MUNCIE – It's debatable how much somebody can take from watching just one of what will be upward of 80 football practices in a season. However, Ball State defensive coordinator Jay Bateman liked a lot of what he saw out of his players Wednesday.
The Cardinals opened training camp with a spirited two-plus-hour practice at Scheumann Stadium, and one facet of that defensive group caught the veteran coach's eye.
“As a coach, you always see some things that you don't like and some things that you do like,” Bateman said. “The one thing that I will say is that I think that we are pretty fast.”
The Cardinal players continued to make strides in their offseason strength and conditioning program to the point that head coach Pete Lembo joked recently that many of his players would be glad to get away from Ball State strength and conditioning coach Dave Feeley and his sadistic workouts. But those workouts – coupled with players maturing and some new talent recruited – have made for a better unit overall according to Bateman.
“I think that we are more athletic than we have been,” Bateman said. “We'll run around a little bit better than we did. We're going to play harder because we know that we're doing a little bit better than we did. You're going to see a much improved unit out there this fall.”
Improvement is needed from a group that allowed 34.7 points per game. That number was better than only Central Michigan and Akron in Mid-American Conference games, and in yards allowed, the Cardinals' 521.6 in MAC play was dead last.
“It wasn't very good,” Bateman said. “But when you create turnovers and you give up fewer points, you're going to play good on defense. That's what we focus on. Yards (allowed) are going to come sometimes, but we think that we are faster, we think that we are going to play a little bit smarter and we're going to play a little bit harder.”
Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy built his defenses around fast players, and Bateman has a similar belief.
“Speed kills,” Bateman said matter-of-factly. “Speed is like being pretty. You can never be too fast and you can never be too pretty.”
Exactly who are those fast players who will see the field has yet to be decided at some of the positions according to Bateman. He mentioned that his priority leading up to the Aug. 30 season opener against Eastern Michigan will be to solidify his depth chart.
“Last year we didn't have enough kids that could play,” Bateman said. “We need to identify 20 to 25 kids that can go into a football game and play defense, and we are on our way to doing that.”