By BEN JOHNSON
Some schools use spring practice as a period to move quickly through drills. That’s not Northeastern State right now.
Under recently-appointed head coach Rob Robinson, the RiverHawks have come to a grinding halt while players learn a new system.
“That’s kind of what we’re doing for this year,” Robinson said. “Once you get your base offense installed and I don’t even have to teach it, then, yeah, you’re going to work on some other stuff. But for now, we’re taking things slow.”
With the learning curve still intact, NSU will ease into its annual spring game, which is slated to be held at Doc Wadley Stadium on Saturday at 2 p.m. The event this year will consist of less of a game and more of what a basic practice session looks like.
Robinson said the lack of roster size is the cause for not splitting the club into two teams for a simulated game.
After spending more than the last decade at Washburn, Robinson has had to adjust from being the offensive coordinator of the Ichabods to the head coach of the RiverHawks.
“There was one instance where I was going to say something because the offense did really good, and you’re thinking, ‘wait, I’m the head coach now,’” Robinson said. “I used to have a lot of fun with the defensive players. We would talk back and forth and just have a great time with it. They’d throw some barbs at me, and now I have to make sure the defensive players know I have their back. At the end of the day, they have to know that I’m not just an offensive coach and that I trust them over there.”
As for NSU’s spring feature on Saturday, here are some things to look for:
• Who will take the most snaps at quarterback? After starting quarterback Johnny Deaton went down with a leg injury early in the 2013 season, Thor Long and Cory Meadors took over under center. Long is back to challenge Deaton for the starting spot, and so is Kevin Pantastico, a transfer from Phoenix College in Arizona.
“It’s a wide-open competition,” Robinson said. “Kevin is going against Johnny and Thor right now, and they’re all doing some pretty good things. We also have another curveball in there. Hayden Sharp is a kid that was a Yankees draft pick, and after three years with him he came back. We’re hoping he gets another shot with (the Yankees), because that’s a cool deal for him. But he’s come in and has done some good things.
• Will running back Joel Rockmore participant at all? After suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament against Missouri Southern in the second game of the 2013 season, Rockmore has been sidelined for the RiverHawks. That’s not expected to change at any point this spring.
“We’re not doing anything with Rock in the spring,” Robinson said. “There’s no reason for us to do it. We know what he’s capable of.”
Terrance Dixon will likely get the majority of the reps with Rockmore out. Steven Hooper is also in the mix.
• Who fills the void left by All-American linebacker Langston Jones? Replacing Jones’ 141 tackles and the rest of his intangibles won’t be easy for the RiverHawks. But Robinson has some guys in mind who might be up to the task.
“Kenneth Davis is a young linebacker that has made a lot of plays,” Robinson said. “I think if we get him fundamentally sound and we keep him locked in one position — probably at that mike backer — you’re going to see his name in the paper quite a bit. He’s a powerful, powerful kid.”