Offseason is the most crucial part of the year, because it sets the tone for how the season will go. The more work the guys put in now, the better prepared they are when the entire team reports for summer workouts – with that preparation ultimately leading to how ready they will be in the fall.
I don’t need to tell you how important the team’s extra time in the weight room is, so they own the trenches, or how this is the time to work on technique, so when rivalry week rolls around, footwork is automatic, and they can beat out defenders. So I’m going to let SDSU Coach Dan Jackson explain what the Jackrabbits have been doing to be at their best come August 29, 2019.
Q: Coach, offseason is a great time for the athletes to build up their strength and work on technique. What have you guys been doing to hone in on these areas this spring?
Dan Jackson (DJ): Our players have added a ton of lean muscle mass. We focused this offseason on adding functional weight that will allow our players to move more efficiently and also prevent injuries. We are seeing big strides from our young players this spring. They were the ones that had the most room to grow, so it is not surprising that they are the ones flashing.
Q. As those younger guys are working hard to improve, it gives the coaching staff a chance to see which athletes are stepping into leadership roles or taking more responsibility in the role they created last season. What players have you seen take on this responsibility or be more vocal than they have been in the past?
DJ: Adam Anderson has really stepped up as a leader by example. Logan Backhaus has been much more vocal and is ready to be a leader. Luke Sellers and Mikey Daniel have been phenomenal in the offseason, and have the courage to stand up to anyone at any time. Cade Johnson is another guy that has shown flashes of leadership with his effort in practice.
Q: As athletes graduate, younger guys step up and new players come in, you and the other coaches have your hands full finding everyone’s niche with SDSU’s system. In practice, what does the staff do to find the best fit for the open jobs?
DJ: We compete. We have done a lot of drills that consist of a winner and loser. These drills are helping us find out who we can count on in crunch time. Levi Brown has stood out as one player that consistently wins his reps and has greatly improved. I can’t say enough about the player he has become.
Q: Coaching assignments have changed this year, too, even though the core group hasn’t. How has everyone evolved into these promotions?
DJ: We are all comfortable in our new roles. As a staff, we communicate at a high level, so even though we have some new roles, we were able to step in with little to no hesitation. Jason has been heavily involved in game planning the past few years and does a phenomenal job calling players. Luke is a brilliant guy in the pass game, and he will make a difference in an elevated role. Defensively, we have simplified our rules in our base defenses so that we can be more aggressive. I’ve always loved special teams, so that has added quite a bit of work, but it’s been fun.
Q: I know we’re excited to get to see players and coaches alike in those new roles coming up on April 13. The spring game is always a fun time to showcase what the team has been working on during spring ball. As a coach, what are the three biggest things you look for?
DJ: Effort, creating and preventing turnovers, and who makes the play when their number is called.
Q: A big question fans have is who will fill the QB position. What qualities do you need to see develop from those vying for the job, so they’re ready in August?
DJ: It has been a battle. They all look sharp. I’ve been really impressed with the growth of J’Bore Gibbs. If he can continue to improve each day, he can be a tremendous player by the end of fall camp. Kurt Walding and Kanin Nelson have also had their days where they have rose up as the top guy. Matt Connors is an awesome leader and has boatloads of potential as well. We are a long way from where we need to be, but I have confidence in Coach Lujan and his group.
Q: Looking ahead to when the entire roster is present for summer workouts, what do you need to achieve with the group in the first weeks?
DJ: We need to get our incoming freshman caught up to speed. We need to get those guys understanding our base concepts, so that when we start fall camp, they are able to show us what they’ve got. With the new four-game rule, we expect to play many of them throughout the season to provide depth. The first few weeks of the summer are also designed to build a strong base in terms of strength and balance. They get the month of May “off” from our mandatory workouts so we get them back in a routine. They will complete workouts on their own in May. As coaches, we will set up times to coach them this summer as well. We will get one to two hours with them each week to meet and practice football.
Thank you so much Coach Jackson! I know Jackrabbit fans are looking forward to seeing the guys back in action on August 29!