The redshirt year is a valuable tool at the disposal of college coaches today. With the complicated schemes and continuous weight training programs implemented by colleges' top teams, spending a year preparing the body and mind for major college competition can make the difference in a career.
For offensive line coach Steve Greatwood's recruits, the redshirt year is almost always used. For the big guys in the trenches, the techniques and teamwork that can only come from repetition rarely are ready to go out of high school. Coach Greatwood gave Duck Sports Authority his assessment.
"There is such wide variation in high school football and a way kids are coached," said Greatwood. "I've seen my share of high school practices and some kids have a position coach who is well in tune with new techniques and some guys who show up in their spare time and really haven't put the time into it. There is such a wide variation that you have to look at the raw product and the individual and whether when he gets here I can shape and mold him into the player we need."
Entering spring of 2009, the offensive line was one of the Ducks' biggest question marks. With six seniors graduating including now Seattle Seahawk starter Max Unger, Greatwood had very few bodies to mix into the drills. For 2010 the situation is far different. Not only is the entire starting five returning, a number of players are coming off their redshirt year.
"We will have more depth and competition this spring," Greatwood said. "I don't think anybody has a lock on anything right now. That can be coach-speak every year. But I legitimately believe that if somebody is going to go into it with a half-assed attitude there is somebody who could step in front of them. I don't think anybody in my unit will do that, but if they did, we have guys there now."
Greatwood does not just assume his recruits will redshirt. If they have what it takes and come in prepared, nothing is to stop them from competing.
"My company line is that I want every one of them coming in here with the anticipation that they could be on the field at the drop of the hat which in today's day and age is true," said Greatwood. "Realistically if I could redshirt every one of them I would be happy with that. It does take a year or two to learn everything here and be physically ready with their techniques. By the end of their second year we should know whether the guy is going to be able to help us or not."
One of four players at that stage for Coach Greatwood is Jamaal Burrell. The three-star member of the Class of 2009 out of Dominguez High School in Compton, the six-foot-five athlete is coming off his redshirt year ready to enter the mix.
"Jamaal Burrell has a tremendous amount of athleticism," assessed Greatwood. "The kid can really run. He's one of those kids that needs to gain confidence in himself and his own abilities and physically get stronger. Right now he lacks that confidence to be a dominating player. Does he have all the tools? Absolutely. Is he there yet? No not yet but it's going to be fun this spring. He's going to get thrown in the mix and get his nose bloodied and I want to see if he'll fight. I think he will."
Where exactly Burrell will get action remains to be seen. For spring camp, Greatwood intends to try him just about everywhere.
"He can play any position really," Greatwood evaluated. "He can play guard and tackle and as he gets older I'll force feed everything to him. I haven't tried him at center yet because that is something that will really blow a kids' mind. As he gets more comfortable with what we want you'll see him at both guard and tackle. Definitely both sides of tackle. He spent the last season at left tackle."