"I think the biggest thing over last year – last year we had eight new starters that were trying to learn how to play like first –teamers – this year we have eight starters back. Basically, we have three guys trying to. ... in baseball, you usually say if you are great down the middle, you have a chance. Your catcher, your pitcher, your second and shortstop, and your center fielder. That's what we had returning last year, was our middle linebacker and our two safeties. This year it's just the opposite. We are having to replace the middle linebacker and the two safeties, but the other guys have started. They've all started games, they've all been involved in determining the outcome of games when it really counted.
Of course, Jeff Womble won't play in the first game and that throws another position we've got to have somebody start. The thing that we did in our last two games, we didn't have a middle linebacker anyway. Jerel (Hudson) had to fill in and he did an admirable job. Of course, the thing that he has done, he has gotten some weight off. He's still big for a middle linebacker. He hurt his ankle and has been kind of hobbling on it for a few days now. But, I guess you have to start up front."
"We've got both our starters back and have backups who are starting to play like first teamers, which we didn't have last year. Probably got as much depth there as we've got at any position. Alonzo Jackson has a knack for getting back to the quarterback. I think every scrimmage we've had he did it. I think in the spring, too. He led the team in sacks in all of those scrimmages. Kevin Emanuel has really come a long way. Charles Howard, too. Eric Moore, there's another kid who was moved from linebacker to defensive end. Really struggled with learning to play down, much like Willie Jones, the process he's going through. But we've got some outstanding young defensive ends in Willie, Kamerion Wimbley. He's just a freshman. And then you have (Darrell) Burston. Kamerion, Willie and Burston, we will redshirt at least one of them, possibly two. We will have to see how it goes. A lot of improvement there from our defensive end position, I think it will show up on the field this year."
"You have Womble and Dockett back, both of them are very good players. Dockett can be a dominating player this year if he can healthy. He and Travis Johnson both have really struggled getting over their surgery. What we've had to do, we've asked Donnie Carter.... Donnie has great explosion. He's not quite as big or as strong as his position dictates right now, but when he gets off the ball he has a knack of just running by blockers. That's something he's just got to keep coming. He will help us this year. Probably our most improved player that we have there is Tony Benford. He don't look pretty running gassers – he's a lot like Jeff Womble. But he has made a remarkable turnaround from the spring to the fall and it's all because he made the commitment to stay here and work. He had a great offseason and it's showing up in his play. He will start, because Jeff will miss the first game because of discplinary action and could miss more because of his knee. Realistically, might not get him back until after the Virginia game.
"And then we have a freshman that as has much potential as maybe as any freshman since we've been here, Broderick Bunkley. He doesn't play like a freshman. That's unusual. He was signed as a defensive end and we needed help inside. We talked ot him about it. He was probably a little apprehensive at first but he was, ‘Coach, I will do anything what it takes to help this team. He wasn't in great shape, as most freshman weren't, and he has had to grow up a little bit. But he's so powerful. He can run. He's learning how to stunt and do all those things. We are very high on him, yet we realize he's only a freshman. But he's one of those guys you don't have to be as patient with as one who is not ready to play because he's getting very close to being ready to play. He has a great future ahead of him."
"I feel good about our position here. We've got proven players here. Michael Boulware and Kendyll Pope are outstading players. Both run extremely well, both are good tacklers, both can cover, both play extremely hard. We feel very good about them. Of course, Jerel has shown he can play middle linebacker. We will still put him up there, let him play like a standup defensive tackle at times. The thing we have to do is develop more depth at linebacker. We've had some kids hurt, banged up. We feel like Allen Augustin is probably our next best player at all three positions. Here's a guy who was a walkon who ended up starting the Gator Bowl and played very well. He's such a smart, football savvy kid that technically, he's probably our backup at all three positions.
"A guy that we think is going to be an outstanding player, I hope it is this year, is Marcello Church. He can run just like those other two linebackers. He has really got some wheels. He's still not mentally tough enough. He doesn't handle all the details of his position. You can't always tell what he's going to do yet. Sometimes a freshman comes out of him. It's not suppose to because he's not a freshman anymore. (Robert) May is a backup backer and so is Ray Piquion.
"And we have those three freshmen, and we think all three are going to be very good players. Not ready to play right now but down the road they will help this football team. We have not made the decision yet (to redshirt). If they don't end up getting into a game the first four or five games, then yeah we will redshirt them. But one or two, maybe all three, will be on kicking team. Possibly starters. If that's the case, if they can help us win this year they will play. If they are not ready to help us, we will be patient with them and give thems some. There have been a lot of good players around here, Pete Boulware didn't play his first year, there's a lot of them who ended up redshirting and ended up being great players. But it's too early. I don't know if there is a single guy right now that you would stamp and say your redshirting – maybe Burston, a kid who has to grow. He's not big enough to play the position right now. Nate (Hardage) is a guy who missed a good bit of offseason, a good bit of spring training. Actually, I think he approached coach Kines with the idea of he might not be quite ready that he might consider a redshirt. He's just like the other kids – even though he has been to junior college if he's not ready to play, then give him a year and let him get ready. He missed so much in the offseason. We like Nate and think he's going to be a good football player."
"Probably the biggest improvement on our defense has been at the two corners and I think Stanford (Samuels) and Rufus Brown have come miles. And yet both of them know there's room to get better, too. Stanford has been nicked up a little bit, a concussion and has missed some time. We feel like we have a little more depth there, though one of them has a broken hand (Bryant McFadden) and another has a bad ankle (Leroy Smith), but I think those guys have really stood out and have had a good fall. Leroy struggled in one scrimmage, Malcom (Tatum) struggled in one. (Gerard) Ross is trying to become a... he was hurting when he got here. Had him at safety and then moved him to corner. Had surgery in December, so he missed all offseason, missed all spring practice. He's out there now, but he's a kid who has a ways to go and he understands that he's not ready to play. But I hope this year at some point he can make enough progress that he will be ready.
"Kyler Hall was cleary ahead when we started, and then he breaks his hand. Then he comes back and we are going to let him run a little bit and then he hurts his ankle. He has been kind of hobbling his way around out there. But Kyler knows what to do. He knows how to do it. He makes all his checks. His moter never slows down. B.J. Ward has come a long way. He's still not where we want him and he's not where he wants to be. But he is at the point. ... he didn't have a great scrimmage last night but he has been banged up. He has played the whole fall with a hurt shoulder. He has a separated shoulder. I've gained a stronger respect for him for his toughness, what I've seen in the last week or two. He's very close to be able to go in and play like a starter. Probably the biggest thing he's got, he's not very discplined at times. He may have one responsibility and he's in a hurry to do something else. You can't do that. There's a step A to everything we do. You can't bypass that and go to B. We are still working on that and he's aware of it.
"I feel like we have two guys who are starters at rover in Claudius Osei and Jerome Carter. I really don't know who's ahead at this point. They are kind of bunched. I like to say we have two starters than a second-teamer there. Both of them missed a lot of time with hamstring problems. Some way or another, we have to get them well. We can't be as good as we can be without them. I will tell you ol' (Patrick) Newton has stepped in. He's a physical player, you can see him on kickoff teams. He wasn't named captain of the special teams just because he's a pretty boy. He plays hard and will run and hit folks. We don't have great depth there.
"Patrick (Watkins) has got great potential. I think about every scrimmage we've had he has come up with an interception. He's a play maker We knew that coming in. He's not as good a tackler right now as he's got to be. He's off his feet too much and you can't tackle laying down. You have to play on your feet. He still doesn't understand how to finish a play yet. We go from point A, which is where your responsiblity puts you, to point B, where the ball is. And you can't get there too quick. In his mind, he's actually running to the ball but when he sees it on video he can't believe it either. He's trying to work on it mentallyand I am working on it with him physically, letting him to extra work, trying to encourage him to get to the football. You can't pick up fumbles, you can't pick up an tipped interception, you can't be a blocker if you are not going to the ball. If you are not going to the ball, nothing good is happening.You would rather just be on the sideline watching, let's just play with 10 people. That's something he will learn and he has improved on it a lot. But it's not a habit for him yet. Part of it is because he's having to think too much out there, trying to learn all of our coverages and things like that. But it will come. I am very encouraged that he's going to be a good football player."
ON MORE PRESS COVERAGE
"A lot of times, even though we have press called, maybe the formation, maybe the check, maybe the split....there's a lot of things that affect whether you stay in it. There's just certain times you come out of your press. But we are working like crazy to try to do as much as we can. We have more confidence in our guys and they have more confidence in themselves than we had last year. I think you will see more. There are certain coverages and certain techniques that you play that you just don't get up and play bump-and-run. It might be because of what you are doing up on your front or what you are doing with your linebackers. You just don't do it. I think our coverage – and I am talking about our linebackers and our secondary – is much improved and I think our pressure at getting to the quarterback has improved."