By Brian Paglia
Nick Davis returned to Riverdale last season with a team rooted in experience. Yet even with that experience - with safety Hakeem Smith who signed with Louisville, with eight others who signed with college programs, with 20 seniors in all that played significant roles - the Raiders missed the playoffs by one touchdown.
Nick Davis returns to Riverdale this season with a team rooted in talent, with significant voids left by the departure of those 20 seniors, but with a fresh approach by his coaching staff to assuage questions left to answer by a youthful roster.
"Right now, we're a really inexperienced ball club," Davis said at spring practice Tuesday. "We have to get a lot better fundamentally and tougher. A lot tougher than where we are right now."
What Davis has found during the Raiders spring practice, which began last week, is the demands a young team places on coaching.
Maybe with a veteran roster, it was easier for Davis and his staff to be lulled into autopilot during practices. They could trust a deep secondary of Smith, Michael Adams, Jordan Simmons, Fletcher Redd and D.J. Smith to identify offensive formations or have the acumen to react instinctively. They could trust Adams and Smith, who both shared quarterback duties in Davis' triple-option offense, to orchestrate the offense, making the proper reads that are so critical in the triple-option.
Davis and his staff could trust 20 seniors had absorbed enough Riverdale football to conduct practices with focus and leadership and to perform during games accordingly.
"A lot of times when you have an experienced group, sometimes you lack in your effort in coaching," Davis said. "I think that bit us last year in just assuming those guys would make the plays. This year, having a younger group, it forces you to give the extra effort in coaching the little things."
With that younger group, Davis has altered the structure of spring practice this year. Where last year the starters were grouped together competing against junior varsity players, Davis mixed the varsity and junior varsity groups together this spring to foster more camaraderie and accelerate the development of the program's younger talent.
"It allows our youngers guys to earn the respect of our older guys, and vice versa," Davis said, "to get to know and build a trust with a kid they might not normally build a bond with because of being on a different level.
"It was tough at first on the coaches, because everybody always wants to coach the starters and feel good about themselves. But it forced us as a staff to really step up our game in working with every kid in our program. So we're excited about that."
The hope is that the approach reveals who can fill the holes at secondary, offensive line and quarterback. That this team's experience can quickly match its talent.
"Hopefully, we can find some diamonds in the rough with some young guys," Davis said.