There’s a great deal of mutual understanding between the players and coaches as the Elon University football team begins spring practice.
After spending last spring adjusting to new head coach Rich Skrosky and his staff and schemes, the Phoenix knows what to expect during its 15 practices this month, the first of which was held Monday.
Skrosky described that familiarity through a sequence where senior running back Tracey Coppedge provided some direction to freshman running back Nick Theos, who transferred to Elon in the winter.
Coppedge pulled Theos aside, telling him where their group was heading next.
“They couldn’t do that a year ago,” Skrosky said. “We’ve established some culture, some protocol.”
Elon will have a revamped roster in 2015 after a number of departures during the offseason. Backup quarterback John Loughery transferred to Temple University, and starting offensive lineman Thomas McGuire will graduate in May and head to Division II Minnesota State University, Mankato for his last year of eligibility.
Also gone is wide receiver Andre Davis (48 catches, 424 yards in 2014) and defensive lineman Robert Davis. Wide receiver Justin Osborne was dismissed from the team for a violation of team rules.
So there are still some adjustments to be made.
The biggest question surrounding the Phoenix, which went 1-11 last year in its inaugural season in the Colonial Athletic Association, is the quarterback position. Mike Quinn, who started all 12 games last year, graduated, and Loughery would have been in the conversation if he hadn’t transferred.
So that leaves two candidates, neither of whom have taken a snap at Elon — redshirt freshman Connor Christiansen and incoming freshman Daniel Thompson.
“Connor has some comfortability about him because he’s been through it,” Skrosky said. “Daniel is a real competitive kid, and he’s got a real composure about him.
Every day, I’m excited when I come in and see those guys. They both love football, and they’re both competitive guys. They have an easiness about them.”
Thompson is at Elon after enrolling early in February, as are freshmen wide receivers Josh Ramseur and Corey Joyner.
Coppedge praised the transition those three and Theos have made so far.
“They’ve gotten out of the fact that they’re freshmen,” Coppedge said. “We understand that they’re freshmen, but at the same time, they’ve taken on the responsibility of being here early. Them taking on the challenge of coming here, learning the playbook and getting thrown into the fire a little bit, I think it’ll be better in general.” Coppedge, who rushed for 663 yards on 182 carries in 2014, feels a greater leadership weight on his shoulders despite leading a depleted running back core last season.
“I can say I’m a veteran now,” he said. “I look at it differently now, as more of an opportunity. I kind of took on a leadership role last year, but it’s going to start showing itself more this year. I’ve had to take a couple guys under my wing. Even defensive players, I give advice to them.”
Senior linebacker and defensive lineman Alexander Dawson said taking advantage of the extra time in the spring to work individually is the biggest focus for Elon.
“You don’t have to worry about an opponent on Saturday,” Dawson said. “You can go back to the film room and take as long as you’d like and get to the details of perfecting your game. That’s something you don’t get as much in the fall.”
The players have some added motivation after losing the last nine games last year and going 0-8 in the CAA. Dawson said the theme has been “Take Action” — “Embrace the Grind” is still around, too — meaning to capitalize on the challenges presented.
“We’ve been using the word “strain” a lot,” Skrosky said. “Over the last year, [the players] took the [coaching] change well. They’ve been positive and very compliant. It takes more than that though. You can just do what you’re asked to do. You have to take it over the top. So that word strain has come up.”