JONESBORO — Arkansas State wrapped up its first spring under new coach Bryan Harsin with Tuesday afternoon’s practice at Liberty Bank Stadium.
The Red Wolves dedicated their final two hours of the spring to correcting mistakes from Saturday’s spring football game and to implementing a plan for player-led practices over the summer.
“Today was a cleanup day to get all those little details ironed out, and to just make sure we’re all on the same page because we don’t see each other again until August 1,” Harsin said. “I feel really good about the attention today and just the whole focus of that practice and what we got done today.”
ASU began the transition process from the previous coaching staff to Harsin’s ideas for a fast-paced, run-based offense on March 11. The defense is expected to remain relatively the same with the retention of defensive coordinator John Thompson.
Harsin said he was pleased with the overall state of the team following 15 workouts over the past month.
“I think we did good,” Harsin assessed. “I’ve installed this offense before and I know where we’re at. I felt good about the progress we made. I’ve felt good about understanding conceptually what we’re trying to get done. Now it’s a matter of detailing it up.
“By no means are we where we need to be, but it’s in.”
Arkansas State used the spring workouts as an opportunity for several players to compete for the starting quarterback job.
ASU’s Ryan Aplin, the two-time Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year, was a fifth-year senior and had his eligibility expire with the end of the 2012 season.
Senior Phillip Butterfield, sophomore Stephen Hogan, sophomore Fredi Knighten and junior college transfer Chandler Rogers all took turns behind center over the past month.
Butterfield started with the first-string unit in the spring game while Hogan operated all but one of his series with the first team. Knighten and Rogers played with the second string.
While Butterfield and Hogan appear to be the leading candidates to succeed Aplin, Harsin didn’t reveal which way he might be leaning.
Harsin said a decision and a depth chart will evolve rather quickly over the first two weeks in August when practices resume.
“I thought everybody made strides,” Harsin said. “What I’ll do and what we’ll do is you cut it up now and you watch every throw and you break it down by each individual quarterback. You go back and you really evaluate it. I’ve done that, and to be fair, I think it’s important to do that. … We don’t need to have a quarterback established right now. We’ll need to in fall camp.”
A couple of Red Wolves switched sides of the ball with Rocky Hayes moving from running back to corner and Frankie Jackson moving from running back to Wolf linebacker.
Hayes was a standout performer on offense last year — scoring three touchdowns and averaging over 9 yards a carry. But Harsin said one of the best impressions made in the spring came by the secondary with Hayes providing the help.
ASU’s secondary was not considered especially strong last season after it gave up 2,955 yards and 21 touchdowns through the air.
“I feel good about our corner position with Rocky being there full-time,” Harsin said. “We brought him over from offense. I know what he can do on offense. With Artez (Brown) over there, I felt like from an offensive perspective that it was difficult to throw the ball on those guys. If you can do that, you’re providing the ability for your safeties to be run players to put those guys on islands and then let them go play.”
As far as where the Red Wolves still need work, Harsin said the transition period to the new offensive scheme was far from complete. Things like communication and alignment weren’t always what he’d approve.
He also wants the Red Wolves to be more physical on defense.
“Offensively, it’s in developing the details of what we’re trying to do,” Harsin said. “It’s a yard here and a yard there. I would say our details and our communication with each other is very vital to our success. I think our mentality on defense of being relentless and swarming to the football and hunting in packs — we did that at times but not every time. When we did, it was very difficult to do anything against them.”
Harsin said the only “serious” injury of the spring occurred with lineman Austin Moreton, a redshirt freshman from Fort Smith Soutside. Harsin did not specify what the injury was, but said Moreton could be ready to return when fall practices begin.
Arkansas State spent the latter part of the final workout going over its routine for how players will lead summer workouts.
With spring workouts over, the Red Wolves won’t practice under the instruction of their coaches until Aug. 1.
“I feel like the guys really understand what our message is, what our goals are and what direction we’re headed,” Harsin concluded.