Devils Digest: Coach, can you talk about the cornerbacks that signed in the 2007 recruiting class?
Al Simmons: Omar Bolden – "He's a huge get for us and has a tremendous upside. He's a great young man that has the skills that will make us look better at this position. He can run, has good change of direction and is physical."
Jonathan Clark – "He's a different type of player because he played both corner and safety, so he has a lot of versatility. He's only gonna get stronger and bigger, he has good coverage skills and he runs well. It will be interesting to see where he suits up. We told him that we would like him to start at corner, but we also told him that over time we'll put him in the position that gives him the best chance to get on the field and help us."
Jarrell Holman – "He's already here enrolled in school and going through the conditioning drills. He's a guy that also has good change of direction, and long arms that help him make plays on the ball."
DD: Would it be fair to say this position was a big area of emphasis in the recruiting class, where you were looking to get not only quantity but quality?
AS: "You always look for quality first. We wanted to sign one junior college guy that had to be a mid-year guy. Then, we wanted to sign one or two high school kids. So we got what we wanted, and we're gonna be so much better in terms of our depth. Now we have a lot of competition at the position that will make everybody better."
DD: Two of the cornerbacks signed are over six feet, and Bolden is pushing six feet himself. Is it just coincidence or was there a clear goal to get physical and taller cornerbacks in this class?
AS: "It's more coincidence, but you definitely like to have those kind of (physical) players. It's good to have players that can cover and also have the size."
DD: There was talk in the off-season that Rudy Burgess may stay at cornerback, but now it looks like he'll be at wide receiver. Are you disappointed to lose him, after he played fairly well at a position that he never played before at the college level?
AS: "Rudy is gonna help our team wherever he's gonna play and we haven't ruled out that he may come in the future and play defense. We'll see how everyone progresses in the spring – not only Rudy, but also the receivers and the cornerbacks. We just need to keep him healthy so he can help us whether it's offense, defense or special teams."
DD: The leader of cornerback group is without a doubt Justin Tryon. How huge is it for you as a coach to get a player of his caliber as a returning member of the group?
AS: "It's always good to have a player like him that had some success. But Justin knows that he can improve and he has to compete just like everyone else, whether you're a starter or a back-up. He did a lot of good things for us, and obviously will be a first-string player for us."
DD: In the limited time he did play, Chris Baloney showed some flashes last season. Is he totally 100% recovered from his injury and ready to go in the spring?
AS: "He's not totally 100%, but he'll be fine for the spring. It's important for us to have him, and also every returning player, get better for us this season. Even the players that didn't play much will have roles on special teams and have a chance to see playing time at cornerback."
DD: With Coach Erickson using the spread formation on offense often, do you feel that in practice the challenge for the cornerbacks group may be greater than it was last year?
AS: "I don't know if it will be more of a challenge. They're some similarities between the offense we had last year and the one we'll have this year. We still have a lot of play action, we want to run the ball first…it might be a quicker pace, but it isn't like the cornerbacks won't see something that they haven't seen in practice before."
DD: On the other hand, how will the defensive schemes that Coach Craig Bray brings to the table change things for the cornerbacks?
AS: "I think we're not gonna overload them (with new terms), so they can play faster. With Coach Bray, guys play more with their eyes so they can be in the right place, read the quarterback…just have a better vision of the field. We'll play faster, so we don't have to worry about what the offense is gonna do, and make more plays."
DD: This year you'll be a special teams coach as well. What specific parts of that unit will you coach?
AS: "It's more like an ownership of the whole staff. The offensive staff will have two of the four units – the return teams, and on defense will have kickoff and punt teams. But just like last year I'll be involved in all the groups."
DD: Lastly, what are your goals for your group as you prepare for spring practice?
AS: "You always want to improve technically no matter where you're at, as well as your knowledge of football. These guys need to compete everyday and challenge themselves everyday on the field."
Q&A with Coach Al Simmons
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