Starting off the second week of spring practice, Northern Arizona Lumberjacks head coach Chris Ball is liking some of the things he's seeing out of his football team.
A few new wrinkles on offense, some tweaks in practice routines and a new defensive system has the Lumberjacks learning new ideas the past two weeks, and Ball thinks it has gone well so far.
“I thought the offensive line looked good at times today. I thought our secondary is getting better, but it’s inconsistent,” Ball said. “Each position is not consistent yet. So we got to be consistent and continue to do little things right, and if we can do that, we got a chance.
" ... It’s just early in spring and it’s new. We got a whole new defense and some different things on offense and the way we are doing things and practicing, it’s an adjustment for everybody. But I think the kids are handling it great.”
The new 3-4 defense that Ball and his staff are implementing fits the Lumberjacks on paper -- with athletes on the defensive line who can shift outside or inside and linebackers that can cover in space.
Ball has made toughness a massive priority in spring, and continued that trend at Tuesday’s practice. It seems early on the players have embraced the new-look system.
“Kids 18 to 22 years old, they don’t like change -- that’s every job I’ve ever taken,” Ball said. “I think they have done a great job of buying in and I’m liking what we are doing defensively. It’s an attack-style defense, so there’s a lot of moving parts and it’s fun to play in.”
Ball ran a defense at Memphis that finished second in the American Athletic Conference in total sacks with 37. The defense was in the middle of the pack in the conference, allowing 31.9 points per game and in total yards allowed with teams gaining an average of 428.4 yards per outing against Memphis last year.
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Offensive lineman Cole Habib, who missed the entire 2018 season due to a torn ACL he suffered in last year’s spring game, is back on the field with hopes of having a strong senior season.
As for the knee, Habib appears to be moving well during offensive line drills and one-on-one drills with defensive linemen.
“It’s taking a little bit of time to get used to this knee, but I’m feeling good slowly but surely every day,” Habib said. “ … I mean, I’m still getting used to the contact. I feel a little rusty being out a year and all, but, yeah, kinda like the knee, I’m getting used to it after being out for a year.”
Habib made 23 starts during his sophomore and junior years before tearing his ACL, and was the presumed starting left tackle heading into last spring.
Injured quarterback Daniel Bridge-Gadd has not been with the team this spring as he continues his recovery from a torn ACL that occurred against Northern Colorado in 2018.
Ball confirmed Tuesday that Bridge-Gadd is still a part of the football program but is in the process of solving some academic problems while he rehabs the knee injury. There is not timetable for his return to the field, but with the type of injury he has, it could take until near the start of next season.