The Western Kentucky University football team took the field at Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium at 6:30 a.m. (CDT) Saturday, the second straight day that it has needed to rise at the crack of dawn to get its workout in.
But, the Hilltoppers aren’t done for the day. They will return to Jimmy Feix Field at 6:45 p.m. for another session on the first day of two-a-day practices. After taking Sunday off, the team will have two more workouts on Monday.
This morning’s practice session focused on the run game, and head coach David Elson thought that the battle between the offense and defense should be considered a draw.
“At times I thought the defense was doing a good job of getting the run stopped and under control, but then we were getting gashed at times and having trouble with different elements of what our offense is doing,” Elson said. “I think it’s a good thing that the battle went back and forth, it means we are seeing good things on both sides of the ball.
“We just need to see some more consistency and get our tempo up a bit in full pads. The grind begins here, and I think it will pay off for us in the long run.”
The highlight for the offense was a 70-yard touchdown run by Andrew McCloud, who burst through a seam in the middle of the field.
During Friday’s first practice in full pads, Elson was concerned with the play of the offense line, however he believes that the unit is already taking steps to improve their performance.
“I think they are getting adjusted to our zone schemes and what we are doing,” said Elson. “We’re young, and we have some guys banged up, so they need to continue to get a lot of repetitions. They have it in them, it is just a matter of doing it on a consistent basis.”
While all teams go through injuries, the Hilltoppers have benefitted by having more than 100 players in preseason camp. With more individuals available than in previous years thanks to the school’s move to the NCAA I-A (Football Bowl Subdivision) level, injuries have not slowed down the team’s progress.
“There is strength in numbers, and with the additional 15 guys that we have in camp that gives us more depth at most positions,” commented Elson. “It also gives up better competition. If someone is out, he better get healthy and back on the field because there is somebody who is getting those reps for him. The higher numbers have done nothing but help our practice tempo.”
Tonight’s second practice will conclude with the team’s first mini-scrimmage of August. The main focus will be on normal-down situations, with a little work on third-down plays as well. Elson and his staff will be watching mostly to see how the players react to live tackling and blocking.
Overall, Elson has been pleased with what he has seen through the first week of preseason practice.
“I like what I see. We have got some good, talented football players,” said Elson. “We’re young in some key areas, but the guys have been picking things up quickly. I’m impressed with our overall discipline, everyone has been where they are supposed to be. It’s a fun group to be around and work with, we just need to understand that we still have a lot of work to do.”
While that may be the case, the team will still have its first day off during camp Sunday. Elson believes the break is coming at the right time for the Hilltoppers.
“We need the break, having classes during the first week of camp mentally grinded on a lot of our guys,” he said. “With the way we’ve been pressed working around class schedules and having gone early in the morning the last two days, it really comes at a great time for players and coaches. We can gather our thoughts and get to see where we are at, and the players will not do anything pertaining to football tomorrow.
“They’ll be able to relax, and then we’ll get back to work on Monday.”
WKU will practice twice after the day off, with workouts currently scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m. and 6:45 p.m. at Jimmy Feix Field.