In today's notebook: Spring practice comes to Blacksburg and Iowa City, LSU keeps hitting each other ridiculously hard, and Pitt loses a halfback.
The Hokies finally kicked off spring practice Wednesday with an indoor practice session, as Tech's late spring schedule could not avoid a late-season Blacksburg snowstorm. The practice was the first for three new Virginia Tech coaches, including offensive coordinate Scott Loeffler. The former Auburn coordinator was ready to get started:
"It was good to get on the grass and see where we're at. It was a typical first day - some good, some bad and some ugly. We've got a long way to go, but I was encouraged with the effort. We did some good things. We've got a lot of things to clean up. We were playing basketball today. We weren't playing football. We were in shorts. As we go, when we get into pads, we'll see where we're at."
Virginia Tech enters spring with holes at running back, wide receiver, tight end, and tackle to fill. The Hokie defense, on the other hand, returns nine starters.
Tech's spring game is scheduled for April 20.
The Hawkeyes also started spring ball Wednesday, off a 4-8 season that ended on a six-game losing streak. Head coach Kirk Ferentz is hoping to turn the page:
"Our goal is to never be 4-8," said Ferentz. "That's never been our goal and none of us are happy and all of us take ownership. There's not much else we can say.
"The one thing I told the guys is you flip the calendar, it's a new year, a new opportunity. That's how we're looking at it. I don't think it's anything magical that's going to take us to where we want to go. It's a matter of doing the work you have to do and doing it better and the end result is playing better on Saturdays."
The biggest task facing Iowa: Finding a quarterback. 2012 starter James Vandenberg, who was the only quarterback in FBS football to take every snap for his team last season, will graduate this spring, and Iowa faces its first wide-open spring quarterback battle since 2004. Another top priority will be rebuilding a defensive line that ranked 115th nationally in quarterback sacks in 2012 and lost two starters to graduation.
Iowa plays its spring game April 27, though it does plan an open scrimmage in Des Moines on April 20.
When I was a teenager, I played middle school football despite weighing about 100 pounds and having no real desire to hit anyone ever. Once a week, we ran a drill called "The Gauntlet" where a player was required to run down a tunnel of teammates, who took turns teeing off on the ball carrier. At the end of the tunnel was an eighth grade linebacker with a mustache who would launch the runner into orbit.
I didn't like The Gauntlet at all. I dreaded it, actually. But LSU might be the program for those who did, because it appears as if they just run variations of The Gauntlet every day. This is their "Tiger Attack" drill from Wednesday, not to be confused with the "Big Cat" drill or their other variations on scary-sounding-jungle-cat-named drills.
Pitt head coach Paul Chryst, known for his reliance on the interior running game, will be missing one important piece of his offense this spring. Sophomore-to-be running back Rushel Shell has taken a leave of absence from the team and is not participating in the Panthers' spring drills:
Pittsburgh running back Rushel Shell is taking time off from football to deal with what coach Paul Chryst is calling "challenges'' off the field.
Chryst released a statement Thursday stressing that Shell "very much remains a part of our family on a daily basis'' but is not participating in spring drills at the moment.
CBS Pittsburgh is reporting that Shell is strongly considering a transfer:
"We know he's considering it and we know he's pretty much set on it," PantherLair.com's Chris Peak told Starkey, Miller and Mueller on 93-7 The Fan. "It's that next step of putting in the papers."
"I think there are some issues possibly with teammates," Peak said. "I think there are some issues with coaches and some issues with Rushel Shell himself. I don't know to this point in his college career if his work ethic is what it needs to be, maybe you can draw some conclusions after that."
Shell ran for 641 yards and four scores as a freshman. The former four-star prospect was Pennsylvania's all-time leading high school rusher and had offers from many of the nation's top programs, but elected to stay close to his girlfriend and twin daughters. But he committed to former coach Todd Graham, who left the program after just one season.