Published: Friday, March 30, 2007
YSU begins with basics
The Penguins won't put on full pads until Saturday morning.
By PETE MOLLICA
YOUNGSTOWN Inspired by a beautiful, sunshine-filled afternoon, the Youngstown State football team officially opened spring practice Thursday at Stambaugh Stadium.
The Penguins, who finished 11-3 last season, spent most of the practice working on fundamentals. Last fall, YSU won its second straight Gateway Conference Championship and made its first playoff appearance in six seasons.
It was the first of two straight days that the team will workout in only shorts and helmets. The Penguins will put on full pads for Saturday morning's session.
"I thought things went pretty good for a first day of practice," YSU head coach Jon Heacock said. "The defense has some new faces and some new terminology to adjust to, but overall it was a pretty good day."
The Penguins have a new defensive coordinator in Jeff Mills, who joined the team this winter after spending the last two seasons as defensive coordinator at the University of Idaho (Division I-A).
Mills will bring in some changes, but according to Heacock, most of the changes will be in terminology.
"We'll still probably used a mix of 4-3 and 3-4 defenses because we have some good players returning up front and at linebacker," Heacock said.
The Penguins lost just one defensive line starter in nose tackle Jim Phelan and are bolstered with the return of junior Mychal Savage, senior Blake Halverson and senior Greg Jacobs along with a handful of bright young prospects.
Misses opening session
Jacobs missed Thursday's session recuperating from an injury, but could be back before the end of spring.
Senior linebacker Jeremiah Wright, who had last season cut short by a knee injury against Penn State, received a medical redshirt, and will return this season although he will compete in any contact drills this spring.
"Hopefully Jeremiah will be back and ready to go this fall, which will bolster our linebacking position," Heacock said.
Offensively, the Penguins must find a tailback and a center, to fill two big holes left by graduated All-Americans Marcus Mason and Ryan Jewell.
Tailback could present the most problems since the Penguins' No. 2 and No. 3 tailbacks last year (Monquantae Gibson and Justin Reams) also were seniors.
That leaves junior Brandon Nicholson, who had 22 carries for 83 yards last year, and sophomore Jabari Scott, who was redshirted last season, but had 31 carries for 134 yards as a freshman in 2005.
No other tailback on the roster has carried the ball in college.
Mellot moved to center
Heacock has moved defensive tackle Brian Mellot, a sophomore from Austintown, to the center spot this spring. He's joined by redshirt freshman Tyler Figueroa and senior Leon Edwards. Edwards will probably play guard if the other two work out at center.
Heacock said Saturday's practice, the team's first in full pads, will begin at 9 a.m. and will include a version of the famed "Hoot 'N Holler" drill, made famous under previous head coach Jim Tressel.
"We're going to have a one-on-one Hoot N' Holler drill on Saturday," Heacock said. "We did it once before and it worked out pretty good."