Q&A: Skip Holtz

GREENVILLE, N.C. - East Carolina University Head Football Coach Skip Holtz addressed members of the media prior to this week's game against Virginia Tech.

Opening Comments:
"Game week is finally here. We had a team practice last night where we were able to go into [Minges Coliseum] and also get some conditioning in outside. When I brought the team together at the end, I said that camp was finally over and that we are into the in-season routine. They then gave us a standing ovation. They are tired of dealing with us as coaches and tired of hitting each other. I think we are ready to get on with the season."

"There has been so much excitement and enthusiasm building up because of the schedule and opportunities that we have this year. These guys are ready to get on the field and start playing. With that being said, I also believe that there is an unbelievable challenge ahead of us. When you look at Virginia Tech as a program and team, they present such a challenge because of the players that they have coming back and the depth they have at each position. Everyone knows they are one of the best teams in the country. They are riding an emotional roller coaster right now and we know that we will be walking into a hornets' nest. We haven't yet had to deal with the crowd noise or distractions. Once you learn how to win, you then have to block out those distractions that don't have anything to do with the game of football. Our young players will have to face that challenge, as many of them have never stepped on the field and played."

"We are going to learn a lot about our football team from this game. We are inexperienced at the cornerback position and on the offensive line, but we are going to know a lot more about us as a team on Sunday morning following the game."

"I know that there has been a lot made about the Rob Kass situation. From a public standpoint, it is something of which we have been made aware. It is something that Coach Holland and I have talked about, but at this point I am not ready to address it publicly. When I am ready to address it openly I will, but now is not the time."

On The Atmosphere of Lane Stadium Affecting Young Players:
"If you are going to write a script, you don't want to baptize a new quarterback [in Blacksburg] but we have talked about that. Everyone knows that their defense is great, but they also have one of the top special teams units in the country. With the 'Beamer Ball' that they play on special teams, you also don't want to break in a new punter up there. I think Matt Dodge and Nathan Przestrzelski have done a very nice job of competing this year and we will continue that through Wednesday before I make my final decision. [The Hokies] do such a great job of lining up and coming after you. We have talked about who we will put on the punt protecting team so we will utilize the best players that we have. Guys like Davon Drew, Pierre Bell and Fred Wilson will have to step up in order to make our special teams unit the best it can be. We have talked a lot about the 'dirty dozen' that we have been trying to develop the past few years. You can't just throw young guys in there early in the season and expect them to be ready to play. That is something we will work on and develop as the season progresses. That puts a little more of a burden on our starters because they will have to pick up some special teams snaps as well. There will be a lot of pressure but, even Ryan Dougherty had to go kick in his first game. In three years, we could be discussing how to replace Ben Hartman, but for now we have to teach our team how to play the game effectively."

On The Running Backs:
"We will play all of them. We have looked at some two-back sets, but we have to find a way to get our best players on the field. The way we do that is to play all of our running backs. Chris Johnson and Dominique Lindsay will play a very active role in what we are doing, but they aren't our entire offense. Jonathan Williams, Norman Whitley and Brandon Simmons will all play. We always like to have what we call 'a pair and a spare.' That means you would like to see a clear starter, back-up and a third option. If someone gets injured, we wouldn't have to scrap any plays. When you look at our two-back sets, you see that 'pair and a spare.' We have been practicing this part of the offense since the spring. How often we use it will be predicated on our opponent and how we are playing."

On Injuries:
"Khalif Mitchell and Scotty Robinson are the two main players that were out. Herman Best was out but he is back running on his ankle this week. Jerek Hewett missed a week because of his concussion and Nick Johnson missed a week because of a shoulder injury. We've had some bumps and bruises but the two that have been out all camp are Khalif and Scotty. Right now they have three to four week injuries and we are on week three. They both ran last night and have done a nice job of getting treatment. Mike Golden and Mike Hanley have done a super job putting them through rehab, whether it is in the pool or managing their practice involvement. If they can be approved to play in 10 or 15 plays then that would be huge for us because those are plays the C.J Wilson, Zack Slate and Marcus Hands don't have to play."

On Khalif Mitchell:
"Going against Khalif on the scout team everyday in practice last season and knowing his work ethic and leadership capability, we need that on this team right now. I was frustrated with the scrimmage on Friday because I didn't see a lot of emotion or energy but I think a guy like Khalif brings emotion and energy to the table. You have to have that on the field, especially at a place like Virginia Tech. I don't want the coaches on the sidelines to be vocal leaders because at Virginia Tech they won't be able to hear us past the numbers on the field. We have to get to the point to where they rely on each other. It will be 11-on-11 on the playing field but the 70,000 in the stands will make it hard for us to communicate. Khalif will help us do that. Jay Ross and Mark Robinson have been playing well and Linval Joseph has been a nice surprise for us. When we put Khalif back in there, we expect him to support the defense through the few plays that he will be on the field."

On the Offense:
"We are not ready to line up and compete offensively. I think we are still too inconsistent because we don't do the little things well enough. You look at a guy like D.J. Scott who has never really played and he is backed up by Willie Barton who also hasn't played. Brandon Setzer has received many of the reps but his knee has swollen up and he hasn't been able to go in practice. They all have talent but none of the three are a polished product. You go out there and play ten plays and you don't gain a yard on any of them. Your quarterback makes a bad throw, the right guard breaks down on a play, the center has a bad snap and a young receiver drops the ball. Each player only may have messed up one play but as a team we messed up too many plays. We need to play more consistent and play how we know we can. We had James Pinkney and Aundrae Allison who were experienced and could gain 20 yards but we don't have that now. I am not saying that we can't play but we are not ready to play the top-ranked defense in the country. They understand how far we are away from the level."

On the Off-field Preparation for Blacksburg:
"We have addressed the emotional issues of the game, the ceremonies that will take place and the respect for the Virginia Tech family. I'm scared to death of running out of the tunnel and seeing our guys looking like they have cameras strapped to their necks taking pictures of everyone and everything. I want us to go up there to play a football game. I didn't want to talk to our guys about it Friday night before we go out there and play, so it is something we have addressed a lot during camp. We are very respectful of the Virginia Tech family and what they have experienced and I'm glad we can be part of those ceremonies. However, we still have to understand that we are going up there to play a football game. We have tried to teach them how to balance the off-field distractions as well as the football aspects."

On Brett Clay, Patrick Pinkney and Dwayne Harris:
"Brett and Patrick have been out there for every practice and have worked extremely hard. I feel that we have three quarterbacks we can play with. If they can eliminate the bad play, we will have a chance. Dwayne Harris is a guy that we have tried to move around a little bit and it was difficult for him because he missed spring practice. We have tried to utilize him on a few plays like the bubble screen and reverses but he has not been spending individual time at quarterback. I just don't think that is the answer at this point."

On Developing the Young Players:
"Young players want to play. You can play and be terrible, but our goal is to play and win. Once the young guys earn starting roles, then they can start to think about how to win. They have to grasp the fundamentals first. They can hear us say it over and over again, but it's up to them to make it happen."

On the Defense:
"We have a chance to be a very decent defensive football team. The front seven has a real opportunity to be two-deep. Our defensive line has the potential to be the best that we have ever had in my time here. The second defensive line is better than the first defensive line we had here in our first year. We have great talent on defense and have the chance to roll out fresh bodies. I think our secondary is developing nicely. If we have a chance to compete on Saturday, our defense will have to carry us. This first game will be an opportunity for us to showcase what we have to the entire nation."

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