Camp Tontozona Quotes

Following Camp T's scrimmage DevilsDigest talked to Assistant Head Coach Tom Osborne, Cornerbacks Coach Ron English and Receivers Coach Daryl Jackson. Read their observations on their respective positions, as well as the thoughts of two of the most impressive newcomers in camp: WR Derek Hagan and DE Nick Johnson.

Special Teams and Tight Ends Coach Tom Osborne:

DevilsDigest: Coach, tight end Mike Pinkard had a great spring. Do feel that he's riding that momentum wave in Camp T?

Tom Osborne: "Mike has really made so much progress. He's so much better than he was a year ago at this time. He did real well catching the ball in camp. He ‘s doing other things too that can help us win ball games. He's good at the line of scrimmage. He's may be the best pass protector, linemen included, that we have on the team. Not only does he have the strong body, but also the athleticism and good technique to go with it. Mike is really being more consistent, and has it figured out now. We real excited about him."

DD: How has newcomer Jamaal Lewis looked so far?

TO: "Jamal has a lot of innate ability. He's exactly what we thought he would be. He's very athletic but undersized right now, so he's not ready to go on the line of the scrimmage yet. He may have the best hands out of the entire tight end group. He's very attentive and wants to learn. He's gonna be a very good player for us."

DD: We just heard the bad news about Aaron Austin not qualifying. What are your thoughts on that?

TO: "We feel bad for him busting his tail trying to get it done in the summer. He came just a couple of classes short of getting it done…"

DD: Let's shift gears to special teams. Coming into camp punting looked to be a weak spot, but Tim Parker did well in the scrimmage…

TO: "We did a lot of new things with the punting team. We have two new snappers that did very well in high-pressure situations. We didn't have protection breakdowns in 15 live punt rushes. Typically in a scrimmage practice you'll get 3-4 mistakes in 15 live punt rushes, because you can't simulate the speed of the scrimmage in practice…Tim Parker was very impressive, and has made great progress. When you back up the ball at the 1-yard line, with a very condense space between the punter and the rush…and he still was able to kick some rockets. That's when you separate the men from the boys. Any error in technique usually gets your ball blocked, and he didn't have any of those…Brian Biang has been a little banged up but he's been doing OK."

DD: On the other hand, Mike Barth looked great in the kicking game, but that was probably to be expected…

TO: "Mike Barth is THE MAN! He hit two 55-yard field goals like he was kicking extra points. I told my guys that you can never take a player like that for granted. You never really appreciate those guys who score points for you and kick off the ball. But when you don't have a guy with that ability, that's when you miss him. We've been real impressed with Mike."

DD: What is the current depth chart of the punt and kick returners?

TO: "That's an interesting question. We were hoping to get some of that more established in the scrimmage…If we had to play today Hakim Hill would be the punt returner, and Lightfoot his backup. After that they're a few guys in the mix, but they aren't at the level of those two. At kick returner Hakim, Canidate, Lightfoot, Shivers, Randy Hill, Derek Hagan, Terry Richardson, Mike Williams are all possibilities. I would have to say that Hakim would definitely be one of the kick returners. I would say that the second returner would come from Canidate, Lightfoot and Williams. We haven't done enough of kick off returns to establish the second returner. We haven't had a lot of live kickoffs, and its hard to do in practice - You can only get so many reps."

DD: Special teams were really a pleasant surprise last year, especially in the second half of the season. Do you foresee this unit turning in even a better performance this year with their added experience, and more athletic players?

TO: "I think our learning curve is better. Our first four games last year – our coverage teams were pathetic. The last seven they were not great, but very good. We made some changes in what we do this year, how we teach it, and like you said we have different personnel. But there's a lot of carryover in players from last year, and they can teach the new guys what we're trying to accomplish. Hopefully, the fact that things are familiar will make us even a better unit this year…On special teams you're only one play from the doghouse. You don't get second and third downs. You can cover a punt great six times, and the seventh time you screw up you're suddenly a bad punt coverage team. But we feel better as a team, and that's good because we're going to play one of the best special teams in America. We have to line up and play our best, and that's what we intend to do."

Cornerbacks Coach Ron English:

DevilsDigest: Coach, can you sum up the cornerbacks position so far?

Ron English: These guys are getting better. Our position is very demanding, we do a lot of running so we're a little bit fatigue and beat up. I was really pleased with how Mike Davis played in the scrimmage. He played much better than he did the last few days. He kind of hit the wall the last few days, but he really played well today.

DD: You have to be concerned with the depth of this position. It was bad enough losing Emmanuel Franklin in the spring, and today you had a few other cornerbacks, including starter Lamar Baker, out with injuries. How does the depth of this position look right now?

RE: Baker's ready. He practiced the last couple of days, and we're just brining him along slowly. I think we'll be fine, because we'll have our top four guys ready to go in the final week of practice before Nebraska.

DD: An effective pass rush can always help out the cornerbacks, especially in this scheme, which puts them on an island. Have you witnessed an improvement up front that can help your position?

RE: No question. A good pass rush will always help the pass defense, and I've seen a big improvement with the defensive line. But our corners are also more mature; they understand the scheme better, and know how to compete. But the D-line is definitely helping us out.

DD: You mentioned that your players are a year older and a year wiser. But with a lot of new faces in this position, will it make it hard on the corners to improve on their 2001 performance?

RE: We've got guys like Oliver, Baker, and Thomas that played a lot of Football here. Josh Golden will be in the rotation, and we'll bring Mike Davis along. So, we have three guys that have experience. I know we'll be fine and continue to get better all year.

Wide Receivers Coach Daryl Jackson:

DevilsDigest: Coach, how would you grade your position so far?

Daryl Jackson: D-Light is practicing very well; Taplin is doing some nice things. Shaun McDonald is Shaun McDonald. The rest of the group that folks didn't hear much about are doing great. Skyler Fulton has had some good practices. Michael Holloway is starting to understand the offense better. Derek Hagan had a very good scrimmage where he didn't just catch the ball but also blocked very well. So we have seven wide receivers that are getting better, and have to be ready for Nebraska.

DD: Are you surprised at Fulton who was strongly pursuing his own Baseball dream just a couple of months ago, and now is playing Football like he didn't miss a beat?

DJ: I'm not surprised. If you watch his high school highlights, that's how he's plays when he's focused on Football. He chased his Baseball dream, and gave it all it had. But now his focus is on Football. He had a great summer, and his focus is showing. When you look at how he's practicing, you can see that he's being rewarded for his hard work.

DD: Not that this position was flatfooted last year, but the speed of the receivers has really increased this year. Would you agree?

DJ: We've gotten a little faster. McDonald, D-Light, Hagan, and Fulton are all very fast. That's a good thing, because you need speed in this league to win games.

DD: Terry Richardson came to the team with higher accolades than Derek Hagan, but so far it has been Hagan that has been one of the best receivers in camp. Are you pleased with Richardson's performance so far?

DJ: I'm pleased with Richardson and where he's at. He did some nice things in the scrimmage, and showed everyone that he's good as everybody says he is. It's just taking him a little more time than the others to understand what's going on. But he's doing a good job, and he'll be a very good player for us.

DD: Lastly, are you tired of the questions about who will be the #2 receiver along Shaun McDonald or do you enjoy the competition for that spot?

DJ: We're gonna have a very good group of receivers, and teams better understand that they should worry about all of our receivers. Shaun will be Shaun. Everybody last year was talking about the Donnie O'neal show (smile) and then everybody was wondering where Shaun came from. That's the name of the game. You don't have to only pay attention to Shaun, but also to all the other receivers.

Wide Receiver Derek Hagan:

DevilsDigest: When camp started everybody was talking about Richardson being the better freshman receiver coming in, and looks like you snuck under the radar and stole the limelight from him.

Derek Hagan: I don't feel like I snuck in. That's why I came here in the summer, to get a jump on the other freshmen. Working out with the guys doing 7 on 7, running different routes…that helps out a lot. He's my roommate and we're best friends (smile). I know that if he came out in the summer he'd be doing the same stuff I'm doing. It's hard for both of us learning all this new stuff. Not everything is sticking in our heads.

DD: What has been the biggest adjustment for you so far?

DH: Learning my plays has been kinda hard, because I switched different receiver spots a few times. There's a lot to learn from that playbook (smile).

DD: You say that's it's hard to learn all the new schemes, and yet you performing very well on the field. How surprised are you at your early success?

DH: I expected to play this well, because I know I was coming here to practice and play hard and earn a spot. We're all fighting for a spot, so we have to keep on working hard.

DD: I guess you won't be redshirting this year (smile)?

DH: No, I'm not redshirting. I've been playing Football all my life, and I'm showing the coaches I can play. I wasn't planning on redshirting, and I don't want to redshirt (smile).

Defensive End Nick Johnson:

DevilsDigest: Nick, you've been tearing it up in newcomer's practice and in Camp T. You must be feeling good about your early success.

Nick Johnson: I'm feeling great. It's kind of fun here, but it's also lonely here in the woods (smile). I'm having a good time learning a lot of new things. I'm just trying to follow in Terrell's (Suggs) footsteps. I'm trying to get into position to make a name for myself right now.

DD: When we talked before you mention how you were the small man on campus when Terrell was the big man (at Chandler HS). Looks like the little man is starting to catch up with the big man…

NJ: It's catch up time (smile). He's been mentoring me a lot and correcting my mistakes. I like working with him a lot.

DD: Watching you play at this high level are you're just working you butt off or just having fun?

NJ: It's not easy at all. You have to work hard out here. Somebody is always ready to creep up and take your position, so you have to be on top of everything.

DD: As a freshman I got to ask you – how was the hazing in camp?

NJ: No hazing. Just singing the fight song (smile)

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