Chris Karpman: I talked to you about this previously; I thought you did a great job with the group in the last year, guys have really just improved tremendously. Marcus (Hardison), Demetrius (Cherry), and Tashon (Smallwood) (throughout the season) those guys particularly really stick out to me. Were you really pleased with how your guys bought in and came along as the season progressed?
Jackie Shipp: "Yeah, I was pleased. But I wasn't satisfied, you know what I mean? I was pleased with how they grew and got better, and all the sudden things started coming to them and understanding different things. So yeah, I was pleased. But I wasn't satisfied."
Karpman: Do you tell your guys or talk with them about what they've been able to accomplish at this point and what is ahead of them in the spring? What are those conversations like?
Shipp: "You're talking about evaluations"?
Shipp: "Well, you evaluate their season. You tell them the positives, you tell them their negatives, and you don't really evaluate but what you've got to improved upon. What's really going to make those positives go up higher? You want to improve those positives, don't be satisfied with them. Then you want to improve your negatives and the areas you want to grow that allow you to be the best football player that you can be."
Karpman: You made some pretty remarkable changes mid-season last year collectively on the defense, with what you did with your [defensive] front. What was that like as a coach? Because you had a Devil-backer, which was Longino, and then you went with what was more of a true (heavier) four man front. What was that like, going through that transition in the middle of the season and how it affected your group?
Shipp: "Well, I'm going to be very honest with you, when you said four man front, with the Devil backer he's walking up on the line of scrimmage and he's a five-technique, a seven-technique, a nine-technique, he's a defensive end. Now is he standing up? Yeah, but he's still a defensive end and a four man front. So that never changed. But what you do [is alter your scheme when] some times your personnel [doesn't fit], or [you base it by] the opponent you're playing. You're playing Notre Dame and you want to put a guy that's Cherry's size over the tackle, because you're playing a bigger physical run team and it makes a difference there with those types of things. So you're still playing a four man front, but what you took was a certain group of players and put your players in the best position to help you win."
Karpman: Talking about some of these guys in particular, how has [Demetrius] Cherry evolved since you've been working with him? Do you see him being a versatile guy moving forward in terms of positions? Or do you want to keep him around the one-technique?
Shipp: "I think he's an inside guy. That's what his quickness is, it's for an inside guy. Could there be a game-plan where you move him to a five-technique in some type of situation? Most definitely. Coach asked him to play on the run and the double teams. But did he play better as the year went along? Most definitely. Could he be better? Most definitely.
Karpman: So what are your points of emphasis with him moving forward, would you say?
Shipp: "Big thing: understand the game better. Understand why you're doing something. Be better with your mental calls, just understand the mental part of the game. Understand why I'm a shade over here, well because the backer is over there. Well why am I moving this way with this kind of backfield set? How are they going to anticipate, and block me? Those types of things. I hate when guys say, 'Well I'm a baller,' well what's a baller? Well I'm going to run this ball [game]. No, [you're not]. Ballers are great players and a great player is a person that understands the physical [nature of the game], no doubt. But they also play with their mind, that makes you a baller."
Karpman: With Mo (Latu) he came on and did well when you had him at that three-technique, it kind of helped shore up your run defense. Now he's going to be moving to the one-tech?
Shipp: "He can play nose [tackle] and three [technique]. But you know, Mo broke his foot and he'll be ready for spring ball but he hasn't had the opportunity to go through any conditioning. So you have to work with those factors but if he goes ahead and does things that we like for him to do from the spring to the summer [he's got a chance?]. Is Mo a big part of what we're doing? Most definitely."
Karpman: With Ami (Latu) and Tashon (Smallwood), those guys just played a tremendous amount and it was new experiences for them, one was coming to college, one changing positions. Can you just talk about what you thought from those guys and how the future looks for them?
Shipp: "They made great improvement. You talk about someone like Ami, he's never played defensive line and people talk about how hard other positions are. But when you walk down and put your hand down and you have bodies around you, and you're right up to the nose with somebody, and the different techniques you have to learn, and the effort and the strength, and one big pillar [endurance]. Watch his endurance, probably those last three games he averaged well over 70 plays a game and if you watch that fourth quarter of that Duke game he made some plays. Then all of a sudden you saw some of that technique coming along even better and better and he improved greatly. Tough. I watched him this morning, he's probably up to 290 something pounds. What did he weigh when he came in 220 something?"
Karpman: Probably 230-235.
Shipp: "Yeah. So he's got a chance to be a very good, and I mean a very good defensive tackle."
Karpman: What did he play at last year? Like 280?
Shipp: "No, 270, maybe around 260."
Karpman: So he's really working towards where he needs to be.
Shipp: "Yeah, he's gotten bigger and he can move, and he's strong, and he's tough. One big thing is that Ami is a seeker of contact."
Karpman: He seems to have a good motor too.
Shipp: "Yes he does, and he likes to compete."
Karpman: Tashon (Smallwood), he's [had to] make a big physical adjustment to play football at this level obviously.Shipp: "What's the biggest adjustment as a high school player going to college, at what position offensive line, defensive line? It doesn't matter what it is. It's the biggest adjustment. Because you're very slim, and like I was telling someone the other day, it's hand to hand combat every play. There's a physical strength every play. And you're coming from high school, high school isn't like college, it's no where close. The guys are bigger and stronger and the game is faster and quicker. And as a freshman, I've seen one, just one, come in as a true freshman and play like he had been there (before)."
Karpman: Who's that?
Shipp: "Tommie Harris [2001 Oklahoma] is the only one I've seen do it. As a true freshman, [he] played nose guard and made all conference, and should have been an All-American. First play of the game, it was against North Carolina, and his first play as a true freshman, he comes off the center and made a tackle for a loss. First play. Then as the years go along, I'm just telling you I've only seen one and there have been a lot of great defensive lineman. A lot of greats. Lee Roy Selmon [1976 Oklahoma, and No. 1 overall NFL Draft pick] didn't do it his freshman year. Will Sutton, a great player here, you know what I mean? It took about two years. So playing d-line, people just expect you to be a ball buster. No, it's a different game [than that]. Now are there going to be some guys that can do it? Yeah."
Karpman: [Tashon] is very quick and did his technique improve do you think?Shipp: "Well that's the big thing, he's quick but here's the thing you gotta understand, he got worn down because he didn't know. He had never played that many games or practiced that much. But the thing that was special about him was that he fought through it. He fought through it, and pushed through it, and did some good things. When you see him doing that, that told me something right there about him. Does his technique need to improve, his hands, his steps? Yes. But will they improve? Oh, most definitely. But did he do a very good job for us, especially for a guy coming out of Fresno High School to playing in the PAC-12? Yeah he did. Did he have some ups and downs? Most definitely. But did he fight through it and perceiver? Yeah."
Shipp: "Yeah, you've got A.J., Wren, and Corey Smith is going to play some end. All those guys are going to be your ends."
Karpman: Boateng, what was it like working with him that first year?
Shipp: "Yep, he's got some very good ability, he runs well. He's a tough kid, he's a tough kid too. Big thing about Boateng is his eyes. Playing defensive line, we gotta keep aggression as we're coming on the field.
Karpman: He seemed to have a little too many alignment [issues] and missed assignments as a percentage of his overall reps, especially early on.
Shipp: "It's all about learning what we're doing, get the call, get aligned, and with Boateng it's with his eyes. He's got to pay attention, quit looking back at the quarterback. Where he needs to improve is fundamentals with the quarterback, playing with his eyes. You don't ever hear about d-lineman playing with their eyes but playing the game of football, your eyes have to be good. My eyes have to stay on my keys, my eyes are on the ball, into the back field, that's the biggest adjustment he has to make. Another big adjustment for a very smart intelligent kid, he should have no problem getting aligned and getting calls."
Karpman: Renell Wren looks physically like one of the most impressive specimens on your roster. Pad level, and figuring out...Shipp: "Same thing. We're talking about freshmen here. It amazes me that people write about these guys. They write them up like they're going to come in to blow this thing up.
Karpman: Oh no, I wouldn't think that.Shipp: "One thing is should he look this good? Is that how they're suppose to look coming off the bus? You're dang right they're suppose to look like that. But still with Renell Wren, big thing, learning how to play the game. I told someone that, the game is still lagging at times and fundamentally playing defensive line position they're playing it at full speed and work with their eyes, get those things down. He's got a chance to be a very good football player."
Karpman: Is Connor (Humphreys) still gonna play at the nose?
Shipp: "Oh yeah, Connor is still gonna play there. I think Connor had to make the biggest adjustment of anybody, college football was the biggest adjustment for him. Now you look at his eyes and you're starting to see the different things he's doing. You're starting to see confidence. Smart kid, tough kid, and you know same thing as some of these other guys, [getting better] at the fundamentals, but Connor's going to be a very good football player."
Karpman: I wanted to ask you about the guys you're adding, so your quick 20 second thoughts on JoJo Wicker, Jalen Bates-
Shipp: "I'll put to you like this, within 20 seconds, we've got four guys coming in. (George) Lea, Bates, Wicker, (Deonte) Reynolds. All of them, very athletic, very good quickness, three of them are actually quicker than the other, then the fourth (Reynolds) is a bigger nose guy but still has good quickness. Deonte. Big and strong. But as the years go, they'll get taller, longer, quicker, faster, these guys showcase those abilities. Great kids, intelligent kids. Did we addressed the needs on where we want this d-line up front, and where we want this d-line to go? Most definitely. Will they be contributors? Most definitely."
Karpman: Wicker was considered one of the big guys in the class, and his film looks really good to me, what do you think about his prospects? Because coach Graham said he thinks he'll be able to play as a freshman. What do you think about his prospects without working with him yet?
Shipp: "I think they'll all have prospects to play, because they're all gonna get thrown into the fire from day one, they're going to be getting the same reps as everybody else and they all have a shot."
Karpman: Okay. I left out (Emmanuel) Dayries, I mean you plugged him right in and he was able to give you some meaningful reps when you needed it.
Shipp: "Yeah, but I'll tell you that he's another young guy, and here's something that not a lot of people know about. Dayries, he sat out a year from football. So he was rusty, a lot of things he was rusty to and the game was different from when he was playing. But he's an intelligent kid, and a tough son of a gun. But then again, he just needs to be more mentally tough and it's the same thing with the other fellas, [get better at the] fundamentals, technique, and great effort."
Karpman: Last question, lots of bodies, lots of competition, lots of probability to play more guys and have a rotation, is that your hope?
Shipp: "Oh yes, most definitely. You want to be able to have a rotation. You look at the NFL, they throw the ball so much now, and some guys are 300 pounds, and to have to for 8-9 plays, nah. You want to keep those guys fresh, you want to be able to rotate guys. Keep them fresh and keep them playing."