RUSTON - Louisiana Tech was able to wear shoulder pads in practice for the first time this fall and the players responded with an added level of excitement and enthusiasm as the first opportunity to hit someone presented itself.
The ability to wear pads and to hit someone overshadowed the hot temperatures for most of the players in the two hour session out on the Tech Practice Fields.
"We changed some things around with what we were doing from a practice standpoint, really creating a lot of intensity, excitement and enthusiasm in practice today. I thought some guys were flying around," said head coach Skip Holtz of the team's third practice of fall camp.
Lack of consistency maintained its grasp of the offense as several new players continue to learn and refine new roles and new plays. The loss of several players to graduation, particularly at receiver and offensive line, as well as four new quarterbacks on the roster have yielded some growing pains early in camp.
"We are just incredibly inconsistent," Holtz explained of the offense. "We have had some guys make some really good plays but just really inconsistent right now and that's where we need to keep working on it. That is why we have 26 practices left before our first game. I like the attitude, I like the intensity, I like the way they are flying around out there and the way they are hitting. It was a physical day out there in our first day in pads."
The challenge to that inexperienced offense as it is learning and growing is it is facing a challenging defense that is not giving them any free passes.
"Our defense isn't exactly a static, sit still type of defense so you are teaching your blocking schemes to advanced calculus instead of two plus two equals four," Holtz explained. "You don't get to start at the beginning. I don't want to do anything to limit our defense's growth or their progress just so our offense can have some false success right now."
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"We are going to be a relentless defense," said defensive line coach Oscar Giles, echoing Holtz's thoughts. "Based on what Coach Diaz has done in the past, we are going to move around and we need guys that can move and are agile."
Part of the ability to be a relentless defense starts with the tremendous amount of depth up front on the defensive line. The defensive line could be a position thought to be a work in progress after losing two players to the NFL Draft and another two following graduation but the depth at the position gives Giles and the defensive staff plenty to work with.
"It is always a work in progress but I am really excited with what we have," Giles said of the defensive line. "When I came in here in the spring, Coach [Stan] Eggen and those guys from the last couple years have done a great job of recruiting defensive line. I just don't want to mess it up. I think they have done a great job of bringing guys in here. I just want to continue the development of these guys. We have some young guys at the inside position and I want to continue to develop those guys and put them in a position where they can help us."
Even fifth-year senior Houston Bates, a recent transfer from Illinois, remarked at the depth on the line.
"We have some depth," Bates said. "At Illinois we didn't have that depth, it was just the front four we were playing with. Here we have some depth and that is going to be key, especially going through a 12 game season. It is very long. I have been through four of them and they are all very long. Having depth and guys like [Vontarrius] Dora and [Andre] Taylor, they are going to help us out very much."
Bates - a native of Covington, Louisiana - earned his bachelor's degree at Illinois in May and decided to transfer closer to home for his final year of eligibility. He came into the program having some familiarity with Louisiana Tech as he was on the Illinois team - albeit injured and not available for the game - when the Bulldogs traveled to Champaign, Illinois and handed the Illini a 52-24 defeat at Memorial Stadium.
"Not being able to play," Bates recalls of that game. "I was injured that game with a sprained ankle. I just remember walking off the field in disbelief because, not bashing Louisiana Tech, but we weren't supposed to lose that game and they [Louisiana Tech] came up there and took it to us. I was just in awe. I try and remind the guys here that I didn't play in that game but they still remind me they came up there and crushed us [Illinois] pretty good."
Fall camp continues for the Bulldogs on Thursday afternoon with another mid-afternoon practice in shells.