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Bluejays begin new season

Minnesota West running back Clint Jurgens (31) runs through the line during Saturday's football practice in Worthington.1 / 2
Minnesota West head football coach Jeff Linder (right) gives instruction to Storm Soto during Saturday morning's practice.2 / 2

WORTHINGTON -- It wasn't a day for long runs, big hits or highlight-reel catches.

Instead, it was a day for learning.

The Minnesota West football team opened practice Saturday morning with head coach Jeff Linder concentrating on teaching his young team.

"We're young; a lot of learning has to take place," Linder said following Saturday's practice. "That happens every year. The more sophomores you have the better you are because you have naturally built in coaches throughout the practice field that can help."

The returning players stood out during the drills, running crisper routes, making better blocks and helping the younger players with plays and concepts.

"We have a good core back," Linder said. "We just have a lot of learning; a lot of young guys. The first couple of days are always the toughest. The new kids are coming into a whole new system and they have to learn a whole new set of terminology and numbering. They have to get to know the people around them, who they are playing next to, get to know the coaches and all that stuff. There's just a lot."

Practice officially began Friday night with a walk through to kick off the 2009 season.

"We probably spend the majority of the time (Friday) letting our position coaches get used to and get to know the kids they are going to be working with and have (the players) get to know (the coaches)," Linder said. "They learned how we call our practice. When I blow the whistle and yell 'inside, outside,' they know it's the passing shell."

The work Friday paid off Saturday morning. The players moved from one drill to the next with ease, allowing Linder and his staff to spend more time teaching and less time organizing.

Starting the season, the new players went through everything from formations to the proper way to stand in the huddle.

"You just don't want to overwhelm them," Linder said. "That's what we try not to do every year. There's plenty of time to get plays in. The receiver has to know the passing tree; we have to know where to line up in the formation. (Friday) night, we were just setting up a huddle and where everybody stands in the huddle. It all takes time, but you can't overwhelm."

Not trying to put too much on the players, the offense ran just a fraction of the total playbook.

"We do different formations, but we run maybe five percent," Linder said. "But still, that's not a high number. You can't overwhelm them -- if you overwhelm them, they get confused and you're just completely lost for a while. It takes a kid time to regroup and catch him up. Then you end up kicking yourself in the rear because you've moved too fast and haven't let the learning catch up with what you're trying to put in."

This year, MW has an extra week of practice before its first game. The Bluejays are scheduled to open up Aug. 29 against Vermillion on St. Cloud.

"This year we have a week longer practice time, so that makes it a little difficult," Linder said. "We started on Aug. 7. For some of those kids, it doesn't feel like summer is even over yet. I think high school starts on the 17th, so that's 10 days away from Friday. So that's a big difference, but it gives us more time to do some more learning and not necessarily pad up and bang on each other."

Linder expects the Bluejays to be in full pads sometime this week, but not before the team learns a little more about the playbook -- and each other.

"The nice thing is that they are talking to each other within their positions," Linder said. "Eventually it will spread out to the whole offensive unit or the defensive unit and then they'll end up being the whole team. That's what's fun to watch. Even from (Friday) night, the kids were a lot more relaxed (Saturday). They felt a little more confident in what was going to happen."

Linder expects his numbers to be around 50 again this year, providing competition for the top spots and depth throughout the season.

After an off day Sunday, the team is back at it today, inching closer to the start of the Bluejays' Southern Division title defense.