Utah State senior linebacker Suli Tamaivena echoed the sentiments of most of the veteran players this week at the Mountain West Football Media Summit in Las Vegas when asked about one of the NCAA’s biggest changes in years.
“That’s really nice, I wish it existed back when I started playing!”
Teams can use players in up to four games — any four games — and it’ll still be considered a redshirt season. It can only be done in one season, so you won’t see players pop up in only three games a year. In past seasons, a player’s redshirt was burned on the first snap a player saw. Redshirts also were given for medical reasons.
Now, freshmen can get their feet wet in real game action, and it could have long-lasting implications.
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“Maybe it helps in retention of players. ... We find that kids do better in the classroom during the season than they do out of season, particularly if they’re playing,” New Mexico coach Bob Davie said. “I’m surprised at it, it’s pretty dramatic they did that. It adds some strategy.”
Wyoming coach Craig Bohl said coaches will be “artful” in how they navigate the new rule.
Utah State coach Matt Wells agreed. “You could see fresher teams late in the year” if those four games of action aren’t used immediately, Wells said. Now, all 100 or so players on a roster are at a coach’s disposal, as opposed to knowing 25 or so redshirts would not be able to play at all.
“The rule now allows coaches to manage their team a whole lot better,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said. “I know for everybody on our staff it was like we won the Super Bowl.”
San Diego State coach Rocky Long suggested that players should have five years to play so teams wouldn’t have to deal with the mental gymnastics of making sure a player still qualifies for a redshirt.
Harsin said he will likely track who has played and what guys might be good to save for later, especially in case of injury to starters. He said the team’s second fall scrimmage would usually determine who would redshirt, but it is more important now in determining who will play right away and who won’t.
“If you put a guy on scout team before, it meant there was likely not going to be much of a shot to play. But now, they know it’s always going to be a possibility,” Harsin said. “We have to approach it like we plan to use them all.”
Of course, it’s not perfect. Harsin said he is sure he will hear plenty from outside sources about why a certain player may not be seeing action, to which he noted they may not be game-ready mentally or physically, or may have some off-field reason.
There also is what Harsin calls the “what-if game.”
“It’s a huge advantage for all of us. ... Every single week people will speculate (about) who is going to play and who’s not going to play,” Harsin said. “… You’re going to roll in and a 6-6 freak freshman rolls out there at wide receiver and you’re going, ‘Who the hell is this guy?’”
Harsin said he plans to discuss with his staff before fall camp starts Aug. 3 just how they plan to attack the changes to best suit them.
He did say, for example, he intends to see what true freshmen running backs Andrew VanBuren and Danny Smith can do in a game, along with the gaggle of incoming freshmen receivers.
“I’m excited. Let’s use it to our advantage,” Harsin said.