The defensive line guru, set to embark on his sixth season on the bayou, must replace both starters at defensive tackle (Ego Ferguson and Anthony Johnson) and Jordan Allen, a veteran who factored into the rotation at defensive end.
Below, Haley shares his thoughts on which young defensive tackle is taking on the mantle of leader as well as putting a priority on stopping the run in 2014. He also updates the recovery of end Jermauria Rasco from offseason shoulder surgery and discusses what's ahead for Kendell Beckwith and Danielle Hunter.
Ben Love: How did you feel like your guys collectively, both the tackles and the ends, performed this spring?
Brick Haley: Well I think during spring those guys did a good job of getting themselves where they need to be. I think they grew a little bit this spring, which gives them an opportunity to be ready for the fall. This summer is going to be critical for them. They need to be working out, keeping their minds sharp and doing the little things to get ready for the season.
BL: Specifically with your tackles, is there a guy there who's taken a leadership role at this point?
BH: All those guys have kinda collectively done a good job, but I think Christian Lacouture for sure has taken on a leadership role and done a really good job for us.
BL: When you look at Jordan Allen leaving the program, what does that open up for someone like Tashawn Bower and some added responsibility he'll shoulder this season?
BH: I think you're exactly right with what Jordan leaving (means). That gives some younger guys an opportunity to come in and play right away, to be in the steady rotation. I'm looking forward to that and excited about it. The Tashawn Bowers of the world, the Lewis Neals, those guys, they'll have to come to life in a hurry.
BL: Are the days done of us seeing Kendell Beckwith at defensive end?
BH: Well we're going to look into that and see. I think he's done some good things at linebacker. You never know, you get those things done when you get an opportunity to get them done. It's just one of those deals – maybe, maybe not, who knows? We're not going to give away any secrets if we can help it. But I think (he's a) linebacker. He's a great kid and he's done a great job for us. He gave us some added help there (at defensive end) when we needed it. I've been really impressed with him, and I'm blessed to have an opportunity to coach him.
BL: What is it that makes it so difficult for defensive tackles to come in and play and make an impact in year one? And what lies ahead for first-year guys coming in like Travonte Valentine?
BH: The biggest thing is that they have to understand the schemes that we're in and the things that we want to do with them. Then things like block protection and lowering their pad level, little things like that that make it difficult to get on the field. They've got to be able to play relentless play after play after play, so that's kinda how it works out for those new guys.
BL: What's the latest on Jermauria Rasco and his recovery from offseason shoulder surgery? Do you expect he'll hit the ground running in Fall Camp?
BH: Yeah, he should hit the ground running. He should be healthy and ready to roll this fall, so we're excited about that. He's come a long way with his rehab, everything's going good, so we have no complaints there. He'll take a bigger leadership role and give us an opportunity to do some things that we want to get done at the end position.
BL: Your other starting defensive end, Danielle Hunter, had a really big spring game. Can this be the season where he kinda takes off?
BH: Well you kinda hope that. That's always what you look for in a guy that's been in the system for a while – for him to step to the forefront and let it be his team. We're going to put that on him and see if he can wear that label.
BL: Would it be fair to say there's more of an emphasis this year for the front seven to really stop the run first? And how do you feel like the defense is coming along in that regard?
BH: Yeah, we've got to do a great job with the front seven on stopping the run and taking care of the little things. It's about playing alert and playing physical. With our front, those are the things that we talk about day in and day out.