Head coach Mike Kramer walked off Babe Caccia field Thursday afternoon with a smile on his face, one he’s never shown before since arriving in Pocatello.
He couldn’t wipe it away.
“(This was) probably our most productive practice of the year, maybe the best since I’ve been here,” he said. “We were progressive. We were introspective and thoughtful, but also solid, quiet and earnest. Those are attributes I have not seen this team have, and I liked it. We were quiet and we were fast.”
Almost three weeks into spring practice, Kramer is seeing take place exactly what he expected. With the exact same coaching staff from the 2013 season back, the Bengals have done nothing but get better.
“It’s a steady rise,” Kramer said. “Instead of being a bell-shaped curve, our players have a steady rise in their performance. Everything that goes into that performance, whether it’s mental, physical or spiritual, has to increase. From Mitch (Beckstead) to Austin Graves it’s been a steady rise. I want to see us continue to do that.”
One year ago the team spent the entirety of spring practice installing a new defensive system and working in fresh coaches on the offensive side of the ball. While 2013 was spent grapsing enough to get by, 2014 is for polishing and mastering.
“Last spring we were learning everything and it was a lot slower,” said junior safety Taison Manu. “Now it’s second nature to us.”
“We’re in the same defense we were in last year,” said senior linebacker Mitch Beckstead. “Just to know that much more and to have a year under our belt in the same defense makes such a big difference. The mistakes that I was making in week eight or nine of last year, I’m not making now in … spring practice.”
The Bengals made just two small tweaks during the offseason. Co-defensive coordinator Spencer Toone is coaching the safeties (was coaching safeties and outside linebackers) and offensive coordinator Don Bailey is coaching quarterbacks and running backs (was just quarterbacks).
“I like it a lot better,” Manu said. “In our meetings it’s a lot more focus on us and we have more time for (Toone) to coach us up. It’s a lot better with just the safeties in there.”
“They sit in the meetings with the quarterbacks and they hear it from the associated head coach, offensive coordinator, play-caller and their position coach all in the same words,” Kramer said. “That’s made us more mature and more appreciative of what we have to do.”
Kramer says his team has taken on a calmer, more focused approach this spring. He attributes that to his two most even-keeled coaches; defensive line coach Steve Fifita and cornerbacks coach Stanley Franks.
“They’re with those guys every day in the weight room,” Kramer said. “Those two are quiet, taciturn, determined men. Their personalities are really rubbing off on the guys.
“This team is quietly determined, and it shows up in the weight room. We lift quietly. Most weight rooms are loud and noisy. We have good music, but our guys hardly talk. I like our personality.”
With just over a handful spring practice sessions remaining, Kramer hopes to see Thursday’s focus and calm energy remain. And with the coaching consistency his Bengals are receiving, he’s confident it will happen.
“We’re still coaching the dog water out of them, but they are hearing the same words from the same man two years in a row,” Kramer said. “That has a big impact.”