(STATS) - Samford has been wise to go slowly during spring practice. Come November, though, the Bulldogs will want a faster, finishing touch.
The 2016 season was a success, with the Bulldogs advancing to the FCS playoffs, but it would have been more if they hadn't lost four of their final five games in a 7-5 campaign.
Samford is returning five starters on offense and seven on defense, so third-year coach Chris Hatcher has taken a patient approach before spring practice concludes Friday.
"We have a lot of young guys that were key backups last year that are going to be asked to be starters this season," Hatcher said. "We started slow, those guys had to learn to be the first-teamers, but we've gotten a lot better. Our transition from period to period is much crisper. We're getting a lot of reps in a short amount of time, and we just seem like we're having fun playing right now."
The return of junior quarterback Devlin Hodges, the Southern Conference's offensive player of the year last season, fuels the Bulldogs' bid for a conference title.
An example of backups taking on larger roles is at wide receiver. Last year's No. 2 receiver Kelvin McKnight is back, but first-team All-American Karel Hamilton and Emmanuel Obajimi, who combined for 167 receptions, 2,046 receiving yards and 20 touchdown catches, need to be replaced with the likes of Robert Adams, Jarious Creamer, Andrew Harris and Kevin Marion.
The defense appears a little more stable. The line will be strong, and behind it linebacker Shaheed Salmon and cornerback Omari Williams are the leaders of their units.
"I think you discuss last season in the first team meeting of this year, which we've already done, and then you put that to rest," Hatcher said. "Each year is different. It doesn't matter if you won them all the year before or you got beat in all of them, no two teams are ever the same. We've tried to stress that with our guys this season."