SEC MEDIA DAYS: Bobby Johnson - Vanderbilt

A year after compiling a 5-6 record, Bobby Johnson and the Vanderbilt Commodores prepare for life after Jay Cutler. Johnson fielded plenty of questions about Cutler and his feelings about his improved Commodore team.

COACH JOHNSON: Hello. It's great to be here. We're extremely excited about the opportunity to start our season 2006 at Vanderbilt.

Feel like our program is growing and getting better, but it's very important that we move on this year and make some progress, try to get our program up to par with the right of the Southeastern Conference.

Anybody got any questions, I'd be glad to try to answer them.

Q. We have a trio of guys coming aboard with you this year. Can you talk about them, Teriall Brannan, D.J. Moore and Matt Quinn.

COACH JOHNSON: Sure. True freshmen coming in. D.J. Moore, I think, was male athlete of the year in the state of South Carolina, defensive back. Could be a wide receiver. Excellent athlete. Probably could play college basketball. We're excited about D.J. going to have a chance to help us in the secondary, maybe even from return situations.

Teriall Brannan we think probably may be a redshirt candidate. But he'll have an opportunity to help us on the defensive line. We think he can be an excellent defensive end. He's a very active athlete.

Matt Quinn, even though he's an accomplished wide receiver, we also think he's an excellent long snapper. May be long snapping for Vanderbilt against our opener against Michigan.

Key players for us, not only in the future, but a couple of them maybe even this year.

Q. With the loss of Jay Cutler, can you talk a little bit about the importance of the running game this year, especially Cassen Jackson, Jeff Jennings, their roles?

COACH JOHNSON: It will be important that we run the football. We can't count on the quarterbacks we have with their inexperience to be as adept at throwing the football as Jay Cutler was right when he left. Cassen Jackson-Garrison, especially at the first, will carry most of the load because Jeff Jennings had a knee injury in the next to the last game. He's rehabbing well, but we don't quite know whether he's going to be ready or not.

We also have a redshirt freshman, Jared Hawkins, who we think is a very good player. We have some freshmen that will come in and push those guys, too.

You'll probably see our quarterback run a little bit more this year than we did last year, even though Jay ran a good bit his first three years. We didn't run him near as much last year. Chris Nickson, MacKenzi Adams are both active, athletic quarterbacks. If they're in the football game, we have to take advantage of their athleticism and put a little pressure on the defense.

Q. Have you ever had a three-game stretch like you guys are going to open up with, with that quality of opposition? Can you give us the background on how the Michigan game came up?

COACH JOHNSON: I can't remember. Of course, you know, we used to play Citadel and all those guys. They're not Michigan.

Michigan, Alabama, both away, then come back and play Arkansas, I don't know if any team has a tougher opening three games than we do. It's certainly going to tell us a lot about our football team. It's going to tell us about our quarterback situation. Certainly going to be a challenge.

We were approached by ESPN to play the Michigan game, first game of the year, be on television. We discussed it a lot. Coaching staff, administration, it went back and forth. There were some good arguments. But when we finally decided to do it, you know, everybody's on board, we're a hundred percent behind the decision. Our players are very excited about going to a great stadium, a storied program, opening up a season against a great team like Michigan.

I think it will have the attention of our players in the pre-season. I think it's going to be a big boost to our pre-season preparation. But it's going to be a lot of fun.

I think last year we proved that we're not afraid to go to big stadiums away and play. We played very well at South Carolina. We played very well at Florida. We won at Arkansas. We won at Tennessee. You know, Michigan is a great, great atmosphere, but I don't think our guys are going to be afraid to go up there.

Q. Other than quarterback, maybe your biggest concerns of your football team?

COACH JOHNSON: Probably depth on defense, defensive line. We've got some young guys playing on the defensive line, especially at defensive end. We're trying to create more speed on defense. We've moved some linebackers down to play defensive end. We moved some secondary people down to play linebacker.

But probably depth at a few crucial defensive line situations is probably my biggest concern.

Q. I've looked for an open date on your schedule, and I don't see one. I'm sure you've looked long and hard trying to find it, too.

COACH JOHNSON: I'm still searching (smiling).

Q. Do you anticipate maybe after a few years of the permanent 12-game schedule there will be some backlash, some push from coaches for the NCAA to revisit that?

COACH JOHNSON: Well, no, I don't think it's going to change now in that we have 12. I think we're going to keep 12. I think the conference, the Southeastern Conference, is working with us now to make getting a schedule where we're playing a game after Thanksgiving, so that will give us an opportunity to at least get an open date. That will be very helpful.

When you look at the revenue potential of the 12th game, I don't see it going back. The only other thing I could think that would change that is maybe if they get a playoff, go back to 11 games, maybe start the playoff on the 12th game, so the playoff system wouldn't be so long. That's the only thing I could see changing it.

Q. I think you're one of three SEC teams not to have an open date. Do you see that as a big disadvantage? Last year you had some big breakthrough wins, got so close to having that winning record. How tough is it to come back without a guy like Cutler, have hopes of a winning season after that?

COACH JOHNSON: 12 straight games can be extremely tough. It just depends on your injury situation. Sometimes an open date can distract you and disrupt you, especially if you've had a stretch where you're playing well. But most of the time an open date gives you a chance just to rest your guys, get them healed up a little bit. I think it's definitely an advantage to have one in there somewhere.

To me the worst situation about an open date is you have it maybe after the first game. That doesn't do you much good because you're not very tired then, you're not deep into the season, then you got to play -- still got to play all those games in a row after that.

It's hit or miss on the open date.

As far as coming close and not getting to a Bowl, I think it's a great indication to our team that we can compete when we play well and do what we're supposed to do. If we don't, we can lose to anybody on our schedule. We had a chance to beat some very good football teams, and then we lost some games that we felt like we shouldn't have lost.

I think it was just a great lesson for our team to prepare every week, you know, play like the first game gets you into a Bowl, the second game gets you into a Bowl. You've got to play every game like that.

I think the disappointment - I hope - has been turned into determination and some enthusiasm, some work habits that will get us to that point so we can enjoy a Bowl trip.

Q. Last year you only had to play two true freshmen, the year before you only had to play seven. What does that say about the program's growth possibly since your first year when a lot of the true freshmen had to play in 2002?

COACH JOHNSON: Well, hopefully it's because we're building some depth. That's been our goal since we've gotten there. Of course, everybody likes to have depth, wants depth. We were able to do that. When you redshirt a guy, it gives him another year of maturity, another year in the weight room, another year of learning the system. It's all good.

As I look back on it, though, I probably should have played some more freshmen. I think that would have helped us in some special teams situations. Later on in the season, we have some special teams situations that hurt us. I think it's maybe because of fatigue, getting down to the last guys we had available playing in those situations.

We're going to look very hard at every freshman this year and see if they are going to have a chance to help us on the team. Unless we're just going to waste a year of eligibility on one of them, we're going to look to play a lot of guys.

Q. Do you feel having Jay drafted so highly has helped your program in terms of name recognition, maybe to get this type of game such as Michigan? You have national exposure from that. How do you build on that name recognition?

COACH JOHNSON: Well, it definitely got us more exposure. I saw Jay's picture everywhere. I'd be out recruiting, I'd see it in the New York Times, I'd see it in USA Today. That was big news. When I see it, recruits see it, high school coaches see it. That just helps you out, no doubt about it. We couldn't buy that publicity if we had to. We wouldn't have enough money.

To take advantage of that, to go out and work hard, make sure you're doing your homework in your recruiting, get guys who can stay in school, help your program for four or five years, not just one year.

If you don't take advantage of it, that just doesn't come along every year, that kind of exposure, that kind of help.

Also we played on ESPN-2 I think three times last year. I think the Florida game was probably more talked about than any game we played as far as recruits are concerned because a lot of people saw it. It was kind of a crazy ending to it, double overtime, crazy ending. We'll take that kind of exposure all the time.

Q. You mentioned the Michigan game, there was a lot of discussion pro and con. What were some of the arguments against playing the opener? Where did you stand on that?

COACH JOHNSON: Well, the obvious con against playing it is we don't have an experienced quarterback. You go into one of the biggest, loudest stadiums in the country, you expect that guy to run your offense and execute it, be cool under pressure, that's a lot to ask of a young man to do that. That was probably the biggest one.

The other is, you know, we're at a point I think the next thing we need to do for our program is to win six games and go to a Bowl. Believe me, you know, middle Tennessee has beaten us the last two times. We haven't proven we could beat them. That's who we dropped to pick up Michigan. We at least had them at home. You would think on paper we would have a higher probability of winning a home game like that instead of going on the road and beating Michigan.

Those were the arguments against going up there.

The opportunity, I think, was just too big to turn down, and it presented itself in such a way that it would be positive for our program for several years down the road.

It also gives us an opportunity to do something bigger and better. We can go up there and beat Michigan, play well. That would be a big, big step for our program. Our players bought into that. They're working hard. It's got their attention. We're going to try to take advantage of the opportunity.

Q. Would you talk about the quarterback you have transferring in from Arizona, the circumstances that led to that, and what you think about the rule that allows him to play immediately?

COACH JOHNSON: Well, I got a call from a fan out there that said, you know, there was a quarterback in the University of Arizona that would like to look into transferring to your school. I said, Well, how many years does he have left? I said, I'm not really interested in getting a quarterback and sitting out a year and not playing any. He said, Well, he's going to ask for a waiver from the NCAA. I said, Well, that ain't gonna happen. I'll ask my compliance director if she thinks that may happen.

When I called her, she said, That's not going to happen. But there's been a new rule proposed that if a guy graduates and can be accepted into a graduate school at another school, he can be immediately eligible to play in the new school.

We looked into it. We talked to Richard Kovalcheck. He actually graduated from the University of Arizona in three years. I think he had a 3.6 grade point average. He was accepted into the Owens School of Business, Vanderbilt's graduate, MBA school. About the time we had him out to visit, the NCAA passed that rule. We just sort of shook hands and said, This is a no-brainer, come on in.

It was a time I think there was a transition going on at Arizona. Richard thought it was in his best interest to move on. We think we got a good quarterback. To me, we had a scholarship open. I'd have been stupid not to do it.

Q. Cutler's competitiveness and audacity, what did that mean to your team last season? Is it possible to replace that this season?

COACH JOHNSON: Well, you know, Jay was a great leader because he did that kind of stuff at practice as well as in the game. I think it went a long way to teaching our team how to prepare to win.

Can you replace that? I don't know if it's going to be right off the bat. Our guys have a lot of confidence in the quarterbacks we've got available to play for us. Are they going to be different from Jay? They're not going to be the same as he was right when he was playing in the Tennessee game. As coaches, we got to be aware of that. We got to be conscious of it. We got to be as patient as we can. It's up to us to develop those guys and use the talents that they have, not the talents that Jay Cutler had, but the talents that they have to work within our offense to see if we can make them successful.

Q. When you break in a quarterback that doesn't have a lot of experience, are there things that the coaching staff can do to kind of ease that transition or make things easier on him, if possible?

COACH JOHNSON: Well, we're going to try obviously. There's not going to be a whole lot of change. We didn't anticipate any. When Chris Nickson was our quarterback in spring, we didn't change the offense that much except we are going to take advantage of his athleticism, him being able to run the football. He's going to put pressure on some defenses doing that.

But Chris can throw the ball. Chris was on the sideline the last two years listening to every call that went in in every situation, was watching Jay, how he handled himself, how he worked through some problems.

We expect Chris to step in there and be a guy that may not have so many plays, but he's got some experience in our offense.

MacKenzi Adams is a true redshirt freshman, so it's going to be a little tougher for him. But he had a good spring. Richard Kovalcheck, he was a guy, I think he started 11 games in two years for Arizona. I think eight games were against top 25 teams. He's had some experience. We're going to have to find out what Richard does best and tailor our offense around that if he's the quarterback.

It is the responsibility of the coaching staff. We're going to have to get some help from the other players. Our runningback is going to have to step up. We're going to have to get the ball to Earl Bennett, George Smith, and Marlon White, wide receiver, to help our quarterback. The onus is not just on the quarterbacks, it's on the whole team and on the coaching staff.

Q. Could you talk about the learning curve of coaching in the SEC? Do you have to do it to really understand what it's like?

COACH JOHNSON: Well, the learning curve, I learned real quick, you better have some good players to coach in this league. That's the key.

I'm going to say, you know, in my opinion, coaching is coaching. You're going to find a lot of great coaches in high school. You're going to find a lot the great coaches in Division II, IAA, other conferences besides the SEC. But, you know, it is a top league for a reason: because everybody has a lot of assets. They have tradition; most places do. It's a tough, tough place to coach.

You got to be prepared to put your best product out there every week or you're not going to have a chance to win. I don't care how good we ever get at Vanderbilt. If we're recruiting like we want to year after year after year, building our depth, we're still going to have to battle for every game we ever play in this league, because the teams that are up there ahead of us right now. They're not going to back up. They're going to keep getting better, too.

It's a tough challenge. But, heck, you know, that's why you coach. Try to go up against the best and beat 'em.

Q. Can you talk about not only what Jay meant to you last year, but also the win against Tennessee, how much that had an impact, and the game against Florida before the penalties, had you made a decision to go for two there toward the end?

COACH JOHNSON: You know, Jay -- the exposure Jay gave us, we couldn't buy that kind of exposure. It was great. It helped recruiting. It helped season ticket sales, which are better right now. You know, my wife liked me a lot better. It helped everything. It was just the tonic we needed, especially the way we ended up beating Tennessee at the end, last play pass from Jay Cutler to Earl Bennett to seal the win. I mean, you know, you couldn't get it any more exciting than that.

Then he goes on to be a first-round draft pick, his picture is everywhere. We can tell guys you can get a great education at Vanderbilt and still go to the NFL. It's very possible to do that. It was all positive.

We did have a two-point play ready. We had already made that decision to go for the two-point play against Florida. For those of you that don't know, we threw a pass to Earl Bennett, made it 35-34. Earl did a nice little -- I can't do it as well as Earl, believe me (doing a little dance). They threw a penalty for excessive celebration.

Just one little story. This little lady, I don't think she had anything to do with Vanderbilt. I think she was from Minnesota. She said, Coach, the Southern Baptists allow more dancing than what Earl did (smiling).

Q. One issue sort of with college sports now is, and, sort of personal web pages. Have your players run into any trouble with that? Have you talked to them about the dangers of those personal pages?

COACH JOHNSON: We have. We have talked to them. I don't know how many there are, started out I think with myspace. I think there's a whole bunch more. They're just hard to monitor all those situations. It's pretty scary sometimes.

We try to talk to our guys about being smart. I think for their safety and their benefit, you know, not just to keep negative things about Vanderbilt off the Internet, but for their safety. No telling who's looking at that stuff, doing what with it. You know, it's just not...

I don't see the attraction of it. Of course, you know, I'm older than they are. I don't see a lot of things that they do. I just don't see the attraction of wanting to put yourself out there for the whole world to see and possibly take advantage of. It's kind of scary to me.

Q. Talk about how you and your staff approach the 12-game schedule without an open week. How do y'all coach it? Do you coach it any differently? Do you handle practices or anything like that any differently in light of that?

COACH JOHNSON: We've been talking about it a great deal. We actually have plans to cut down the amount of practice during the week, try to be a little bit more efficient without taking as much time. That's a challenge. When you have some experience and you got some depth, you can probably do that. When you play 12 games, you try to prepare for all 12 of them like you prepare for the first one, you're going to wear 'em out in a hurry. Especially injury situations, at practice we won't hit near as much. We probably won't scrimmage as much in the pre-season. You might sacrifice a little bit of the preparation early in the year that you might normally do for being able to make it through the whole 12-game season without, you know, just wearing 'em out or hurting 'em.

Q. Two kids you have on your football team that I've covered a long time, Chris Nickson, and Kikko Logan. Talk a little bit about Chris' ability. The kid was so much a winner in high school, never played on a program that lost, and what he brings to you as a leader either on your football team, talk a little bit about Logan going to get to play on special teams or line back.

COACH JOHNSON: Chris Nickson obviously had a phenomenal high school career. It was almost hard to believe. He came to Vanderbilt. He went right to work. You would find Chris throwing into the net under the goalpost by himself. He'd be working out there. Nobody else would be there. He's a dedicated young man. He wants to do well in school. He works hard there, also.

We expect those same kind of characteristics that carried him to great heights in high school football to take him into college football. He hasn't disappointed us. He still has that great work habit. He studies the game. He wants to get better. He wants to take coaching. Those are the kind of guys you like, the kinds that want to be sponges to knowledge, they want to absorb everything. If he continues to do that, we have no doubt of his ability.

He's got a great arm, but he also runs extremely well. He could probably return kicks for us if we would even dare touchdown that. Obviously, we're not if he's going to be the quarterback. He's quite an athlete. We're going to have to use his abilities, tweak the offense a little bit, use his legs some.

But mainly, you know, we're going to call on him to be the complete quarterback, not just a runner.

Kikko Logan, we really like Kikko. He's going to be a good player for us. Hoping to gain a little weight on him, put some weight on him, get him a little stronger, give him an opportunity to compete in this league. But he's certainly mobile. We've seen him a little bit in some workouts. He can run. Those are the kind of guys we need on defense. We need guys that are a little faster and that can run to the football. Kikko's going to have a good career at Vanderbilt.

Q. You had Nickson listed as the starter. Is that a fairly sizable lead he has there? Does he need to work on anything in particular to solidify his role as a starter?

COACH JOHNSON: Right now he's the starter, yeah. He's had the most experience in our offense. Like I said before, he gave all the signals to Jay. He had the headsets on every game. He knew what to do in certain situations, what to expect out of our coaching staff. Even though he didn't get to play a lot, I think he learned a lot last year. He saw what Jay was doing in the last part of every game that we won or had a chance to win. All that's very important.

You know, Chris has got to be the complete player. He's just not going to be a runner back there. He's got to know everything that everybody's doing on the offense. That just takes a little bit of experience. We got to be patient. But Chris has got to be the one that steps up and says, I'm going to get this down. I'm going to learn it. I'm going to execute it. I'm going to make the people around me better. And I'm going to be a great leader of this offense.

It's a challenge for everybody. I think Chris is ready to do that. He's been ready since he got to Vanderbilt. We're looking forward to giving him the opportunity.

Q. You talked about moving on, making progress, sort of catching up to the SEC. Can you compare maybe how much closer that gap would be now than it was maybe three years ago, just in terms of overall state of the program.

COACH JOHNSON: Well, I don't know how close we are to other schools, but we're a lot better than we were three years ago. We've got I think better athletes. We've got more depth. Right now we have more confidence. All those things go into making your football team better.

We don't have to depend than one guy to play every play every game at one position. We can substitute now a little bit more. We've been able to redshirt some guys and get them some experience. You know, all the positives of making progress, it was slow there for a while, but we were making progress. Hopefully it's going to culminate in some good years here in the near future.

Q. As y'all are getting ready to open the season in Ann Arbor, are you y'all expecting any kind of different atmosphere from that than y'all had in Gainesville or Knoxville, stadiums around the conference?

COACH JOHNSON: If it's any louder than South Carolina and Florida and Tennessee, I'm going to have to get an appointment with an ear doctor when I get back. Those places are extremely loud.

But the atmosphere is, to me, exciting. We don't look at it as bad. We look at it as good. I mean, it's great to be among 108,000 people at Tennessee that are interested - extremely interested - in the outcome of the game (smiling). You want to be in those situations. We're not dreading it at all.

It presents problems, no doubt about it. I'm not going tell you it doesn't. You can overcome them. If you look over the records of everybody, all the home teams, all the home teams aren't undefeated. So you go in there with confidence, know that you can play, execute your offense and your defense, you got a chance to do something special, and that's what we're looking forward to at Michigan.

Q. Are you concerned that with this new transfer rule for graduates, that that can lead to some type of abuse? Did you call the SEC office the Monday following the Florida game?

COACH JOHNSON: I'm not really -- I don't think that rule's going to come in effect that many times. I don't think it's going to be, you know, a key player. I think if you've got a guy on your team, he's really producing, if he's been producing at a great rate, I doubt if he's going to want to go somewhere else and play football. Plus he's got to graduate, then he's got to be accepted into that other school, and he's got to get a release from his previous school. If he doesn't get a release, I don't think he can get aid to the second school.

I don't think it's free agency. I think it's a pretty good rule because it gives a guy a chance to get some of his graduate school paid for, gives him a chance to maybe go to another program where he can be used where he's not being used in the one he's in now. I think it's a good rule. It's going to benefit the student-athlete, which to tell you the truth a lot of the rules that they made haven't really benefited them.

If you look at Vanderbilt, we probably -- we have a bunch of guys graduate after four years. It has the potential probably to take players away from us more than most schools. But I'm not that worried about it.

Yeah, I did call the conference office after the Florida game, and I'm not telling you what I called 'em.

Q. How much money are you getting for the Michigan game, does Vanderbilt get, and how does that compare to other road non-conference games you normally get? Is Michigan returning the game?

COACH JOHNSON: Not returning the game, no they're not coming to us. It's a one-time deal that was brokered through ESPN.

The details, you know, it was a good bit more. I don't know the exact amount, but it was a good bit more than you normally get when you go to other non-conference 1A-Teams to play. It was substantial, though - enough that that was a big part of the argument. I say "the argument," it was a discussion that we had about whether to play it or not play it, all parties involved.

Yeah, money's always in there somewhere.

Q. So much talk about Jay Cutler. How would you characterize the off-season improvement in the other areas of the team? About the 12th game, do you see it as an opportunity to schedule national showcases like the Michigan game or more of an opportunity to do what the rank-and-file fan base might think is schedule a winnable game?

COACH JOHNSON: What was the first part of that question?

Q. Just about the loss of Jay Cutler, if you could talk about that.

COACH JOHNSON: I remember now.

To tell you the truth, I think the people around Jay Cutler that we had last year were much improved over 2004, that they gave Jay Cutler a chance to shine. We had better wide receivers, we had better offensive linemen. He didn't get sacked nearly as much as he did in 2003, 2004. We had some tight ends and wide receivers make some fantastic catches in certain situations that kept drives alive that allowed us to win.

I think it was improvement in those positions that helped Jay. So we expect those guys to continue to improve, and hopefully that improvement will go to other positions on our team, especially on defense, and we'll continue to get better even if we don't have Jay.

We can't run around and talk about, you know, that we don't have Jay Cutler any more. Woe is me, woe is me. We can't do it.

You know, the 12th game, somebody thought it was a good opportunity to get a game like Michigan. You have to look, when you play especially in the SEC, you play eight games against an SEC schedule, you have to look at who you schedule outside the conference. If it gives you a showcase game maybe like we got on ESPN the first game, you want to look at it. Hey, this is a great opportunity.

But also, you know, you want to have a best chance for your team to win enough games to go to a Bowl. So scheduling is key. There are no easy answers. You have to do it so far in advance, you know, you don't know who's going to be good in five years. Who thought Louisville 10 years ago was going to be as good as they are this year?

Scheduling is kind of crazy sometimes.

Q. Given Kovalcheck's level of knowledge of the offense coming in, level of knowledge of the personnel, y'all's comfort level, how realistic is it to think he can be a factor in the quarterback position the first two or three games?

COACH JOHNSON: I think it's realistic. He had a 3.66 in Arizona. Smart guy. Got accepted into graduate school at Vanderbilt. Well, I don't -- I'm not going to say anything about y'all, but I don't think I could be accepted in there (smiling).

He's a smart kid. Like we say, it's not rocket surgery, it's football. Seriously, he can learn it. He's a sharp kid. He's out there every day throwing with the guys, Chris and MacKenzi, Chris Nickson and MacKenzi Adams, our other two quarterbacks, are helping him out, the receivers are helping him out, the offensive line pass protections, the backs, their routes. I think he's a pretty quick study. I don't think he'll be left behind.

Q. You had a new hire to your coaching staff this year with Coach Rick Logo. How do you think he's gelled with the coaching staff? Do you think the players have taken to the new coach? What might he give to the program now?

COACH JOHNSON: Well, we were very excited about getting Rick Logo as our defensive line coach. He had some tremendous success at Troy, producing some great defensive lines. Several of them went to the NFL. He's a great technique teacher. Seems to have a great rapport with the players, that they took to him right away. All those are positives.

We like to have guys on our staff that we know Rick played at NC State for some of our current coaches, Coach Kiser, Coach Cain, Coach Caldwell. Those guys were at NC State, know what kind of person he is, know what kind of guy -- how his work habits are. We're very pleased to have Rick on the staff.

Q. Everybody knows who Earl Bennett is now. Do you see another Earl Bennett on your roster? Who are some wide receivers that are going to have to step up and take some heat off of him?

COACH JOHNSON: I think we got some good wide receivers in Marlon White and George Smith, good, tall guys, 6'4" apiece. If people are going to double-team Earl, we got an opportunity to throw it to him. Alex Washington is a redshirt freshman that we think's going to be an extremely good player. Those guys I think are probably our deepest position really. They've got to step up and do it. Sean Walker, another young guy, we think will be able to take some heat off of Earl. We've got to be creative in getting Earl the ball, try to figure out ways. We can't just let people double-team him, get up there and run bump-n-run coverage.

Some other guys, freshmen, defensive backs that we think are going to be good. D.J. Moore, we talked about earlier. Alan Strong, Marquez Hall, those guys may have a chance to get in there and play.


Linebacker Jonathan Goff

(On the win over UT last season) "It was a great win for the program and the fans. The win was a good way to end the season on a high note."

(On replacing QB Jay Cutler) "He was a great quarterback. I just can't say enough about him. He did great things for the program. We have two new guys in Chris [Nickson] and Mackenzi [Adams] who don't have a lot of experience but who are looking up to the challenge."

(On playing Michigan to start the season) "We are working real hard to get ready, studying film and everything. It will be a great challenge and something that I am looking forward to."

(On the tough start of the season) "We are facing some great teams that have great traditions. Opening up on the road with Michigan and Alabama and then coming home to face Arkansas. We are looking for the challenge and just taking it one game at a time."

Offensive Tackle Brian Stamper

(On Vanderbilt's offense) "Jay (Cutler) was a great quarterback. We are excited to see all the young talent that we have and to see the young quarterback step it up. Anyone can be in that spot if the offensive line makes them feel comfortable."

(On offensive line) "Every guy on the line has experience and has a lot of playing time. I know what it is like to play in the SEC, and I want all the guys to have that same feeling."

(On doing yoga and boxing) "Yoga is great. It stretches you out before you play and gets you warm. It is great to do as a team and is something that not a lot of teams do. It is something to have fun with and to talk about. Boxing is great too. It is a good workout. It is fun to do and outside the normal workout plan. It really benefits your game and it makes you closer as a team."

(On tough schedule) "I am so exciting about playing Michigan the first game. It was amazing to see how excited the team was when we found out. We all have been training hard over the summer. We are ready to get started with the season."

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