It implies a start from scratch with hardly any material to work with and can be the easiest crutch to clutch when things start going badly.
But that effectively is what Crowe and the Gamecocks will be doing with their defense when spring practice opens in earnest next week.
The run-up to the workouts start Thursday, but the real heavy lifting doesn’t commence until next Tuesday. That’s when the molding of the dominant defense the Gamecocks desire to play will begin.
“We always had young places, and we’ve got some young places on offense, but we don’t have anything but young places on defense,” Crowe said. “There’s just nothing there that has any consistency you can predict what you’re going to be.
“Generally, I’d say we’re rebuilding. It’s a hated word, but we’re rebuilding on defense. We’re almost at a state where the players have their names on a piece of tape on front of their helmets. We’re not quite there, but we are rebuilding a defensive football team.”
The Gamecocks aren’t completely devoid of experienced veterans on that side of the ball; nose tackle Dimetrio Tyson, flexbacker Keggie Harris and safety/special teams captain Brooks Robinson have a combined 94 games played and 40 combined starts. And it’s not like the players who’ll be around them haven’t played before.
While the rest of the defense may have been exposed to what the Gamecocks were trying to get done, most were on a fast developmental track last year and had to play out of sheer emergency.
And, let’s face it, the transition to the more cerebral approach new defensive coordinator Chris Boone wanted to install wasn’t smooth. It didn’t catch on until, maybe, the last two games of the season after the Gamecocks blew their shot at the OVC’s automatic playoff bid.
Despite the shortcomings of the defense, Crowe saw glimpses along the way “to know we did exactly the right thing” in implimenting the approach.
The plan now is to be halfway developed by the April 14 spring game. It will still be a work in progress into fall camp.
“It started off way behind what I thought it was,” Crowe said. “Take the first drive against UT Martin. It was like, ‘Who the heck is that playing defense?’ That is not what I saw at practice. The message was there may have been exposure, but not integration with the players into what we were doing. We had to learn how to play defense all over again and had a couple guys get hurt through that.
“We were a defensive football team when it came to it; when we didn’t hold up our end on defense, we got beat. The last two games were clearly defined by the defense. We merged people into our system and they became one, so I think we have that starting place with just the system and the coaches to coach it, but I think (when) we draw up a depth chart you’re going to have eight of the 11 positions with names and no separation to make a depth chart.”
Here are a few other items of note related to JSU’s spring:
• Don’t expect Marques Ivory to be “fully involved” in spring practice until after the team returns from spring break. Although Ivory reports everything’s fine, the Gamecocks still want to take it slow as the quarterback comes back from the fractured fibula that ended his year in the season opener. In the meantime, look for Stephen Coates to get “a lot” of work.
• Defensive back Francis Duncan underwent off-season shoulder surgery and won’t participate in spring practice. The rising senior played in all 11 games last season and had 33 tackles and an interception.
Others expected to be limited or out include OL Odie Rush, LB James Powell, DL Jakari Kinnie and LB Tanner Robertson.
Rush, a preseason All-OVC pick, suffered a fractured fibula like Ivory in the first scrimmage of fall camp. Robertson, a midyear JUCO transfer who played two games last fall, is being evaluated for an undisclosed medical situation.
• In the closest thing to an experiment this spring, Harris will move back to safety. That was his position, but he was moved to linebacker in the new system. Where the winds up will be determined by where he’s best suited to make the most plays.
• The Gamecocks will have three scrimmages in the spring: March 17, the spring game and a “floating” weekday scrimmage a few days after they return from spring break. All are open to the public.
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.