Tuesday marked the first day in full pads for the Missouri State football team, and according to defensive coordinator/associate head coach D.J. Vokolek, that meant business.
“It was a good day,” Vokolek commented. “It was a long day. We had a team session at the end where we called plays from the sideline and we learned from that. What our offense does is a good thing. It forces us to concentrate, get lined up and execute our calls. We learned a lot about that today.”
In addition to the simulated game situation, the Bears placed a heavy emphasis on being physical, Vokolek added, including a back-to-the-basics focus on blocking and tackling during the two-hour practice at Plaster Field.
The Bears once again shifted their attention to positional and special teams meetings in the afternoon with the dawn of two-a-days looming Wednesday.
Right in the thick of the action Tuesday was Vokolek’s secondary, which came up with a couple of interceptions during the simulated game situation. That group, led by a pair of talented and experienced sophomore safeties, will be asked to play a leading role in the Bears’ defensive cast when the lights come on for real in September.
That is to be expected, Vokolek contends, as it didn’t take long for redshirt freshmen Caleb Schaffitzel and Mike Crutcher to make names for themselves in 2011. The tandem made 18 starts between them, combining for 153 total tackles. Crutcher earned MVFC All-Newcomer honors and was named a finalist for the Jerry Rice Award, which recognizes the top FCS freshman in the nation. Schaffitzel, meanwhile, finished fourth on the team with 70 total tackles while starring on special teams as well.
This season, even more is expected of the third-year players, who entered fall camp as the favorites to resume their familiar starting roles.
“Schaffitzel and Crutcher gained a wealth of experience last year,” said Vokolek. “They are tremendous athletes and we will expect big things from both of them.”
Vokolek knows his charges will greatly benefit from the added depth and experience as they aim to significantly improve on a pass defense that surrendered an average of 239.7 yards per contest last fall. Pushing the returning starters and giving MSU needed depth at the two safety positions will be senior Anthony “LT” Lee, junior transfers Art Rucker and Zac Rasmussen and freshman Dalton Freeze, Vokolek says.
Lee finished the 2011 season with 14 tackles, including a pair of unassisted stops in MSU’s season opener at Arkansas. Rucker transferred in from Fort Scott (Kan.) Community College last winter, while Rasmussen joins the Bears from Coffeyville (Kan.) CC. Freeze, a Stockton, Mo., product brings size and versatility to the Bears’ defensive backfield.
“LT (Anthony) Lee is an experienced safety who will play a big role, and Art Rucker is a juco guy who was a wide receiver, and did a great job moving to safety this spring,” said Vokolek.
The Bears will be back on the practice field Wednesday morning at 8:30, followed by a 4:15 afternoon session.