For Texas Tech coach Matt Wells, the upcoming first day of preseason football camp finally brought the promise of familiar territory.
Tech actually has an opening opponent (Houston Baptist on Sept. 12, a one-game contract with a $400,000 guarantee) and will soon be going through what passes for real, honest-to-goodness football drills. Wells even did the math, noting that it’s been 147 days since the Red Raider men’s basketball team was pulled off the court in Kansas City ahead of the cancellation of the Big 12 tournament. The football team had a scrimmage later that day that bit the dust, as did pretty much all events shortly after.
As Wells addressed media Thursday on a Zoom call, he acknowledged that Friday will be light years apart from any of the opening practices that preceded it during his career.
To put a COVID-19 twist on an old coaching cliché, it is what it isn’t.
“It’s as close as to what we do — coaching and playing — and none of us have been able to do it for close to five months,” Wells said.
“Normal? This whole year will not be normal.”
Even when Tech was going through the two weeks of walk-throughs sans pads allowed under new NCAA guidelines, part of it was getting used to new helmets with shields and splash guards for the mouth.
Only every other locker in the facility is occupied to account for social distancing. The training room has plenty of room between the tables.
“We’re going to do everything right,” Wells said. “We’re going to have a mix of virtual meetings and in-person meetings. We’re going to have a mask on at all times.”
Things can and almost certainly will go wrong.
Wells is still working his staff’s line of succession should he be diagnosed with COVID-19 and have to quarantine.
“We’ve got plans in place and are in the process of finalizing those plans with alternative plans for when we get sick because it’s probably going to happen,” Wells said. “There are going to be some things out of our control.”
With all those factors in play — think of a college football team as a game of Jenga just waiting for one supporting block to fall — Wells is trying to improve on last season’s 4-8 finish (2-7 in the Big 12) in his first season in Lubbock.
“The bottom line is we have to earn ways to win,” Wells said. “We have to win games. I’m certainly aware of that. We’ve addressed that ad nauseam over the summer and the quarantine period.”
Having quarterback Alan Bowman stay healthy would be one key element.
After throwing for 2,638 yards and 17 touchdowns in an injury-shortened 2018 season, Bowman suffered a collarbone injury in the third game of the season at Arizona and didn’t play again.
Wells said Bowman would be taking the first snap if the season began today but still has to earn the No. 1 spot.
Then factor in 40 newcomers by Wells’ count between graduate transfers, junior college transfers, scholarship recruits and preferred walk-ons. Wells has two scrimmages planned that should help sort out the depth chart.
Safety Eric Monroe (LSU), offensive tackle Josh Burger (Wofford) and running back Chadarius Townsend (Alabama) could all contribute quickly. Monroe has impressed Wells.
“We got better the minute he walked into the complex, in a lot of ways,” Wells said.
Yeah, it’s football talk, something that has been missing and should be appreciated.
“I think we’re going to be reminded every single day it’s not normal,” Wells said. “Matt Wells has to have a shield on in practice or a mask. Yeah, that’s not normal.”