"After the first five days, we've got a little bit accomplished. It's been a little warm, but our guys have worked their way through it. The main thing we've tried to do during the first five days is make sure we've got all the young guys in the right positions. It looks pretty good.
"We've got a good, athletic group of linemen and skill players. Our quarterback is exactly what we thought. He has a very strong arm, very active, elusive, but a lot to learn. Our kicker, Wes Byrum, is exactly what we thought. He has a very strong leg, raw, with a lot of room for improvement. We're going to throw him into the mix and see what happens in the next few weeks. That's what we've done the past few weeks.
"Today was the first day in full pads. We had some contact, but not a whole lot. We don't do anything from the waist down. Everything is from the waist up and we try to teach as much technique as we can in full speed, without putting guys on the ground. We've got a long ways to go in the next three weeks and get the point where we think we feel like this team is ready to go, but you have to have a lot of contact.
"We do a lot, but we want to keep it to the point where we have most of our guys out there. Carl Stewart and (Jermarcus) Ricks are the only two guys that have been shut down in terms of injuries--both hamstrings. They'll be back in the near future. Today, (Jason) Bosley was back practicing for the first time. We didn't have one fumbled snap, which was good to see.
"We've worked very hard on just a very small part of our offense and defense. We're going to be very athletic on defense, we know that. But, I think what we're trying to do right now is teach fundamentals to our guys, starting from our top guys, Quentin Groves on down. On the offense, the same thing, get back to basics for a few days before we start scrimmaging, which the first one will be this Saturday.
"Two-a-days start tomorrow. It's going to be a little different than what we've used to have in two-a-days--one in full pads and one in what we call shells, shoulder pads and helmets. The biggest thing we've got to do in the next 10 days is spend more time in the film room, keep learning what we're learning, bring everybody to a certain level and try to get the first game to where we feel like everybody can compete that we put out on the field and understands what we're doing.
"We're trying to build a team concept this month and it's going along pretty good. The attention is good, the intensity is good. I like the attitude of the team--you never know what kind of team you're going to have until you get going and put the pressure on, but I like the emotions of the team leadership. We've got guys stepping up, and, of course, as two-a-days go, you'll find more about your leadership.
"An area we're all concerned about is our kicking game. The kicking game is really looking good and making improvement every day. Our punters got off to a slow start to the first day, but today they are much better, their hang time is a lot better. We have a new addition in Patrick Tatum, a young man from Sylvania, Ala., a walk on. I think he's got a chance to add a little pressure to Ryan Shoemaker. Ryan and him will compete for the next three weeks for the right to be the starting punter here and it could change as we go through the next few weeks or it could change as we go through the year. We've got to have some consistency there and neither one of them has really punted in a college game, so there's not a lot to evaluate there until you get going in scrimmages and you see what happens.
"Our kickers are doing good. We've got four guys that are really stepping up and we're putting pressure on them every day in practice. We're kicking more in practice in terms of field goals with a little bit of rush and more team field goals. I think that's going to help us, but we have to do a lot of that in the next few weeks. We're just now starting our kickoff coverage, but I like the strength of the leg of Wes Byrum. Right now he's ahead of the other guys in terms of kickoffs. He gets more hang time and a little bit more depth, but that could change too.
"Overall, I like what our coaches are doing. We're practicing a lot of players. We're not just practicing the guys are going to play a month from now--we know what they can do. This is basically spring practice for the younger guys until we get to this point next week when two-a-days are almost finished up and then we'll start putting guys into positions where they can either help on scout teams and start getting some sibilance of a team on both offense and defense, first and second team and also the kicking game."
Who is ahead on field goals?
"It's pretty much even. We haven't got to the point yet where all of them are getting a lot of reps, but we're not evaluating them right now. We're just trying to get to work on their techniques. I want to start kicking some longer ones before we start making any evaluation on them. But, I like all four of them. They look like they've worked hard this summer and looking more consistent than they were last year."
Wes Byrum's confidence?
"You have to have confidence in what you're doing. He's got a very strong leg, he's tall and has good leverage on the ball. He can punt, he can kick off and he can be our field goal guy. We're not letting him punt that much because he's got a lot to concentrate on. But, as we go through time, he'll be thrown into the mix punting. He's got what it takes and you need to have a little bit of swagger. Being a freshman with swagger is a little bit different, but when it comes to kickers, those guys need to have confidence in what they've done and what they can do. By no means is our technique what it needs to be in anything that we're doing. We're working on that every day and filming all their sessions and going over it with them to try to get their technique down so we can feel like they can really excel in what they're doing."
On right tackle?
"Right tackle is going to be interesting. Today and yesterday, Oscar Gonzalez was going with the first team on the right tackle spot--we moved him from the left side over. Andrew McCain obviously started there. With them and (Antwoin) Daniels, I think it's going to be right tackle by committee for the next couple of weeks. Coach (Hugh) Nall is really working with them technique-wise and really putting a lot of pressure on them.
"Quentin Groves is a guy we're putting on the left side of the defense--the right side of the offense line. We want to find one that can compete against him. You know, if you can block Quentin coming off the corner, you're going to have a pretty good offensive lineman. We're giving Quentin full responsibility for training that right offensive tackle and he's done a pretty good job of schooling early. But, I think these guys are competing. They've got a lot of room for fundamentals to kick in. The offensive line is going to be a big battle. Jason Bosley coming back today was good. It enabled us to put Leon Hart to right guard and Tyronne Green to left tackle. I think King Dunlap is having one of his better camps. He's working at it and he's being a leader, which he needs to be. We've got a lot of young guys.
"Ryan Pugh is the backup center as we speak. He's true freshman and has really done well. He's a competitor, he's a leader, and mentally he's as far along as I thought some of the upper classmen would be. He's really done a good job. So, Ryan, right now, is working with the No. 2 guys. Hopefully, he can stay healthy enough to continue to learn all the way through two-a-days and be a guy that can be our backup center. We wouldn't play him unless it came to a point where we just had to because we normally just play one center. We'll get him ready as our No. 2 guy, along with Leon Hart as a guy that can play a few snaps in a game if we need him, or maybe somebody else."
Leon Hart tries to hold off the rush of Pat Sims.
On Mike Berry
"We really want to look at Mike playing right guard more. He hasn't played a lot and we don't want to overload him too much. He and Leon (Hart), when it comes down to it, are going to battle for the starting position at right guard. Not the first scrimmage--that will be more of the younger guys – they will get some snaps and looks, but the big scrimmage for those two will be the second one which will be in two weeks. I want to get a better look at the younger guys in this scrimmage coming up. That's going to be a battle on that side."
On the freshmen offensive linemen?
"Chaz Ramsey, talking about true freshmen, I think Chaz is going to have an opportunity to work his way up at the left guard position. He's been working hard there and looking pretty good. Again, he's mentally farther along than what I thought he would be and he's got the talent to do it. And, of course, Lee Ziemba at right tackle, I didn't mention him a while ago, he's in the mix, but his head is spinning right now. These next two scrimmages will tell a lot about what he knows and what he can do as we go through the next three or four weeks."
On the linebackers?
"Last year, we moved Will Herring up, and he was basically a safety playing linebacker. He just gave us an experienced guy that could fit in. There are several players that are really doing well. If we're going to have a good football team defensively, Merrill's (Johnson) is going to be the key to it. He's a guy that has tremendous explosion. In the position he plays, he covers a lot of ground. He's learning pass defense. He has to relax more in his blitzes sometimes. He's a little bit too mechanical. When you play defense and in the defense we play, when you're given a responsibility, sometime you have to make a play with athletic ability and that means that you have to do a little more flexing in your rush. I think he's just a little too mechanical, but he's getting better at that.
"Craig Stevens is a big key. Craig had a good spring, not a great one. He didn't stick his head in there like we thought he would--just mentally get going. He knew what to do, but he just wouldn't turn it loose and that's the sign of young guy playing. When you play in the SEC on Saturday afternoons or Saturday nights, you have to play full speed. He's playing a little bit more at that speed. Over the summer, he learned a lot. He's working a lot with the other guys. He's going to be a big key to what we're doing after losing Patrick Trahan. Those two guys on the outside are athletic and they can get the job done. But, again, I think those two scrimmages we have coming up will tell the tale on them.
"Of course, we know Chris (Evans) and Tray (Blackmon) inside are working well and learning more of what we're doing. We're going to be a little bit more flexible with our linebackers on defense this year. Last year, the first year in this defense, we didn't do a lot with them. This year, they are going to be a little more athletic and we're going to put them in situations where they can use their ability a little more in terms of types of stunts and blitzes we use with them. We're going to try to put a little more pressure with our linebackers instead of just our defensive line."
On the wide receivers?
"Rod (Smith) got off to a slow start--he got kicked in the shin the first day and missed a couple of practices. He's going to be fine. Rod is going to be a playmaker for us. He understands the offense. Being a guy that's non-assuming, you really don't notice he's out there until he does make a big play. He's only going to be as good as the guys who are playing around him that. Prechae Rodriguez has to step up and I've seen good things out of him the past few days. Robert Dunn has been a pleasant surprise with his attitude. You know, he came in this summer and made four A's in summer school. I've just seen a change in attitude and work ethic. He's wanting to be a real good football player. He stays after practice and before practice. He's also going to be a key wide receiver in this offense.
"Tim Hawthorne is starting to make better catches. The thing about Tim is that he have to body, the size, the speed, he's starting to learn the offense, but he just hasn't been as consistent as what we would like catching the ball. But, I think once he starts getting the offense down a little better, that's going to come. Again, he has four years left.
"A key to our wide receivers is going to be James Swinton. James has been with us for three years. He's probably one of the faster guys on the team. He has good open-field speed, but he just has to learn to catch the ball in tighter situations. In deep balls sometimes, the defensive backs get to pushing and shoving and he didn't fight for the ball. He's learning to do that. It's little things like that that's going to have to come across to James for us to be a little better big-play team. If we're going to have big plays, his speed is going to have to be part of that.
Quindarius Carr (left) runs a pass route vs. Pat Lee (right).
"One of the freshmen that has really caught my eye is Quindarius Carr. He's really going to be a good football player. He's listened. He's not that tall. He has really good open-field speed and he uses his body well. I like his attitude. He wants to learn. Whether he's going to make it in the rotation this year, I don't know. But, it's really been fun watching him just jump in and take the bull by the horns, so to speak, and let the other players know he wants to play. The guys are put their arm around him, pulled him in and said ‘hey, if you want to learn, let's go.' He's done a real good job."
On Pat Sims?
"Pat has come back with a different attitude. He's really coming off the ball well. He's been a force on the defensive line. He's been around and has had some tough times. There was a time he wasn't on this team. But now he's a team leader. There used to be a time when you jumped on him he'd go the other way on you. Sometimes players are like that. They've never been corrected or pushed to some extent. Pat is now starting to understand now that we are out there for him to make him better. He could be one of the better defensive lineman to play here if he continues to improve."
"For some reason, we're going longer. We almost started practicing in July. We've got a full month. The biggest thing is meetings. We have the opportunity to watch a lot of film and learn. You need to get on the field and have a lot of film taken of you, especially the young guys, so they can understand the fundamentals and techniques.
"I like what we're doing now. We've gone five days, one time day, and you can get a lot of that. If you start the 10th or 12th like we used to, it would be tough to do it one time a day. I think we have like four or five two-a-days, one time in pads, which will be tomorrow morning. Then tomorrow night we'll just be in shoulder pads and helmets and more of that is going to be fundamentals. But two-a-days also gives you more time to work on the kicking game in one practice so you don't have to jam everything into one. So, there's some good and bad, but this is summer camp, meaning there's no classes and it's football 24-hours-a-day. Guys lay around sleeping, catching up, but also looking at their playbooks and cramming as much in it as you can in a three-week period before we start practicing for Kansas State. That's what it's all about. You have to grow in this time.
"It's been hot and dry. Going out on these intramural fields is not fun--it's like practicing on concrete. Our guys look forward to getting back to the practice fields in about a week or so."
On the backup quarterback? "I've been real pleased, and I'm pretty hard on quarterbacks in watching them and critiquing them, sitting down with Al (Borges) and talking about the guys we've got. Just coming out of spring ball, nobody really caught your eye, maybe not throwing a perfect pass, but throwing a nice spiral and just getting it there on time. Most of them are young. The guy that's really caught my eye the first five days is Steven Ensminger. He's throwing the ball a lot better with more authority and he's learning what to do. That's not to say he's the backup right now.
"Blake Field has done a good job. You know, Blake's tricked us before. Last year, he had good two-a-days and when we got to scrimmages, he just didn't have the consistency, and that's what you look for in a quarterback. Maybe he'll do that this year.
"You also have to remember Neil (Caudle) hasn't played much football in the last three or four years. He was hurt his junior year and senior year with knee surgery. Last year he didn't play. He's starting to learn this offense. It's all coming together for him. With Brandon (Cox) being sick the first couple of days it gave him a chance to have a few more reps. Kodi (Burns) is going to be a good one in this league. He can run, he can throw, he wants to learn and all the other guys have kind of pulled him in and really helped him. He's going to be fun to watch."
On auditioning for the starting quarterback job for next year?
"This is just like a spring practice for next year, too. That's what we're thinking about. Every time somebody takes a snap, we're looking for somebody to throw a spark into the team and say, ‘Hey, this guy can be the guy that's getting ready to play against whoever we open up against next year.' We always keep that in the back of our mind and we'll keep that in the back of our mind as we pick No. 2 going into this fall. That will probably be the leader in the clubhouse, so to speak, going into spring practice because that guy is going to get a lot of reps, along with No. 3. Of course, Nos. 4 and 5 will be down there wondering around with me with the scout team. There's a lot of pressure on these guys knowing they are trying to get on the traveling squad as a quarterback."
On offensive tackle Andrew McCain?
"The biggest thing is learning to play with the weight that he's gained. Playing tight end is going to help him understand getting off the ball and learning the offense. It's also having to carry 30, 40 or 50 more pounds and learning the techniques. The small things of learning offensive line are totally different from playing tight end. But, Andrew has worked at is hard. It's just a mindset for him. Again, there's going to be a change-around between Oscar (Gonzalez), him, (Antwoin) Daniels and probably Lee Ziemba for the next three or four weeks, trying to get all of them working with the first team.
"We're just looking for somebody to step up with a little more maturity when it comes to feeling like they know what to do and having the confidence to play right tackle. Again, Brandon is left handed and we're going to see a lot of people coming from that offensive right side. That's pretty important when you come up with some things to protect Brandon from his back side."
On the defensive line? "I think that not only are we bigger, but we're quicker. When you're quicker, I think you can do a few more things. I like playing base defense, lining straight up and whipping somebody on the other side because it's not as much mental, but physical. But, this defense that we run has the ability to do both. With Sen'Derrick Marks out at right defensive end, he gives you a guy that can rush, but also play the run. He has real good lateral movement. He and Antonio Coleman will be alternating at No.1 on that side.
"Sen'Derrick Marks will also play some inside. It's going to be a quick defensive line. I think it's going to be fun to watch these guys. If we can just stay healthy enough to have a two-man rotation once we get into the season and all throughout the season, I think that could be one of the strengths of this football team."
On the tight ends?
"Every day I go out there and watch Coach Ensminger work with these guys. It's a pretty good luxury when you know you have three of these guys that have played and played a lot. Cole Bennett being hurt last year put a lot of pressure on the young kids and they really came through well for us. All three have tremendous attitudes. With Carl Stewart out, we're going to put Tommy Trott in the backfield some, which is what we'd do anyway because Carl is going to play tailback some when he comes back.
"The luxury of having three tight ends in the game and putting one of them in the backfield is going to help. Also putting three tight ends in the game and bunching them up and using them as wide receivers, because they can all run, is also going to be very beneficial to Al with what he wants to do with the offense. A little bit of change with three tight ends. You can do a lot of formations when you feel good about three guys that are big, they can block, they can run, and they can get into open space and catch some passes. It's going to be fun to watch those guys. Again, that is definitely one of the strengths of this football team." On the defensive freshmen/
"I think Michael McNeil has a real good shot. He's got a lot to learn. When you play in this defense and play center field, you better know what you're doing. His head is spinning. He has three weeks to go. They are bringing him along slowly. He has no problem with coming up and hitting somebody. That's one thing that you worry about, but he'll do that. He has great range. He made a great play today in the end zone knocking a play down. He just doesn't have his presence yet of covering the field, knowing where the goal line is when we're playing in the red zone, playing laterally when you need to and playing downhill when you need to. He's going to be much better at this time next year, but we're going to play him. He's going to be a guy that's going to play a lot of special teams and be thrown into the mix.
"Ryan Williams is coming along. He got here late and it not in as good of condition as some of the other guys, but his presence here is going to be felt fairly quickly.
"We moved Brent Slusher from tight end to defensive end. He saw the writing on the wall that there were three guys in front of him, but he wanted to play. I think he's made himself a home. He really looks good at defensive end. He's playing defensive end some and linebackers some. He can run. He was an excellent basketball player in high school. He's been fun to watch. He doesn't say anything. He's really quiet and you have to get him to talk. He does have a defensive mentality and that's what you always worry about. He's going to a good football player and will play a lot with us this year even though he wasn't with us in the spring."
On walk-ons becoming starters?
"That happens quite often. I'd have to think a while, but you going to have players walk on that's going to make your team and develop. A lot of these guys coming in at 17 or 18 years old have a lot of room for improvement in terms of physical maturity. From the first day he (Rodgeriqus Smith) was out there catching the ball well, but he just wasn't physically ready to play in this league. He's worked out on weights and he's come a long way. Every once in a while you'll find one like that.
"We've had a lot of walk-ons play at center, offensive line, Danny Perry will play some this year, a walk-on for us, kickers--there's been numerous kickers that have come in and been good players. He's (Smith) has worked really hard to be a starter and be one of our leaders."
On Mario Fannin? "Mario is Mario. He's going to give you a day's work every day. He's always beat up after practice because he will run through people. Our defense gets worried about him sometimes when we're going three-quarter speed because you don't know if he's going to run over you or around you. He's one of those special players--he can return punts, he can return kicks, he can be a fullback, or he can be a linebacker. He has that type of mentality. At one point or another, he will be a starter for us.
"We have four or five running backs and they'll all get a start during the year at one point or another. He's been fun to watch over the last couple of years. He was good last year and he got his year back for hardship--getting hurt after the third game. So, he has four years remaining and he's going to be fun to watch over those four years."
Brad Lester will start the first game?
"I hope. He's the guy with experience."