The news of Tee Shepard‘s departure a week before spring practice might have hit some Irish fans particularly hard. Yet most forget that last year, the Irish were hit with an uppercut that made the departure of an unproven true freshman feel like a love tap. At this time last spring, the Irish football program was knocked to the canvas with the news of senior captain and star wide receiver Michael Floyd‘s arrest for drunk driving just days before spring practice would begin.
The arrest would throw spring practice into a wayward spin, with the uncertainty of Floyd’s status — just weeks after being hailed for making the decision to return for his senior season — permeating everything the Irish offense did. The coaching staff did their best to talk about the offseason work of journeymen like Deion Walker and John Goodman, and focus on the battle between Tommy Rees and Dayne Crist, but everyone with a rudimentary grasp of football’s basic principles knew the Irish offense would need Floyd to survive.
Tomorrow, Brian Kelly opens spring practice with a media session, where he’ll field questions not just about the departure of his talented early-enrollee cornerback, but also about rumored position changes, key on-field battles, and the very real perception that his football program lost a ton of momentum in a disappointing 8-5 second season.
We’ll continue to take a closer look at the starters that need replacing, and the position battles that’ll need filling as the Irish log 14 critical practices before their annual Blue and Gold spring game. We’ll monitor the coaching changes that have different position coaches working with just about every player on the roster. We’ll monitor promising newcomers like Amir Carlisle, who will immediately challenge for playing time in an Irish offense desperately looking for playmakers. There’s no dearth of on-field stories to cover, and we’ll do our best to get to all of them.
But the most interesting storyline of the spring might be be the resolve of the Irish football program. After squandering nine months of forward momentum in two crazy September Saturdays, there are far fewer national eyes focused on the Irish as they prepare for a 2012 schedule that is one of the most daunting in the country.
Maybe that’s for the better.
With a quarterback race that needs to be straightened, a secondary that needs restocking, and a psyche that needs to be rebuilt, some of the best work will be done when nobody is watching. From the looks of the video below, this isn’t a program that spent the past few months feeling sorry for themselves, and they’ve gotten started prepping for a season where they’ll go from frontrunners to underdogs for much of the year.
The 80 degree weather may have made you forget it, but spring officially begins tomorrow. For the Irish, that means putting to bed a season to forget and an offseason spent dwelling on the mistakes of the past. After a winter of discontent, they’ll be more than eager for a fresh start.