CHARLESTON, S.C. - Two periods of live hitting highlighted the Saturday morning practice session at Buccaneer Field as Charleston Southern football closed out the first week of practice.
On a warm, overcast morning in Charleston, the Buccaneer players and coaches were ready to finally strap on the pads for the first time since the season ended in the first round of the FCS Playoffs.
The Buccaneers held practice as normal for the first hour or so before turning to game situations and full contact over the final periods on Saturday morning.
For rising senior linebacker Zane Cruz, getting those first hits in was one of the highlights as the Blue Swarm defense continues to adjust and learn a new scheme under new defensive coordinator Zane Vance.
"It felt good to be out here and hitting," Cruz said following practice. "It's been a long time since we've actually had pads on and with the coaching changes; it's been a long time since we've had that kind of action."
With the new defensive coaching staff, Cruz has noticed the entire defensive front embrace the change in his final spring practices.
"We're really buying in and learning that we can run something new," Cruz commented. "We're still good out here with new coaches and the new scheme. I'm really looking forward to improvement all-around with our team as we continue into next week and with the scrimmage on Wednesday. I'm definitely enjoying this spring and embracing the role as a leader and emphasizing having fun this year on the field.
Rising senior offensive lineman Frank Cirone agreed the chance to get out there and hit again was also a welcome sight for the offense.
"It was good today," Cirone commented. "It was good to get out here and get some hitting going. I think we're moving forward too. The biggest thing we learned this week was keeping our focus on building our team again. People are playing aggressively out there and we're making sure that we don't lose the team-oriented approach and continue to compete at a high level."
For Cirone and the Bucs' offensive line, watching alum and former teammate Erik Austell go through the NFL Combine and the CSU Pro Day was motivation to keep working hard in the spring practice sessions.
"Watching Erik go through everything this year lets me know that it can be done here," Cirone said. "He was the first to go that far, and hopefully will continue to go that much further. Watching him just lets me know and motivates me that you can play at the next level. It allows me to come out here every day and know that I'm still working and there is still more that can be done."
Overall, head coach Mark Tucker was pleased with the progress he saw on both sides of the ball in the first week.
"I'm pleased with today," Tucker commented. "We had two live periods during the day, took the running backs to the ground, had full live cutting and game situations on the field. Our defensive front very talented and that's what we've been working on the last three or four years. Offensively, we're getting to the point that we know if we can handle the box well against one of the best front sevens in the FCS, then we can handle anybody we have to play."
The Bucs break for film this afternoon as they continue to get ready for Monday afternoon and the second week of spring practice.
"The biggest thing with our film session is teaching," Tucker said. "You'll always learn more from the mistakes that you've made and the why's, than you do the successes. We'll always be in a teaching mode here and look forward to the players continuing to progress as we head into next week."
Along with the experience defensive front, Tucker also spotlighted the receiving corps and tight ends as the groups made good progress over the initial week of practice.
"We've got spots in our receiving corps that are showing everything out there right now," Tucker commented. "Kameron (Brown) and Saire (Davis) are who they are. It's good to have Kenny Dinkins back healthy and running at full speed, and Jared Scotland is a really solid player that can make plays for us."
He continued, "Defensively our line and linebackers are physical and provided good matchups for our tight ends this week. This is the best athletically we've been at tight end and I'm looking forward to seeing them continue to progress."
The Buccaneers are back on the field on Monday afternoon in full pads as CSU continues to get ready for Wednesday's scrimmage. All midweek practices start at 3:30 p.m. at Buccaneer Field and are open to the media and the general public.