Joe Robinson: "Like every other position on the team, we're certainly expecting this position to improve. By the second spring I thought we looked like a completely different ball team. I think a lot of the work they've done weightlifting has paid off. At the defensive end position we're obviously very happy. We have two starters who are going to be seniors. That's a good position to be in.
Cat Tracks: Who are you looking at to be the starters this year?
Joe Robinson: "Marcus Smith will be starting for us again at the left defensive end position. Marcus has tremendous talent. He's also a very smart player. He's very knowledgeable of our overall scheme. Marcus has transformed his body in a lot of ways. He's at about 270, 275. At his position that's tremendous. Marcus is really working on improving himself as a pass rusher, and we have to have him for productivity. He continues to improve from a technical standpoint.
"The other starter will be a senior, Copeland Bryan, who was originally a walk-on here. He's really worked his tail off over the years to be one of our better defensive players. Copeland is about 247 right now, but he has unbelievable quicks. Tremendous guy in terms of pass rush. He played in a limited role last year behind Andre Torrey, but we expect him to step up this year.
"They're guys who are never in trouble in the classroom. All of our fans can be proud of these guys as the types of guys who represent this university. We're looking for a big year."
Cat Tracks: The unit seems to be deeper this year. Last year you rarely went to the bench.
Joe Robinson: "Into the second group this spring is sophomore Jason Parker. He didn't get much of a chance to play last year, but we've got to be able to develop a two-deep. Jason has to come on and develop and make big plays. From a technical standpoint he needs to get better, but he looks like a playmaker. The other guy in the second group is Johnathan (Turner). Johnathan has great athletic ability, terrific feet. Jonathan is quick, he can change direction. We're going to see a lot of good things from him over the next four years.
Cat Tracks: Are you counting on any of the incoming freshmen?
Joe Robinson: "I'm hoping that our program is moving to the point where we're not going to talk about counting on freshmen, but if they're as athletic as we think they are, maybe they have an opportunity. Garrett Fields is already here with us and he's doing a great job. He's 248 right now, tall kid, really looks the part. We are very impressed with his quickness. He'll get the first look.
Donald (Horton) is another guy with tremendous quickness. We'll be counting on that. Mike Shelton will get an opportunity to compete. If any of those guys can crack into that two-deep then they'll play this year.
Cat Tracks: Horton played nose tackle in high school. Is there any special challenges in him learning to be an end?
Joe Robinson: Donald has an advantage in that the run defense he played will serve as well. As far as pass rush it will be a foreign thing from what he did in high school, so that's a transition he's got to make. We can talk about transitions for all the high school kids, in one area or another. We want our program to get to the point where we don't have to count on any of those guys to come in and play.
Cat Tracks: Last year the starters took the bulk of the snaps. Was that by design or by necessity? How many snaps would you like to see guys get this year?
Joe Robinson: "Our starters played way too much last year. If a normal game is 80 plays, we'd like to play our starters 50, maybe 55, and another guy 25 or 30, and possibly a fifth guy would get some reps in there. That way you can also develop more depth. We had games last year where we had 80 plays, maybe 85 or 90, and our starters played every play. Andre and Marcus last year got almost no rest, and that has to change. We're not going to win championships defending with two people because they're going to be fatigued and what happens if one of them gets hurt? We've got to develop a two-deep. We're much closer to developing a two-deep right now than we were a year ago, and we're going to continue to work on that."
Cat Tracks: Will the casual fan notice any big changes in the defense or how the ends play?
Joe Robinson: "Hopefully the fans and everyone else will notice better play. Our time has been spent on becoming better technical players. We have to be able to use the techniques Mike teaches in this defense, and we have to get better. We don't need to change anything schematically. We have plenty of scheme. We have plenty of answers. We have plenty of defense. We just have to play better."