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Thursday, April 8, 2004
Updated: April 13, 12:28 PM ET
Depth development a big key

By Jim Donnan
Special to ESPN.com

College football places a premium on player development. Once a young man enters a program, his ability to maximize his potential and the coaches' teaching skills utilized to enable him to succeed are constantly evaluated. There is no free agency, no trades and no time to waste in the five years a player is allowed in a program.

Excellent recruiting and player development make Bobby Bowden and Florida State a fixture in the top 10.
The slogan "Never give up on any player" should be a vital part of every college program. There are varied ways each and every member of a squad can contribute, and depth is a code word for success for every successful team.

Morale is also vital to becoming a dominant group and works hand-in-hand with depth to create a solid team. If a young man feels he is making a positive contribution to the program, not matter how big or small, he adds to the depth of the team and his morale improves, helping shape a winning combination. Players must know their roles and accept them.

During my coaching days, my staff would rate our players from No. 1 to as high as No. 68 prior to spring drills, depending on the number of seniors we lost. Division I-A teams are allowed 85 scholarship players, so freshmen filled out the remaining spots once fall practice began.

A team does not need 15 of the 22 best players from that group on one side of the ball. The staff must be willing to move players around, continually rating everyone throughout the spring and into fall camp.

Besides using this numerical rating of players on our own squad, my staffs always compared our talent at each position to what the best teams in our league had. During my days at Marshall -- when we were Division I-AA -- we asked ourselves if our players were as good as their position counterparts at Georgia Southern or Appalachian State. When I was on Barry Switzer's staff at Oklahoma, we always wanted to know if we could outdo Nebraska, and while I was the head coach at Georgia we constantly compared ourselves to Florida and Tennessee.

The answers to those questions tell a staff whether or not it needs to re-examine its recruiting standards. In most cases, when both players at one position know their assignment and technique the best athlete will prevail.

Those personnel meetings consume a tremendous amount of pre-spring and pre-fall preparation time, and the ability to make the right moves not only in the starting lineup but in the depth behind it can be the difference in becoming a consistent winner or not.

I also liked our players to take the same kind of psychological profile tests the NFL administers to potential draftees. This info was invaluable in learning how to handle individual players. Some cannot be ridden hard and others thrive on it, while some learn easily in groups while others need one-on-one instruction and meetings.

That is just part of getting every possible edge you can in preparing players. To that end, a program must constantly evaluate its weight program, athletic training and rehabilitation staffs and academic support unit. The biggest room in the world is the room for improvement.

Next up will be an in-depth look at coaching the coaches and motivating the motivators: the position coaches.

ESPN.com college football analyst Jim Donnan takes part in chats and makes observations on Saturdays as part of College GameDay Online.