UCF’s Gus Malzahn works on ‘championship approach’ to practice, runs out-of-shape players

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Matt Murschel, Orlando Sentinel
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UCF wrapped up its first week of spring football camp under new coach Gus Malzahn in the familiar surroundings of the Bounce House Saturday morning.

Under overcast skies and windy conditions, the Knights ran through 11-on-11 drills under the watchful eyes of Malzahn and his coaching staff. Players were put through the paces, hustling from sideline to sideline with efficiency and speed a priority.

A small group of fans was on hand in the stands to watch the morning activities, hoping to glean any progress the team has made through the first four practices.

“Looking at the first week, I feel very good about our player’s attitude, effort and approach,” Malzahn said afterward. “I think we’ve come a long way in that area since the very first day.

“We have not installed a whole lot offensively; we have not installed a whole lot defensively. That was behind design too. So, we could build a foundation. We’re evaluating our guys and I think we’ve got some good information after the first week.”

Much of what the players have learned so far has centered on fundamentals and according to Malzahn, that includes how he wants to run his practices.

“Learning to practice and learning the approach,” Malzahn explained. “That championship approach that we’re trying to set.”

Junior linebacker Eriq Gilyard said “Coach Malzahn has us going up-tempo, and we’re going out there and doing a lot of great things as far as running and sprinting everywhere. There’s a lot of guys flying around.”

Added redshirt junior offensive lineman Cole Schneider: “He’s a high-energy guy and I love it. I like how our practices are shaped and we’re just — go, go, go, go — and we’re going to get it done and get as many reps done in the time that we have. I’m looking forward to the rest of spring ball with him.”

One of the biggest challenges through the first week is the team’s conditioning.

The players spent about a month in between the old and new coaching staffs and the transition was tough for some, particularly in the weight room.

“We weren’t in great shape and that’s to be expected,” Malzahn said. “Each week they got a bit better. We’re not in great shape now. That even says more about them because they’ve got to push through. They’ve got to get that winner in them to come through and fight that loser in the back of your head that tells you that you can’t do something.

“We strained them. They ran a lot — on and off the field.”

Malzahn said the focus of the 15 practices this spring will be establishing a foundation for the program through all three phases of the game.

“Defensively, we want to play hard and play physical. And offensively, it’s getting good at the things we want to get to,” Malzahn explained. “We’re going to be a downhill run, play-action team with some base pass concepts that we’re trying to perfect. Special teams punt and punt return with the foundation of protection and coverage; the little things that go with it.”

Everyone starts with a clean slate, which allows players an opportunity to prove themselves to the new coaching staff.

“It gives everybody that hope and confidence that they need to be what they can be and show what they can do,” junior defensive back Derek Gainous said.

Another welcome sight for Malzahn has been the leadership exhibited during the first week of practice.

“You can see as the week went on, some of the older guys, some of the offensive linemen and our quarterback, but each practice we’ll see more and more of that leadership step up,” Malzahn said.

Next week, the Knights can expect to spend more time on installation packages and getting into more specifics for each position group while continuing to evaluate players.

Whether that means Malzahn and his staff expect to have a depth chart by the spring game April 10 remains uncertain.

“We’ll have as coaches an idea and a foundation, but we’ll see how that goes with the rest of the group that comes in,” Malzahn said. “We’ll have some kind of order at the end of spring.”

This article first appeared on OrlandoSentinel.com. Email Matt Murschel at mmurschel@orlandosentinel.com.