
  2. Mick has been a part of this before, obviously not the same level of the fallout that’s going on publicly but he came on board with a team facing a ton of doubts and uncertainty and was a part of a big turnaround when many feared the 2008 team was going to be real inexperienced and not very good.
  3. This Oline is good, I won’t venture to say they’re great yet but Kistler, Poehls, Oiland, and Poole are rock solid guys,  Hendrickson is making big strides.  The Hines brothers, Schmang, Brauer, and Kalekini are all showing that they’re not only good backups but guys that will split time and give the Oline a great rotation to keep the starting 5 fresh.

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The loss of our coaches is tough however look at the coach lost and their replacement:

Smith —->  Rosenbach.  Smith was a very technical coach but was quiet in practice and relied upon his assistants to provide more fire and passion.  Rosey brings big time intensity and fire, personal accountability on the field, and wants to extend the offense to go downfield more.  Smith was a great OC under Pflu because the two could work together well.  Rosey appears to be able to operate in more of a stand-alone fashion.  Additionally he came into this system so well-studied on the players, the team, and the system the players on offense that many were really impressed with how researched and prepared he was for this team and system on day 1.

Breske —-> Gregorak.   Two guys cut from the same cloth in many ways.  Both are vocal/passionate guys that hold players highly accountable.  Gregorak (it appears) brings a bit more of a sense of team pride and history.  Ty’s been a guy that’s been on the rise for years and probably would be a DC elsewhere if it wasn’t for his removal at UNLV.  He’s got the knowledge of the system and all of the players respond to him just the same way they did with Breske.  Ty also knows every offense we’ll face this year, he keeps his team prepared, and he’s tossed in some wrinkles and changes to better suit the current group he has to use for the season.

Beers —-> Gragg.  Based on what I’ve been told Gragg will take over the entire O-line and will relinquish TE’s coaching for a new coach to come in.  These two offer a stark contrast in styles that I’ve observed, Beers is more of the vocal motivator while Gragg is more of the technical/footwork guy.  In practices I’d notice Gragg would always be the instructor while Beers would always then be the guy that yells, “Godd*amnit now get after it!!!!”.  While Beer’s passion and energy will leave a gap Gragg’s teaching/knowledge/skill will spread across the entire Oline and I believe will make it better.  What will be missing will be that fire, the OL will need to get that from Rosey or Coach D, or internally.

Gragg —-> Unknown TE coach.  Assumption here based on the last statement, I’d bet Delaney looks for a grad-assistant or a fairly new/younger coach mostly b/c this year’s TE corps will feature two seniors (Hardy/Haas) who know their stuff.  They can blend in some stuff with Gragg but some more direct coaching in the passing game will help.

Pflu —-> Delaney.  A big change in top-end leadership, while one can debate which style is right or wrong I will just say this.  Delaney wears his heart on his sleeve, he’s fired up all the time, he’s incredibly passionate about all of the kids, and from what I’ve seen he doesn’t let things slide in practice.  I’m not meaning to discount Pflu was also much of this as well – however coach D brings a tougher on-field discipline perspective and I feel that’ll carry over with his style of leadership throughout the team.  Every guy on this team respects him, and he knows all of the assistants well.

Finally the QB situation.  This might be the bigger tipping point in this team’s success this year, however I’d like to point out that this time last year and then into fall camp the presumed starting QB Johnson was hurt half the time.  The first half of the season JJ was finding his way amidst being banged up and unable to runt he offense well.  2011 was a successful year and our QB didn’t come into his own until November.

This team with Johnson is obviously the best option, no one can say otherwise.  However what I’ve seen in both Smithwick-Hann and McKinney leads me to believe that if either of these two are called upon to lead the team – they can do it.  Kemp could be an option too but I just don’t know what’s expected of him this year if it’s QB, WR, or if he’s here at all.  I expect it’ll take time as last year did and it’ll probably have it’s bumps (like last year – Sac St for example, ugh).  Add in that teams in years past have had to break in new QBs rapidly (2003, 2006, 2009, 2011) and while there were rough patches the QBs came on in many cases and propelled the team to a conference title and a playoff berth.

Griz football faces many challenges but I am overly impressed with the resolve and leadership that the current team.  To have a player-imposed ban on twitter and a single team commitment to stay together and continue to improve.  Many players are planning on being here from early June and on to work together and improve.

Additionally this spring camp was the most focused and determined group I’ve ever seen in a spring camp in my 5 or so years of observation.  It appeared that this team was preparing for a game on the weekend – and not just going through the motions of spring camp.

Griz football sits at a fork in the road and while it could go either way after seeing the way the team responded on the field and observing the way the staff works with them.  I believe that this team’s best years are yet to come.

Go GRIZ!

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