"It's great to be back out here again. It's hard to believe that we're getting into the last week of spring. It seems like it just got started. Here it is, ending. We had a really nice week of practice this week. We got a lot of situational work in, which is invaluable to our team, just getting a chance to play two-minute situations, red zone situations. It was really good, really competitive between offense and defense, which makes it fun for everybody. I like the progress our guys are making. I think we're playing really fast. We had some weather last week with the hail. We had some wind the other day, and then we had a beautiful day today, so it's nice, in the spring, when you get the gamut. We've got one more week left. We need every single practice next week to get better, and our guys are looking forward to that."
Darius Allensworth mentioned that you chart 'missed opportunities,' whether it's a dropped pick or a missed tackle. Where did you come up with that, and how invaluable has it been as a motivational tool: "We talk to our team all the time, but now, coach Wilcox starts it. Turnover margin is the key to winning football games, and our responsibility as a defense is to get takeaways. Where I've been, getting 30-plus takeaways, you've got a chance, and every time that you've got an opportunity to take a ball away and you don't, that's horrible. I want our guys to feel that pressure, that, 'I've got to make that play.' It's not OK to drop an interception. It's not OK to miss a tackle. There's times where, depending on the situation, you knock a ball down in a two-minute situation at the end of a game, in fourth downs, but the other opportunities, we've got to take advantage of."
On the development of defensive end Zeandae Johnson: "I think, sometimes, when you switch schemes, and you ask guys to do things, look at something a little bit different, it fits you better. I think he is one of those guys that, what we're doing right now really fits him. Coach [Jerry] Azzinaro has done a great job teaching him the way we want to strike. He's prototypical for what we're looking for at that position. He's a long, physical guy. He's got really good athletic ability, and the fact that he played some before, he's grown up, like all players do, so we're fortunate to have him in this situation, where he's a guy who's played some, and he fits the scheme."
On Allensworth's leadership: "He's very mature. He understands the game, plays very, very fast. He's got a bunch of picks this spring camp. He does a really nice job of leading the way for young guys. He realizes, too, that there's a lot of competition at that spot. We've got a couple young guys that are really talented, and if he ever has a slip up day where he thinks he can go on cruise control, one of those guys is going to go by him, so that's kept him on point."
Tony Mekari has said he's enjoying the nose tackle position. What are your impressions of him: "I think he's another guy, another example of a guy that, in this scheme, his skill set really works. He's a guy that works extremely hard, he's a tough, hard-nosed guy. He's a guy who has some suddenness and when you can move him and let him two-gap and play with leverage, it plays right into his world, so I really like what he's done at the nose guard position. Again, when I was watching tape before, you had some questions about whether he could fit, because, size-wise, he's not ideal, but he's doing a really nice job."
On outside linebacker Alex Funches: "I'm really, really thankful to the previous staff for recruiting him, and having him come here in January, when we got here. He's a guy that, had we gone out and wanted to look for a guy to play outside linebacker, he has the skill set to do that. So, he's probably the most natural, he and Cameron Goode are the most natural guys that were recruited at different positions, that we've moved to that position, that it all just clicks for. He's very dynamic in space, he's a guy that can rush the passer, set the edge, and he's a long-bodied guy who does a great job in the pass rush. Really like what we're getting out of him."
Have you spent more time with linebackers: "Yeah, I played linebacker, so you're always kind of looking at things. I've coached secondary, too, so it's usually a back-end, down, and I'm really fortunate that with Jerry and Tony [Tuioti] in the front, I don't even have to worry about those guys. I know they're going to get coached up. Not to say anything about Gerald [Alexander], it's just where my eyes tend to generally start from."
Is there anything specific you'd like to see from the defense in this last week before the spring game: "We've got to continue to make strides in eliminating mental errors. Guys are going to make plays on offense, but I want guys in position to make plays, and make them beat you, and not beat yourself. We've gotten better at not allowing explosive plays. We're doing limited tackling, so today, when we have tackled here, we had some missed tackles. We've got to shore that up. But, I really like the progress that we've made in tackling. Gerald Alexander's done a terrific job of really heading up our team tackling, our philosophy of shoulder tackling, the angles we take to the ball, I think our guys have really grown from that, and you show them the tape of early on, the angles they would take, to what they're doing now, it's really dramatically reducing the numbers of missed tackles. Those are things we've got to continue to work on and get better at, continue to get faster."
On Goode: "I think he's probably the most natural at that position. He was a guy, when I was at Fresno State, I knew about, and we recruited him when I was down there, just for that position. He's a guy who's comfortable in space, he's really long, can rush the passer. All he's got to do is develop a little more strength, he's got to get a little bit more lead in his pencil -- he's still a little bit light -- but I think he's got a really high ceiling."
On the spirited nature of practice: "I think these guys are excited to play. That's what's been fun for me, is being around these guys. They love to compete against each other. It's been real competitive. The offense has had some good periods or good days, the defense has some good periods or good days, so it goes back and forth, and you want that. The only way you get better is to compete."