Tuesday Practice Report
From youth leagues to the NFL, coaches use training camp as a time to motivate players into greater productivity with the hope that it will culminate with a championship.

Those messages resonated with JU senior safety Leonard Smith as the defensive back led the Dolphins with 66 tackles on a Pioneer Football League-winning squad last year. But earning another championship ring wasn’t the only motivation Smith had to finish as the top tackler. The defensive back had a friendly competition with then-senior linebacker Joseph Fennell as to who would finish at the top of the leaderboard.

Now, Smith has another linebacker in Mike Klein vying for the honor.

“I talk to Mike about it all the time, so we’ll see how it goes,” Smith said with a laugh.

Smith stood on the hot D.B. Milne Field on Tuesday morning after a three-hour practice that marked JU’s first full workouts in pads. Two-a-day practices are slated to start Wednesday.

“I think it went well,” he said. “We have a lot of kids trying to learn the system. The offense made us work, as usual.”

Eight-of-11 starters return from a defense that generated a PFL-best 29 turnovers in helping the Dolphins to a 10-1 overall record and an 8-0 conference ledger last year. But Jerry Odom, the defensive coordinator, said his unit will look to execute plays more crisply as the practices intensify throughout the week.

Quarterback Josh McGregor and the offense were able to move the ball up-field against the defense in scrimmage scenarios on Tuesday, something Odom pointed to as an area to improve.

“Overall, the defensive line is playing well and the secondary did some good things,” he said. “As a whole, we didn’t play very well in that scrimmage. The offense was clicking but I think we have some young kids who need to learn to compete a little better and clean up the tackling. But I think it’s pretty typical of the first day in full pads.”

After the last two years playing as a starter and three years seeing varsity action, Smith enters his senior season as someone the coaching staff is looking to as a leader on the field and in tutoring the underclassman as to what is expected playing for head coach Kerwin Bell.

Smith has won two PFL crowns (2008 and 2010) in his career and posted a career-best season as a junior after recording 45 solo tackles, two interceptions and three forced fumbles.

“A lot of younger players come to me, and if they don’t, I’ll go to them,” Smith said. “I let them know if they ever need me, they can come to me for football or non-football questions.”

That attitude was noticed by Odom, who citied last year’s senior leadership as a critical part of the team’s success. Now, seniors such as Smith, McGregor, Josh Philpart and Darren Johnson will look to take over that role and assist the coaching staff in keeping the team focused on repeating its success from the previous campaign.

“I challenged our group after practice (today),” Odom said. “Now, we have to see who is going to show up and become leaders. We need guys who will constantly grind and simply not let the younger players be bad.”

With morning and afternoon practices likely coming against temperatures threating triple digits, both players and coaches said working through those sessions will help foster a mental toughness that will be necessary to stave off PFL foes aiming to take down the defending champion. But there is optimism that a JU team that out-scored all opponents by a 464-225 margin and averaged a national-best 42.2 points per game can be even better.

“We have a lot of returning players and our offense is bringing mostly everybody back,” Smith said. “When we work and grind, we have the potential to be even better than last year.”