CLARKSVILLE, Tenn.—A week after being announced as Austin Peay State University’s new football coach, Kirby Cannon will get a chance to see his team on the mega-grass turf for the first time when spring practice begins, 3:30 p.m., Tuesday, in Governors Stadium.
“We want to make sure the first practice had a purpose, it was organized, the kids were ready for it, the coaching staff was ready for it,” Cannon said. “We did put if off a week. We are really ready to go now.
“We have had a couple of team meetings, discussing philosophy, how to practice and what the expectations are from coaches to players and players to coaches. We are ready to practice.”
Cannon has spent time not only meeting with his coaches but as well meeting each player one-on-one, getting them to not only understand him but for the new coach to understand the players and their expectations within the program. Now it is time to hit the field.
“Initially, I want this team to practice with the pace and the intensity that I know leads to wins,” Cannon said. “We want to teach them how to practice. We are not bogging them down with a lot of thinking—real base packages, base calls, just try to make them move and make them practice like champions.
“One of the goals we talked about in our team meeting was practicing like a champion before you can be a champion.”
Cannon takes over a Governors team that returns much of their offensive and defensive personnel from a 2-9 team a year ago. With the recent retirement of linebackers coach Gary Shephard, APSU’s new head man will coach that position this spring, working with defensive coordinator Granville Eastman (secondary) and line coach Pat Donohoe.
Two changes have occurred on the offensive side. Former running backs coach J.D. Sellers has shifted to working with the Govs quarterbacks—Sellers was a quarterback for the Governors during his playing days before injury curtailed his career. In addition, Paul Derrick, who has coached cornerbacks the last two seasons, has been moved to offense and will work with the running backs.
The remainder of the offensive coaching staff is the same, with Jason Palermo handling the offensive line and Marcus Gildersleeve the wide receivers.
Although the Governors return four of five offensive line starters along with running backs Terrence Oliver and Reco Williams. But the Governors will have to replace star quarterback Jake Ryan, who passes for more than 2,000 yards last season, and standout receiver Devin Stark, who caught 10 TD passes a year ago. Redshirt sophomore Jacob Sexton, who served as backup to Ryan a year ago, is in line to step in will
Defensively, the Governors basically return the entire lineup intact, although some position changes could be forthcoming for some of the returnees.
Cannon, however, is more worried about the Govs understanding their respective responsibilities on the field than any possible schematic changes this spring. In fact, the new head coach may tweak things on both sides of the football but will leave intact, for the most part, what already is in place.
“We don’t want to waste any practice opportunities,” Cannon said. “They all are very precious. Throw a few away or waste any of them sets you back for the fall. We think can get better at several things on both sides of the ball, but we are going to make sure we have our base run defense and base run (offensive) plays well known and well-executed.
“We want our short-yardage packages—if we can get people into a possession down, we want to make sure our kids have played our short-yardage calls many times and executed them. If you can get first downs, you will get touchdowns.
“Short-yardage ability, pass protection and blitz responsibilities are important to us. If we can get those three things done and do a lot towards mind molding as I call it, spring practice will be very successful and the kids will hit the summer with a real foundation of success both tactically and mentally.”
With Austin Peay hosting a track meet, Saturday, the football Governors will practice just twice the opening week, the second time occurring 3:30 p.m., Thursday, before returning to the practice field, 3:30 p.m., next Monday.