"I thought we had a very good spring. Charles Howard was kind of interesting. We redshirted him last year, as a defensive end. He's coming off an injury. We worked him a lot at defensive tackle, and to me he was kind of the surprise of the spring, because he looks like he's got some natural ability in there, especially to rush the passer. Everybody's looking for a pass-rusher. Odell (Haggins) thinks he could possibly start on our pass-rush team. That's something we didn't know before the spring.
"I thought our offensive line made the most progress of any of the positions. Of course, they were the furthest back, with so many new ones. However, although we lost a lot of offensive linemen, we've got three out of five of them that started against Florida, because of injuries. It's not like they hadn't been to war. I thought they progressed more than any other one position. I thought Jimmy Heggins did a heck of a job with them this spring. I didn't expect them to be as efficient as they have been.
"Our young linebackers were impressive – the young ones. (A.J.) Nicholson) had a great spring. He seemed like he was effective everyday. McGrew, the last week and a half, he really began to come along. You could see his athletic ability showing up. Then today, Buster (Davis) had a real good day. He made some big plays out there. He's been nicked with injuries a lot of the spring.
"We caught the ball better, for some reason. We've got the same drills we've always had, and we worked on them just like we always did. I don't know that we dropped anything we should have had.
"Dominic Robinson has really come along. You can imagine, comparing him now to a year ago, when he was a defensive back. Not only has he gotten better, he's a leader. A good leader.
"Mickey played pretty straight today. We thought a point system would make it interesting in the score. But it didn't – the offense got too many points for it to be real interesting in that regard. There's a good side to that: it looks like our offense is good enough to take advantage if somebody just tries to play vanilla football. So Mickey would probably have had to go to a game plan today to try to stop that offense out there. He didn't want to do that – he wanted to try to play straight up, if he could. If you're a real good offensive team, you've got a chance to take advantage of that, and I thought they probably did.
"The scrimmage – people wonder what happens in practice. That was just a regular scrimmage that we have during spring training. I think the people were able to see what they wanted to see. They were able to evaluate the new players and the new faces.
"Brad Johnson spoke to our team today before the game – came in and spoke to them before the game and did a great job with them.
"The offense – you're so limited in the spring. One reason we didn't have a spring game today, this is how many offensive linemen you're working with. You had two centers (David Castillo and Andrew Henry-Kinnon), three guards (Bobby Meeks, Eric Broe, and Matt Heinz), and three tackles (Alex Barron, Ron Lunford, and Cory Niblock). That's not two units. And I think one of our guards came in with a hurt back – Heinz had a hurt back and didn't play. So those two guards might have played the whole dadgum scrimmage.
"Punt block was good. We got some good work on the punt block, but our punting needs a lot of work, which we'll do. Those are just some notes I scribbled down while we were practicing. Anything else?"
Q: Chris Rix won the Hinesman, given to the most dominating player. What did he do in spring that made him your most dominant player?
"There's no doubt that he's come along. There's no doubt about it. As you look back on our football team – as I look back at the last two years, we have not had a stable quarterback situation since Weinke. Now, it's stable. Now, you've got a redshirt junior. It's hard for kids to follow a freshman. It's hard for kids to follow a struggling sophomore. But, when you're a redshirt junior, that's the same year as Charlie Ward. That's the same year as Casey Weldon. That's the same year as Brad Johnson. Danny McManus, Peter Tom Willis – they didn't play until they were redshirt juniors, and they were mature and ready. Well now he's ready. He's ready. The kids accept him, he's older than most of them, and so now we're back to where we ought to be at that position. He had an excellent spring, did excellent work, an excellent attitude, and I think the kids are all very happy about him."
Q: How far has Chris come, in terms of his off-the-field behavior?
"He's come miles in the regard of not assuming. I keep talking to him – well, you assumed the class was not going to meet. You assumed that we were not going to have a meeting. You assumed that we called off practice. He's beginning to learn not to assume. He's 95 percent not assuming. That's about where he is. He was 15 percent before that."
Q: Do you feel better about the quarterback position than you have felt in the last few springs?
A: "Yeah. I don't know how bad Fabian got hurt today (a bruised right elbow). Just an elbow – not the shoulder, thank goodness. Somebody caught him from behind. They're supposed to touch ‘em, but not restrict their arm – they did, and that's the way people get hurt. The biggest difference right now is you feel like you could go out and execute a game plan. Whereas in the past, you have a game plan and you wondered if the quarterback's going to do it. Now, you can see his athletic ability. His athletic ability is so dangerous. When he starts running – I've never had a kid that can run dead left, and can throw back down the middle of the field, over there. The kid can do it."
Q: We've heard a lot about Chris' decision-making on the field. Is that improving, as well as his on-field choices?
A:"He's making much better. I think that's normal. I think that's experience. He's not a freshman anymore. He's not a sophomore anymore. He's a redshirt junior. That's his senior year. So he's made the progress you were hoping he'd have made. Of course, when you talk about that, a lot of that is decision-making. All of those quarterbacks are good. All of them have got great arms. All them pros, they've all got great arms. All those college quarterbacks, all over the country, they've all got great arms. It gets down to here (pointing at his forehead). Decisions, decisions, decisions. He's doing much better. He's making decisions a redshirt junior is supposed to make. He still can get better, just like Weinke got better. He has made a lot of progress in that area."
Q: What was the most pleasant surprise of spring drills?
A:"The most pleasant surprise of the whole spring – our receivers caught the ball good. I was really wondering, after losing Anquan (Boldin), losing Talman (Gardner), losing (Robert) Morgan, I said, ‘Man, we're really losing some guys that have played a lot of ball. I don't know if the offense has a senior on it. I think they'll all be sophomores next year or juniors. They caught the ball this spring – that was very good. Thank goodness. I don't know why, but we didn't catch the ball good last year, but these guys are catching it pretty doggone good. We've had some great catches out here this year. I don't know if we had any today or not, but we've had some."
Q: Are things coming together with this team that you might not have been seeing in the last two years? Do you have more team harmony than you've had lately? Have you changed your approach, as a coaching staff, to instill more of that?
A: "We've got another team supper next Tuesday. We're going to have a little dinner together like we did a couple of weeks ago. Of course, all that helps. We've been talking about that. One of the things that I really think, as I look back, has kept us from being as tight as some of the past teams, is number one, they've taken your dorm away from you. They've done that for five or six years. So, instead of having your kids all together, you've got this one over here, that one living out there, two over here. That's not like it used to be. The other is, we don't have a training table here like we used to have. We used to come off the (practice) field, go into the dining room, and coaches would go and eat with them, pat them on the back, let them know they still love them, even though they rode them to death out on the football field. Things like that draw you together. We haven't been able to do that. We're in a race right now, to get our cafeteria in this building (the Moore Athletic Center) by August. I hope we can do it, so we can get back together in that regard. We've tried to make up for that in other ways."
Q: Have you done anything as a coaching staff?
A:"I'll tell you one thing we've done, our coaches are trying to do a better job of teaching leadership. In other words, to teach our boys how to be leaders. I brought in coach Chuck Klusing, from Indiana of Pennsylvania. Chuck's probably about 75. He was a high school coach in Pennsylvania, and then a college coach, then coached at Army, and he was my assistant head coach at West Virginia. He's given speech after speech on leadership. So we had him come down and make a two-and-a-half hour presentation to our coaches, to help teach us how we can teach leadership better. We're trying to impart that to the players, because we see how important that is to any football team."
Q: What do you want to see from the team between now and when you get back together for the preseason in August?
A: "Well, number one is that they work hard on their academics and stay out of trouble. Stay out of trouble. It's just so hard to do now. You can nearly be innocent. You can't be innocent, but just stay away from trouble. And, of course, make good grades, and work real hard in the summer. When I look at this football team, the first thing I think is ‘boy, I hope we stay healthy.' Last year, we started off the year with probably as good an offensive line as anybody in the country. Then, all of a sudden, you lose your center (Antoine Mirambeau). All of a sudden, you lose your guard (Milford Brown), who's one of the best in the country. All of a sudden, you're just not as good as you were there. This offensive line coming up really did a good job this spring, really surprised me. What would hurt them is to get injured. We're going to bring in about five freshman offensive linemen, and some of them will have to line up second-team. They're usually not ready, but some of them are probably going to have to play for us. That, to me, is my biggest hope right now, is ‘gee, I wish all those guys out there could stay healthy.' You get Greg Jones back out there, you get (Darnell) Dockett back out there, you get (Jeff) Womble back out there, you get Travis Johnson back out there – (Brodrick) Bunkley, we finally got him back. Get (Kendyll) Pope back out there. Get (Michael) Boulware back out there. Get (Stanford) Samuels back out there. It's the makings of a real good football team out there if we could just stay healthy."
Q: How much more improvement do you expect from Chris Rix?
A: "I think he's over the hump. What I didn't want to happen, and we didn't want to happen, after he missed the Sugar Bowl, we didn't want him to be our team spokesman. Everybody wants to talk to Chris Rix, and I don't blame them. But we didn't want him to be our team spokesman, especially after not making himself available in the Sugar Bowl. I think he's gotten over that hump. He did a good job in the offseason program, had an excellent spring, paid the price. I think that now, he's back in the good graces of his teammates."
Q: At the beginning of the spring, you said that your two goals for the spring were to stay healthy and to keep improving. How well did you meet those goals?
A: "Well, we were very lucky. All it would have taken was about three injuries out there, and several positions, and we would not be able to scrimmage. We started off with four (defensive) tackles out there, and then the fifth one (Brian Ross) broke his leg. He was one of the best tackles we had at the time. Offensively – again, only having three guards and three tackles, if two of those get hurt, all of a sudden, you ain't got enough guys up front. You can't hardly run an offense at all. We survived that, and I thought they did make improvement."
Q: Ron Lunford is a guy who got a lot of opportunities thanks to injuries. Are you impressed with him?
A: "He sure did. I'm not impressed yet. He did make improvements, and he's a big boy that's got potential. He started off doing good, then he kind of slacked off like he used to, and then he got back at it again. He's learning how to be a player."