OPENING STATEMENT: We have talked to the players and like most springs, we made some progress but have a lot of work to do. The good news is that we do not play a game next week, otherwise we would be in serious trouble. We still have a lot of areas we need to shore up and improve upon; that is part of a process. Now we transition into the next phase. The guys will train for a couple of weeks, finish things up academically, and take some time off before we get going here in June. The big thing is that our team has to keep growing and maturing in a lot of ways. One of the positives is that we did not have too many injuries, or at least nothing of a serious nature - which is very encouraging. We got through today pretty much injury free, but things begin, in earnest, in June. We should be able to progress and maximize from there. The good news: no injuries. The frustrating part was not seeing some guys we would have liked to see grow and develop more not get that opportunity. But, that is part of football. All this said, we will go through the tapes and get going here in August.
What are some of your strengths coming out of the spring?
The flip of a year ago, we were more concerned about the health of our defensive line and running back. It is just the opposite now, our defensive line has practiced and looked good. All six of the guys who played a year ago save Ryan Bain. He got hurt a week ago, but he will be fine. Those guys are playing a fairly high level right now. The running back situation looks to be fairly confident. We are seeing some good things from people who are probably going to step into the starting line up. Not enough, but we are seeing good things. The guys that jump out are Mike Humpal and Herb Grigsby - both who had good springs. I think they are ready to go and now it is just a matter of motivating everyone else.
Talk about (Jason) Manson's development as a receiver.
I thought he did a lot of good things. The big thing is that he is not a experience, polished, or finished receiver at any point before this stage (in the game). But what he is. is a guy that we as coaches trust. We know we can trust him and he will make good decisions. If he gets the opportunity I think he will make some plays for us. It is something that we will continue to fool with. He showed us enough to encourage us. He showed us good things but he still has some things to learn.
Is he going to play both (WR and QB) positions?<
I think that will be our plan going into August. It is something we are going to keep working on that. We do not want to lose what he had at quarterback. But I think he has had enough time invested there to be able to split time and it will work out.
Talk about Lee Gray coming off a season of injury and about applying for an extra year of eligibility.
He did not do much extensively this spring in the form of live work, but he did most things in term of drill work. He is not out of the woods. And, in my understanding, and I am just comparing this to what Mike Humpal had a year ago, except Lee's (injury) is a little bit more extensive in the repair he had done. I think he is going to have peaks and valleys and for any of us to say he will play next season as realistic is too early. He needs to have clearance from the NCAA anyway. But, the jury is out on where he will be.
Can you talk about the change in the offensive line with (Rafael) Eubanks moving to center?
That is just something we did a couple of days ago. We have not written anything in ink yet, but we will have to write something down for the media guide in the preseason. Like a lot of positions nothing is really in ink at this point. We will keep evaluating the football team. That is just one of the positions we are looking at. We have 6 or 7 in contention for the top five there, so that is just something we shifted to a few days ago. We will look at the tapes and see what that shows. But, my guess is that we are going to go a ways into camp before making into decisions - and probably will on a couple of other positions as well.
How important is it for (Jake) Christensen to get reps like he did today?
I think it was critical for him to get a lot of work. One thing is for sure and that is that we have two senior quarterbacks come in the fall. The other thing is that it will be Jake and the two incoming freshman as our scholarship quarterbacks come next fall. We felt llike we needed to get him a lot of work and could afford to do that because of Jason's knowledge. It was a good thing for Jason and for Jake. We will just see what happens during the course of the fall. Before we put him in there we have to be in a position to put him in there. Right now I do not know if I could foresee that in any game. We will just see how it all pans out.
How is the (James) Cleveland thing working out?
It seems to be going well. The biggest caution you have is that I think he seems to be transitioning socially pretty well. You always worry about the academic part of it. He is coming in and not with the rest of the freshman in his class. He is working at it and we have been able to keep a close finger on things. He seems to be going OK. He made it home for his prom, two weekends ago, and we are happy to hear that. And he is doing a nice job on the field. The biggest thing is that we just want to make sure he makes the transition academically and gets his feet on the ground there so that he is not behind the 8-ball next fall.
Did the linebackers make a big step forward this spring, in particular Mike Humpal?
Yes and no. He really did a nice job and we anticipated that. I am not saying it is a Sean Considine story, but it is something like that. In Sean's sophomore season, he was probably good enough to play that year but we had an NFL player playing in front of him. Hump was kind of in that situation last year, but he played in some of that 3-4 package that we use. He was really playing well and practicing well. Norm felt very good about him. I think if he would have had a start he would have been fine. It would have been tough to pull (Chad) Greenway and (Abdul) Hodge of the field, certainly. We put him at the OLB position and he really carried on physically like he had in the fall and made that transition very, very well. If I was going to single out one LB, he really did a great job. Mike Klinkkenborg did well, but he missed a significant amount of time. He and Zach (Gabelmann) are neck and nect. I really think Zach had a good spring and really made a good push last August and right through to this season. On the other side, Bryan Gattas - he is out right now - and Edmond Miles have been competing. Those five guys I would say are the guys we are counting on. We will see how everybody grows but I think we are in good shape there.
Do you have more weapons this season than the start of any other?
Yes and no. We are really green at the receiver position. Clint (Solomon) made a lot of big plays for us and so did Ed Hinkel. To me, Ed Hinkel is money in the back and we do not have that right now at the wide receiver position. It is going to be a challenge for us and also an opportunity for some guys to step into that role. We have had some great stories. The Ramon Ochoa story, the Warren Holloway. We are going to need some of that this year. We are going to need someone to really step in and do a good job. I cited Herb earlier because he had a real consistent spring. We saw that coming with what he did last year when he stepped in and did some good things. On the flip side of that is the running backs. We really feel good about that group, and the tight ends have really come on. We are feeling pretty good about the way they have developed. The key is going to be putting it all together and having some guys who we are not recognizing today be guys we are recognizing by mid-season. That is hopefully the way it is going to pan out for us.
Can Cleveland contribute next year?
From the things we have seen, yes. I sure do think so especially considering our lack of experience right now at that position.