First of all, I just want to thank our fans. What a great turnout it was today. The weather cooperated to a great extent. But it was great for the players to have a nice fan turnout like we did today. That was a great step.
Overall, spring ball went pretty well. We made some progress. As you can see today, we need a lot of work. We're a real young team in an awful lot of areas. We have some guys that really need to step forward here in the next couple of months.
That being said, we have a lot of work to do moving forward. Every phase, every step that we take is real important. Our guys understand that. We'll work on that starting Monday.
Just a quick overview, defensively, we look like we have a chance, at least up front, to be a solid group. One young guy that I think really did a nice job this spring stepping up is Marcus Paschal. He's not going to be Bob Sanders, but he really took that next step this spring.
And we have an ongoing battle with George Lewis and Ed Miles out there at the outside backer position. Otherwise, I think we really know who our first-line guys are, and we really have to work to devlop depth on the offensive side of the ball.
Pete McMahon did a good job, and we expected that up front. Mike Elgin really came on strong at the center position. Those two guys really stood out. And then we have a bunch of guys that really need to continue to grow and work.
The tight ends looked pretty solid. As a group, we're in decent shape there. We've just got to keep getting better.
The receivers, we have the three older guys that have been around a little bit. After that, we're extremely young.
In the backfield, two young guys that really were pleasing were Albert Young; we expected that; we saw a lot of good things of him in August; and then I thought Tom Busch up until his injury really looked good. He was coming on strong. The first week was a tough adjustment, but he really made great strides. He's going to be a pretty solid player for us.
And then, who am I leaving out? Quarterbacks. I've got to do that. They just had a press conference in here. As I said Tuesday, they've really done some good things. Both Drew and Jason have really improved since the fall. That was pleasing to see. Jason is a little bit stronger now, a little bit more physically strong and a little bit more confident. Those guys have taken the next step. We've got to put it all together.
What is Simmons' scholarship situation?
He transferred in without one. We were full. In the summer time, Marquis certainly will be one of the guys we consider. We'll start a list here probably in the coming week. We usually don't make decisions on that until August. He hasn't hurt himself this spring. It was good to get him out there and get him some work.
For a team that's going to be pretty good on defense, you guys put up a lot of points on offense. You've got to at least be pleased with your passing game.
Ah, yes and no. We haven't caught the ball very well this spring. That's really a concern. Not only the receivers, but the tight ends, the backs, everybody. That's a concern and then even today when we have caught the ball we haven't protected it. I'm really concerned about that.
I'm hoping that we'll be a good defensive football team. if you can play good defense, if you're good on special teams, and if you can protect the football, you'll have a chance to win. That's part of the maturity process. We've got to get better there.
But we did some things today. There were some big plays made. I was glad to see that. he quarterbacks have been winging it around pretty well all spring. That's encouraging.
You talked about worry about the guys not putting the Outback Bowl and all of that stuff behind them. After spring ball, are you confident that their focus is forward?
I think that it's adequate or decent right now. I'm not going to say that it's outstanding at this point. Part of it factoring in is that we're a little younger than maybe in the past at this point.
Sometimes young guys don't know what they don't know. We have a little bit of that at this point. We have some guys that just need to grow up a little bit. I don't know an easy way to do that. Hopefully, we'll do that as we move along.
Was today pretty typical of what you've seen from Simmons?
Well, yes and no. He ran behind a little better group today. He's been running behind our second and third groups at times in the spring. If he's going against the 1 defense, there hasn't been a lot of wiggle room. He had a little chance. I asked him what it felt like to see a hole out there. He kind of smiled about that.
He's a guy that's working hard all of the time. We're real pleased. We felt good about him a couple of years ago. He hasn't done anything to displease us since he's been back. Today was a good day for him to have an opportunity.
Herb Grigsby flashed a little bit today. Is that indicative of the spring that he's had?
It's kind of indicative of a lot of our younger players. You know, flash and do some good things, but then they'll do some things that make you think, "Boy (laughs), they're freshmen." The reality is that they're freshmen.
That's sometimes the problems with youth - the inconsistency. That's what I'm really talking about with us growing up. If we're going to have a real good football team, we're going to have to have a lot of guys that develop that consistency. You can't be successful in our conference if you don't have that mentality and that level of performance. We're not there yet. That's probably our biggest concern with a lot of our younger guys.
Kirk, what are your thoughts on Lee Gray?
He's in the same category. He's really improved. I mentioned before that in December he really moved forward and had improved. He's done the same in the spring, but he's not ready to line up and play in our conference and be successful. I say our conference, heck our nonleague schedule we've got some challenges there, too. When September rolls around we're going to have to be ready to roll. We have a definite amount of improvement needed to be made.
So, are you locked in at that position?
No. I wouldn't say that anybody is locked in right now. As I mentioned, Pete has been real solid. Mike Elgin distinguished himself this spring. And Mike Jones has played pretty well for us. He's going to have to improve to. We're going to count on him to improve. He practiced a little bit young this spring, but I think he'll come around.
Where is Gates?
The rest of the guys are all in the mix.
Is he OK?
Yeah. We hope so. They're getting it X-rayed right now. I'm optimistic. They felt pretty good about that.
All of those guys are in the mix, and it's probably going to go right through August.
Do you worry about bodies at all on the offensive line? It seems like a lot of guys are injured and you're running out.
Yeah. I didn't mentioned that Chris Felder got injured during Thursday's workout. He had a problem with a clavical. I'm not quite sure how long that is going to be. He's basically missed this spring. And then we have two starters on the shelf. So, it's not a good prognosis (laughs).
We're never going to be good enough to lose two guys that have played and just be, "OK, let's put somebody else out there." That's what we're working on right now.
You had to enlist Mike Jones this year as a true freshman. I know the new guys coming in aren't here yet, but do you foresee those guys, any of them having a chance?
We have an open mind, basically, at every position. The running back thing, that situation might be pretty (set). But you saw last spring how quickly that changed. But we're going to look at everybody real quickly at camp. If there's anybody that we think can factor into the two-deep and special teams, or the case of O-linemen that usually don't help you on special teams, yeah we'll keep an open mind. We're not only trying to win next year, but we want to get guys ready to play down the road, too, so we're not real green all of the time.
Whose team is this on offense? Who is stepping up to take over the leadership?
That's a big part of what we've lost. We've lost some excellent players, but the seniors last year grew. Robert Gallery is a pretty good player in 2002. He was a very good player this year. Bu the most dramatic change in his case was his leadership. He just became our dominant team leader.
We're looking for an identity at this point. When you're real young and inexperienced on that side of the football, it's going to take a while for us to develop a personality. To answer your question, I don't know at this given point. That will evolve, but it's not just going to happen. We're going to have to push it a little bit.
For the first time, you don't have a senior quarterback but a group of younger guys. How does that affect getting ready for the season?
There are some negatives. One nice thing about having a senior is that they're fifth-year guys. They tend to be a little bit more consistent; steady maybe; and confident. But Drew isn't lacking for confidence. I don't think Jason is either.
It's different though. The guys haven't been out there. They're not only not old, they're not experienced. At least last year, Chandler was old and had experience from that standpoint.
So, it's a little bit different combination, but I'm excited about the group. I really like the things that we've seen them do this spring. We're going to be fine there. Hopefully, we'll get some leadership from that position.
Is it down to a two-man race there?
Those two are one tier. Below that, you've got a second tier. That's fair to say.
How firm is Drew's grip on the No. 1 spot?
It's in his hands, really. But it's in Jason's too. We're going to let them compete and continue to compete. They've done a nice job with each other this spring. We haven't won a game with either one of those guys playing so to say that they have a firm grip on anything at this point would really be premature.
It looked like today Drew was No. 1 and Jason was No. 2. Did you see anything today that changed your mind at all?
Nah. They both did a nice job. They did some good things and probably missed a few plays, too. But they did some good things. Overall, at that position, we're probably as healthy as we've been. What remains to be see is how they play. But we really didn't know what Nathan was going to do a year ago or Brad two years ago. We had a little glimpse of Brad. But some of the good things he did in 2001, I also remember him stepping out of bounds in the Michigan game.
That's another good illustration of the inexperience that we're talking about. We're going to have some of those doosies out there. I know that's coming next fall. I just hope it's not at the wrong time.
Is that the biggest question mark that you have on this team?
Yeah. It really is. We have a lot of green guys. That, and working on our second-tier players. We've got to really keep pressing.
The wide receivers, it seemed like you came down on them hard on Tuesday saying they needed to come forward. They seemed to show up today.
They did better. And they're going to continue to do better. It's been a real underwhelming spring performance wise at that position. We're just not taking care of the ball the way that we need to. We're not being aggressive with the football. We're going to have to do that. The cavalry is not coming. We've got to move forward here. We've got to keep pressing.
Jermelle Lewis, what's his situation? We didn't see a whole lot of him.
Yeah. We weren't going to get him tackled. He's been in and out with some leg tweaks and all of that. Overall, he's doing fine. He could have played if there was a game today.
When you signed this 2003 recruiting class, did you think that so many of them would be in the two-deep this early?
We knew it was possible. Next year's class, the door is going to be open there, too. We're open to that right now. You just hope that you don't have to put a guy out there quite before he's ready to go. Sometimes that happens. But some of the guys, they're not all young. Albert Young is ready to play. Drew is ready to go. Busch, I was really impressed with what I saw of Busch. He's going to give us a nice boost. Paschal a young guy. Elgin, those guys, they're going to do some good jobs. They're a year behind, but you just see them performing more consistently day to day. That's what we're looking for.
I didn't see Paschal.
He's at a funeral today. He's really had a nice spring.
Are your surprised that 30,000 people came to see you guys play two quarters and stretch?
(Laughter) Not really. They'd probably come for the stretch. Our fans are pretty loyal and pretty curious. If you look at over the last two years, we've had over 70,000 people travel to Florida to watch the football team. And there's always been great curiosity in the spring.
How much can things open up on the depth chart at running back? Marquis kind of put his good foot forward today but he has some pretty good guys ahead of him.
Yeah. That's one position where we feel pretty confident. The first three guys in the chart right now, we feel pretty confident in terms of predicting how they will perform. We have a good feel of what they'll do in game situations. That being said, I've never been anywhere where you can too many good backs. If Marquis could enter the mix, that would be tremendous. We think that he has that kind of capability.
How about all of the positive publicity we're going to have this week with draft coming up?
It's fantastic. That's not the No. 1 reason you go to college. The one bad thing about an NFL career is that they're pretty short lived for players and coaches. That's the negative.
Every guy that comes in here I think they have the dream of playing at the highest level just like anyone would in any profession. Anytime that our guys can have their dreams fulfilled, if they could just make it to a camp so they can say they got an opportunity, that's fabulous.
We've had quite a few guys do well in the National Football League over the last few years. I'm real confident that this group is going to do the same. It's going to be an exciting weekend. It's a sign that things are getting healthier. That being said, we have a lot of work to do.
Do you have great expectations for your special teams this season?
We're going to have to. I just can't see us being successful if we're not doing a real good job on special teams. Kyle is going to have his ups and downs. We know that going into it. I'm confident that we'll get through those. Everybody else is going to have to do a great job. We're counting on David to be outstanding and consistent next year. That's true of all of our guys that have played. If we're going to have a decent team, we're going to need all of the guys that have played to play their best.