Doeren: 'It's Great to be Coaching Football Again'
The first practice of a new season is always special. It was particulally exciting Monday when the NC State football team returned to the field for the first time since spring practice was shut down by the coronavirus pandemic in March.
It didn't matter that the players weren't in pads yet or that extra precautions had to be taken to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, including shields on the facemasks of everybody's helmet.
For about 90 glorious minutes on the opening day of preseason camp, the world seemed normal again for coach Dave Doeren and his Wolfpack.
"It was great to be coaching football again," Doeren said in a Zoom conference with local media following Monday's opening workout. "It’s been a long time since we were out there. The guys had a lot of energy, as you would expect. They’ve missed being together, being on the grass, being coached, competing.
"It was just a helmet-only day, so there’s not a lot to talk about with you in terms of individual performances and things like that. If you give me a week, I can be a lot more detailed for you. ... It was fun to have the coaches get out there with their players. We’ve all missed what we do for a living."
As familiar as things might have seemed, especially with the return of several key contributors from injuries, the first day of preseason camp was unlike anything Doeren or anyone else on the practice field had ever experienced.
All 123 players that were dressed out were required to wear face shields on their helmets, coaches were in masks and the sharing of water bottles was strictly prohibited.
It's "a way different camp," as Doeren described it. But he was happy with the way his "guys have bought into that."
But there's still a lot of work to do between now and the start of the newly reworked 11-game season. The fact that nobody is exactly sure when that season will begin only makes the task of bouncing back from last year's 4-8 disappointment all the more complicated.
"It’s not ideal," Doeren said. "Like I told the team, we are going to have to be very accepting of a lot of unknowns right now. It’s kind of the way that the world is. We can sit here and complain about a lot of things, but the bottom line is that we got to play football today.
"We’re excited that we got to do that. I would love to know who we play, but we don’t. There’s nothing I can do about it. When they tell me, we’ll get our game plan going and start working on that. Right now it’s about us and our team values, our team core values, team chemistry, the install of our offensive and defensive and special teams systems, the football IQ that we can teach."
One thing the staff can't teach is physical conditioning.
But even without the having the benefit of a summer in the team's training facility under the supervision of its strength and conditioning staff, Doeren said he was pleased with the level of conditioning his players displayed Monday.
"Guys were in good shape," Doeren said. "The kids that struggled were the newcomers, the ones that signed in February. They have no idea what a college practice looks like and that’s expected. This was their first time in a college practice.
"The young men that went through the winter program and the beginning of spring ball, they’re in good shape. They look good. Now, we didn’t go out there in full pads. We didn’t practice for two hours. It was helmets and we were out there for an hour and a half. We didn’t push them as hard as we will moving forward. But for today, I thought the returning players looked really good."
Good shape, however, isn't necessarily football shape. That's why Doeren said that he and his staff plan to take things slower than usual early in camp.
One of the big concerns, especially during the early part of the extended preseason set by the NCAA, is that the player are so excited about being back on the field that they try to do too much too soon.
"With potentially losing players to quarantining and all the things that can happen, we want to do everything that we can to keep them as injury free as possible," Doeren said. "There’s a lot of precaution here on our end. It is more about pulling them back. They’re so excited to be out there, so you kind of find yourself refereeing that way.
"There’s been some good recall from the spring. As far as fall camp goes, this will be the most different fall camp for any coach. I don’t care what level of football you coach, there is no comparison. With the precautions that we are doing and everything we are doing with these guys, you can’t compare it to any camp we’ve ever had."