Coming out of the loss to the University of Colorado, the Colorado State coaches wanted to make it clear to their players that nothing on the team was set in stone.
College football is a production business, and the team was not producing. By turning up the competition on the football field, the coaches hoped to instill a heightened sense of urgency in their team.
During Saturday’s game against the University of Texas-San Antonio, there was evidence that some players got the picture, and coach Mike Bobo thought that the increased competition in practice showed in the game. But for the team as whole, it is not there yet.
“We better fight, we better compete,” Bobo said. “If we don’t do that you will not play on Saturday. Nobody, not one position on that football team in my mind has arrived. Like this guy is the man, he’s the starter. I haven’t seen it.”
After Tuesday’s practice, Bobo backtracked a little bit, saying that, yes, linebacker Kevin Davis has “arrived.” But Bobo left it at that.
The first two weeks have brought plenty of personnel changes to this team. The quarterback position has shifted three times, Trae Moxley took over for Nick Callender on the offensive line, and a set group of receivers has yet to emerge either. While on defense, Kevin Nutt Jr. replaced Jordon Vaden at corner, and Patrick Elsenbast started in place of Josh Watson at “mike” linebacker against UTSA.
After Watson struggled against CU, defensive coordinator Marty English moved Elsenbast into the starting role in hopes that the team could get some production out of the position.
The two players combined for 14 tackles against UTSA, Watson with eight, Elsenbast with six. It was the kind of production that English was looking for.
“Pat earned it, and with that being said, Josh answered the call,” English said. “They both played pretty good games. Josh played the way I expected him to play, but it’s the way I have expected him to play for a long time, so I’m glad he stepped up to that.”
For Watson, getting jumped in the lineup pushed him through a much more focused week of practice.
“The competition brought more fight (to) not to give up on what my personal goals are and to not to let a setback keep you back, but to step up and be the player that you are called to be,” Watson said.
The coaches have been trying to instill the idea in the players that no one is entitled to anything. It’s a constant fight for playing time. It’s a constant fight to represent Colorado State University on the field.
Above all, it is a production business.
“You got to produce. You got to have the confidence to go out there and make plays. It’s not what you did last year or what (you) did last week,” Bobo said. “It’s not that I am supposed to be a starter because I was penciled as a starter coming in. It’s about making plays for your teammates.”
For the players, the competition brings a heightened sense of vigilance. Bobo has made it clear that nothing is cemented on his football team. Players have to be looking over their shoulder.
“If you don’t compete and you don’t show results then the next guy’s opportunity is up and they are gonna compete. No spot is guaranteed,” Davis said. “You just have to work that much harder.”
It makes the individuals and the team that much better throughout the week of practice. If the players want that opportunity, they have to earn it every day.
That competition is something that has been stressed since spring camp started, but now it is all the more real. Players are getting their jobs taken no matter who they are. The coaches are not just handing out veiled threats anymore.
“If you follow through on things you say you are going to follow through on they understand it. It’s not just words, it’s not just a bunch of empty talk,” English said. “And then, (as a player), you have to be man enough to take it. You got to understand.”
Take Watson for example. The week after he struggled mightily against the Buffaloes, he had his spot taken by Elsenbast. The same week, he went out and had what Bobo called the best game he has had as a Ram.
Watson understood it, and he used it. Then he went out and produced. It’s what Bobo needs to see out of all of his players.
“We can’t take for granted the opportunity we have,” Bobo said. “It’s not a right to go out there and say I play for CSU and get to walk out on that field. No, you gotta earn that right. You have to earn the trust of everybody in the room. It’s not the YMCA where everybody gets to play or little league where everybody gets a trophy. You got to earn the right to go out there and play.”
Collegian sports editor Eric Wolf can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Eric_Wolf5