DevilsDigest: Coach, can you give us breakdown on how well each of the tight ends has preformed this spring?
Tom Osborne: "Mike Pinkard is a whole new person than what he was a year ago. He's definitely developed into a guy that can be a front line Pac-10 tight end right now. He's doing all the things he needs to do play well. He's catching the ball real well. He's doing some great things."
"Matt Cooper has progressed better than anticipated. It's difficult to go from a position that never puts his hands on the ground, to getting beat up and scrapped every play. The great thing that Matt has is a great attention to detail. He wants to do well in the worse way. That's why he does a lot of the little things that help him be better. He catches the ball very well, and he has been a pleasant surprise for us so far."
"Frank Maddox has gotten a little better, but hasn't progressed to where we had hoped compared to Pinkard. But he's competing and doing some good things. Lee Burghghef like a lot of freshman is still in a huge learning curve, and isn't performing as well as the other guys. He's a tough physical player, and there's always a place for such a guy. "
DD: Last season, it was quite evident that the tight end was almost non-existent in the passing game. Based on your assessment of the group, can we expect that to change?
TO: "If Pinkard can catch the ball the way he's catching it right now, then yes. Last year he dropped more than half the balls we threw towards him. This spring, we're utilizing his role in tight end more than we did all of last season. He gives us a great threat catching the ball, and if he continues to do well he will be a part of our passing game."
DD: The other group you oversee is special teams. What's your take on their play this spring? Are you pleased with the strides they're making?
TO: "Yes and no. In terms of learning the technique, we're a long ways ahead than we were a year ago at this time. But it's the same old scenario – you can't practice it and be good at it unless you do it at full speed. When you do full speed in practice it's way different than game time situations, which right now we don't have. We got a long ways to go, but in terms of what we're trying to get accomplished, we're doing well."
DD: Replacing a punter like Nick Murphy is monumental task. How is the search for his replacement going?
TO: "It's hard to replace such a good punter like Nick Murphy. We got a couple of guys vying for that job. If the season started today, Brain Biang is our guy. You're always looking for consistency from your punter; you just can't do well four out of six times. It's just like coverage on kicks, if you do poorly on one out of six kicks that can end up costing the game. Special teams doesn't have that many chances to be out there on the field, and even if they do well on 90% of their plays, when they blow that one chance it's easy for people to jump on them and say they're bad. If a quarterback gets sacked, he'll probably have another down to get the offense going. On special teams you don't have second chances."
DD: Our kick and punt return game did an admirable job last year, but this year with some new faces we can probably take it to a whole new level. Do you agree with that assessment?
TO: "We've definitely gotten better on our kick and punt returns. This year we have a lot of guys that can make people miss. Last year, we were blocking people perfectly on returns, but we couldn't beat a safety or a kicker. The number of times that we had an opportunity to score touchdowns and didn't – was astronomical. Now we have some special guys that can do things once they catch the ball."
DD: We noticed that Jason Shivers was returning kickoffs last week. Was that just a one time experiment, or will he part of the rotation?
TO: "Jason Shivers is a guy we're experimenting with. We want to see if he's good at it, and how good is he compared to other guys. He has speed, which we were lacking last year at that position. He can run, and proved that in the scrimmage last week. We want to have 4-5 guys at that position that can do well, and he could be one of those guys. It's hard for defensive backs to return kicks because they don't practice every day all the mechanics of following blocks, and avoiding tackles – like wide receivers and running backs do on every play. We play people as returners based on what they do in practice at their own positions. So we'll see how it goes with Jason."
DD: With a new staff last year, the learning curve on the team was quite sharp. Do you see any progression in that area now that the staff is entering its second year?
TO: "The learning curve on the players is better. We're teaching by repetition. A lot of things we're teaching are familiar to them from last year, so it's not foreign to them. A lot of the guys understand what we're teaching, and how important their play is to the team. That's huge, especially on special teams. In that regard it's a huge plus having players more familiar with what we're trying to instill in them."
DD: Lastly, as spring practice comes to an end have all the goals set forth been accomplished?
TO: "We have some specific things as a team that we wanted to teach during spring practice, and for the most part we got them taught. Now, doing it well in a drill versus a scrimmage or a game is two different things. But in terms of what we wanted to teach during the spring we did real well."
Osborne Likes TE's and Spec. Teams Progression
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