“I love it when a plan comes together” was the refrain used by Col. Hannibal Smith, a character in the popular show reprised in a 2010 movie.
Near the start of his third season as head coach, Thomas has watched offensive line coach Ben Norton capitalize on the Demons’ recruiting strategy to develop quality depth up front. Nine lettermen, including three full-time starters and two other players who have at least one start, are gearing up for O-line duty when NSU opens the season at home Thursday, Sept. 3, in the “White Out Game” at Turpin Stadium against Southeastern Louisiana.
“We have size, mobility and depth. We’ve worked very hard to develop quality depth and you can see it with the guys in layers from class to class,” said Thomas Monday morning after the Demons’ two-hour workout in shorts and shoulder pads on the coolest morning of preseason camp. “We’re beginning to get where we’re two deep with some change, finally, and that’s really ideal.”
“There’s a lot of veteran guys back, and as a unit, we’re looking good, but we have to take something and get better at it each day,” said senior right tackle Delryn Wilson. “If we improve on something each day, we’ll be good to go on Sept. 3.”
Junior guard Terrance Boyd said the Demons’ big guys up front hone in on the little things daily.
“None of our group is complacent, and we come to work hard every day,” said Boyd. “Our biggest thing is to improve on the little things every day. This is the best offensive line group we’ve had since I’ve been here. We’ve picked up the nuances of Coach Norton’s offense and we’re honing in on the techniques. We have a lot of veterans back so everything goes pretty smoothly.
“Our mantra is to get better at one thing every day. We’ve got to keep hammering at it.”
Senior left tackle Pace Murphy, whose All-Southland Conference performance and 6-6, 296-pound frame has NFL scouts on notice, likes the collective effort he is seeing.
“We’re as far along as we’ve ever been. Across the board, everybody knows what they’re doing, we have really good fluidity. We communicate well and we’re just one group. We’re not five guys, we’re one offensive line, and that’s stood out through camp,” he said.
The experience back provides the chance for Norton, also NSU’s offensive coordinator, to expand the playbook which produced 30 school records in 2014.
“We’ve had a lot of diversity in the looks that we haven’t been able to get to in the past,” said Murphy. “We’ll be a lot more multiple than we have been and I think that will be hectic for the defenses and good for the Demons.”
Ever the perfectionist, Norton is pushing to assure NSU’s O-line depth is what will be needed for a demanding 2015 schedule.
“We’ve got one solid front unit. I feel really good about the first five, and after watching the scrimmage film from Saturday, we’re working toward who will be our 6-7-8-9 guys. Our ones did a really nice job working together, and we saw flashes from the second group of who can step up for us,” Norton said.
He is pleased with the group of 17 linemen in camp, a blend of veterans, redshirts and newcomers, some who have quickly made an impression in the last two weeks.
“It’s been a nice surprise, some freshmen who are almost game-ready as far as being physical. Learning our system, learning the speed of the game at the Division I level, that is an adjustment that is continuing and right now they’re getting their lunch eaten at times,” he said. “They’re competing and it’s going to be a real good signing group for us.”
After watching the tape of Saturday morning’s 88-snap scrimmage, 53 plays at thud tempo with no tackling, Thomas said it was a good evaluation tool. Another scrimmage is set Saturday.
“There was some really good, and some that was subpar. We realize that and at this stage of camp, it’s what you expect,” said Thomas. “Coach (Daryl) Daye has the defense running to the ball and the defensive line performed really well. Our linebacker play is getting more steady and we’re working to solidify positions on the back end.
“All the quarterbacks played well in general, had some good plays, a few mistakes to clean up. The O-line and the D-line are performing well for us and that’s where success starts.”
NSU went through its third two-a-day practices Monday, following the morning workout with an 8 p.m. session in shorts and helmets. Full pads go on Tuesday morning at 8.