When Floyd Keith assumed the head-coaching position at Howard University in January, the former Colorado assistant felt the best way to raise Bison football fortunes was to start from square one on the practice turf.
"We just want them to execute right and get the fundamentals down, like blocking, tackling and the right angle of pursuit," said Keith, whose Howard club is two-thirds of the way through its spring drills.
"It's simplified, but it's not real junky. Our only problem working this way is that it puts you a little behind in your teamwork, but I'm a firm believer in fundamentals."
Taking over a team that posted a 4-6 record, often using three and sometimes four quarterbacks each game, Keith also felt a little housecleaning was in order, from the starting lineup to the coaching staff.
He recently finished rounding out a new group of assistants that includes former Washington Redskin Ricky Harris and 23-year-old Tom Perry, a graduate assistant line coach under Keith at Colorado.
In practice, Keith said, he has shown little preference while getting used to his new team, which has 53 returning lettermen.
"I didn't even look at who was a starter last year and who wasn't," he said. "When you're 4-6, there aren't too many players who actually are starters. When we lined up on the field for the first time, every senior was put on the first team and we worked from there."
one upperclassman who has maintained his spot on the first team is junior quarterback Brian Thomas, who has been impressive in running Keith's basic pro-set offense.
"Our quarterback has to be a multiskilled individual. We're not a strict pass or run football team. He must be able to throw, he must be able to run and he must be able to work the option. He's got to be tough.
"I think Brian has established himself as the starter right now," Keith said. "He's come in and taken command. He has intensity and the ability to move the ball club."
The 5-foot-11, 193-pound Thomas threw for two touchdowns and ran for another, picking up 30 yards on four carries in Howard's latest squad scrimmage.
Last season Thomas completed 27 of 72 passes for 317 yards and four touchdowns while sharing the starting role with sophomore Ronald Wilson and freshman Raymond Gray. Wilson, Gray and freshman Brian Jordan are all battling Thomas for the starting role.
"I don't believe in jostling positions around too much," Keith said. "In our style offense, we might have three quarterbacks play, but we want to have a certain continuity, too. The guy that makes the club tick is the guy that will start at quarter-back."
Greg Banes, a 5-10, 176-pound tailback, is Howard's mainstay in the running department. Sophomore Charles Richardson has moved junior Elliott Boisdore out of the starting center position, Keith said.
On defense, the Hoard staff is trying to find bodies to plug a line depleted by graduation. Thomas Clark has been moved to end from strong safety while Ralph Grimes, an offensive tackle who was injured last season, has been switched to defensive tackle.
"On our first-team defense, there are seams you don't like to see-like missed tackling-but you know, it's a funny thing. They haven't been scored on yet this spring. I think that's a good sign."
Keith is ebullient when discussing team attitude.
"The biggest thing I've noticed is that even when we have a bad practice, these guys have a lot of spirit. They practice hard, and we haven't been easy on them either."
Howard will host its first Bison Spring Clinic, open to all area high school head coaches, April 27-28. The clinic will feature lectures by Eastern High Coach Willie Stewart, Annandale's Bob Hardage and Bill Mallory, former Colorado coach.
The two-day affair will precede the annual Blue-White scrimmage, which closes Howard's spring training.