Brickey: Although the actual numbers of guys isn't great, the first thing you've got to look at is the three starting seniors we lost. Seneca Wallace, Zach Butler and Kyle Knock had been involved in a lot of winning football around here. That's a lot of snaps to replace. You particularly worry about losing a quarterback and center, and want to continue being strong up the middle.
I think we can improve in some areas. I don't think anybody is satisfied or complacent with anything, yet I also think we did a lot of good things last year. We don't think we need to completely throw out everything we're doing because the sky is falling.
The thing we didn't do as well as we need to is protect the football. The turnovers in the second half of the season hurt us. Then we need to be a little more consistent in our ability to run the football. Those are the two real focuses of spring practice.
Brickey: We think we've got some people to look at to do it. The quarterback situation this spring is going to be real interesting. Certainly that job is up for grabs going into spring practice. Cris Love will start out as the number one guy and we'll see how he does with that. Cris is the one guy that has been out there a little bit and played pretty decently. We feel like he certainly deserves to start off as the first-teamer. Then we'll see how the other guys perform in trying to beat him out.
Waye Terry is a real good athlete that is big and strong, but moves around well. He's got a good, strong, powerful arm. We'll just see how far and fast he can come along, in terms of the experience, knowledge, leadership, and all of the things that go into it. Then, does he have the physical and mental toughness to stand in there and take it?
Flynn is very similar. He's got outstanding moving abilities. I think he throws the ball well enough to be effective. He doesn't have a cannon for an arm, but throws it well enough that he can make the throws you need made. But it's the same deal – how quickly can he learn, how quickly does he react to the various things that happen, what kind of leader will he be? We haven't had much training with and he hasn't been out there much."
CN: What makes Cris Love the starter going into workouts?
Brickey: It's a little bit of his experience in our system. He's been in it a while and has a real good knowledge of what we're trying to do. His toughness is certainly an asset for him. He's a tough guy and stands in there well against the blitz. He doesn't let the pass rush and blitz affect him, in terms of continuing to look and see. He doesn't start running out of there and ducking. His mental toughness, physical toughness and ability to stay focused on his job, even when the pressure is on, are all assets for him."
CN: What certain areas will be looked at strongly when evaluating quarterback play?
Brickey: We saw towards the end of the season that it's not always who's making great plays as much as who can avoid making the really poor ones. That's a factor. Some guys have a knack for knowing when to fold your cards, realize the defense has got you and let's not make a bad situation worse by giving up the ball. That's something we pride ourselves in around here.
We have been real good in the ball security area here, but in the second half of last season that got away from us a bit. So that will be a big point of emphasis with all these guys. Who can make sure we don't give the other team cheapies? It will be fun to see how it all filters itself out. There isn't really one right now that you say is the clear-cut guy, so it's great for all of them. From that regard it will be a fun and exciting guy.
CN: What about the tailback situation? Is there one guy that will take hold of that job and run with it?
Brickey: It's the same thing, in terms of having some healthy competition. Going back and looking at last season, I'm not sure at the time any of us realized that maybe Hiawatha Rutland getting hurt about halfway through may have affected us more than we thought it did.
Just looking at play after play of the season, that kid was playing pretty well and making things happen. When he suddenly wasn't at full strength, it affected us a little. I look for him to come back strong this spring and hopefully regain that form that he had the first half of the season.
Wagner is a proven guy that we trust and is steady. He's not really spectacular, but you know what you're going to get – a good day's work without many mental mistakes. Brian Thompson played a little bit and at times showed some potential. He needs to continue coming on and step up his game.
We add to the mix Stevie Hicks, who showed enough in practice and scrimmages that he has a lot of good abilities. It's going to be a situation similar to the quarterbacks. The competition will be healthy and forces everybody to be at their best everyday.
CN: What went into the decision not to play Hicks last season?
Brickey: Early in the season we just didn't feel like he was ready, Hiawatha was playing well, we had confidence in Wags and knew B.T. was coming along. Then once so much of the season was gone, you still weren't positive Hicks was ready. You would've hated to play him, burn a season and then maybe find out he wasn't ready.
It's not just running that football. There are pass protection issues and all kinds of other things that go into it. We just weren't sure Hicks was ready and didn't want to risk burning a year. It's good now to think that he's got four years left.
CN: What has Hicks shown you thus far that makes him such an outstanding prospect?
Brickey: He seems to have good vision, good feet and is a little bigger guy that can occasionally run through a tackle. We'll see how he is in terms of consistency, in terms of not making mental mistakes and playing well in front of 60,000 people. As much as we like his potential, the jury is still out on all those things.
CN: We would assume that the wide receiver position is still an area of strength.
Brickey: Not a whole lot has changed. There's no question that's our deepest position on the offense in terms of the number of guys we think can play winning football. We've got one or two more guys that have made it even a stronger situation.
We've got Lane Danielsen, Lance Young, Jack Whitver and Jamaul Montgomery returning, but you also throw Jon Davis into the mix now. He's going to be a real good player. Andy Kohler has showed some things and we'd like to get him more involved. David Banks-Bursey has showed some ability at times. Todd Miller can do some things. It's hard to consistently use more than about five guys there, so the challenge will be working into that first rotation.
We think a couple of those guys were (potential all-conference receivers) a year ago, but because we spread the ball around so much they don't show up statistically as much. Maybe they suffer in terms of personal acclaim for the good of the team.
CN: Why is Luke Vander Sanden's return to the offensive line so important?
Brickey: We're hopeful he can play the entire season. Losing him last year was a real blow to our offense, because we think he has the chance to be an exceptional player. Getting him back should be good for us. The place we want to work him for right now is center, because he's been in our system a while and has experience.
Brickey: As a unit they've got a chance to show a little bit of improvement from last year. More experience is a factor. In some spots we'll be a little bigger, faster and stronger than we were. We think Montgomery is a quality player at left guard. Casey Shelton is now an experienced guy at left tackle and played well at times last fall. He needs to be a little bit more consistent, but we got that at times last fall. Cale Stubbe at right tackle has played for a season and been through it. Over the course of last season, he maybe played better than I thought he'd be able to.
Brickey: Right guard spot was a problem a year ago when Luke got hurt. We're going to start off there with a competition between Seth Zehr and Aaron Brant. Another guy that would have been in the mix is Kory Pence, but he broke a bone in his foot and I'm not sure how much we'll get out of him this spring.
There are some questions about (Zehr and Brant). Seth is getting bigger, and with every day that goes by with Aaron here, he's gaining more experience. Those are the things that you wonder about, so hopefully those things will be taken care of over time.
CN: Does that mean you've settled on those two playing guard throughout their careers?
Brickey: We felt like the next two guys, in terms of our best chances, would be Seth and Aaron, so we decided to put those two at that spot and let them battle it out. At some point we think Seth is a better player than somebody and/or Aaron is – that doesn't mean those other jobs are set in cement. At some point in his career, Aaron Brant may well end up playing tackle. But right now we want to put those two at that right guard spot.
CN: Will we see more depth along the offensive front than in '02?
Brickey: A year ago those same kids had to take all of the snaps and just got worn down. We didn't have enough depth to rotate anywhere, so those same kids were going in there snap after snap. Hopefully we can develop some confidence in some backups that we can put on the field at times to lighten the load over an entire season.
CN: We've heard some good things about walk-ons Chris O'Hollearn and Johannes Egbers. Will those two make a push for spots in the rotation this spring?
Brickey: We talk about developing guys and having confidence in them to go in there and lighten the load on the starters. The biggest thing for them is getting to the point where we think they can give us some quality snaps. We'd like to get in a rotation where we're saving the wear and tear on those starters.
Brickey: It should be a good competition. Segin has played some and gotten a little bit bigger. He's certainly going to be trying to win that job. Kellogg has been around here a while and played a little last year at tight end. He's a very intense kid that wants to contribute to this team. We have high hopes for James Wright. So far he appears to be a real pleasant kid that works hard and has a good attitude."
CN: Is James Wright everything the offensive staff was looking for in a tight end that can play right away?
Brickey: Everything we can tell about J.W. is that he looks to be a dominant blocker. But you never know for sure until you have him out there working.