"We just finished the first week of camp and we feel really good about where we are. It is a very mature group. We are way ahead of where we were at this point during my first two years. We feel good about our front line guys. We are in the process of developing depth in some areas. We have made a lot of progress. When I say that we have a mature group, I mean that I feel good about our guys and their mindset. They know that it is not about where we are heading but the process of getting there. They understand what it takes to be successful and what it takes to be great. We have high expectations."
"We have tremendous senior leadership and character. Everything is heading in the right direction. However, we are not a finished product by any means. We understand that there is a lot of work to be done between now and the first game. That is all we are concerned with right now, whether it is the next meeting or next practice we are just keeping our focus on the channel it needs to be. I love this group of guys. Most of the defensive staff has been together for three years and we are all on the same page. Our guys have been hearing the same things and they hear it over and over, which is a key in coaching."
On DE Kirston Pittman returning after dealing with injuries the past two seasons…
"He has been through a lot. I think what happens to young men in that situation is that it makes getting back to football very important to them. It makes them hungrier. He has always had talent, but he has just been through some tough times as of late. He is headed in the right direction. He has made a lot of strides this week. He is showing good technique and effort. He is having fun and he likes where he is. He sees himself getting better on a daily basis. He sees light at the end of the tunnel and I don't think that was the case during the last couple of years. I am excited about Kirston. I think he is going to be a tremendous force for our defense this year."
On the defense ends…
"Rahim Alem and Tremaine Johnson
are both playing very well. They are consensus and playing with good technique.
That is what happens when guys like Ryan Willis and Chase Pittman graduate, the
other guys find themselves thrust in a new role. When they know they are going
to be counted on from a down-to-down basis. Some guys respond to it and some
guys don't. Fortunately up to this point our guys have responded. They have
stepped up because they see a tremendous opportunity in front of them. If
they continue along this path then I feel really good about the end position.
On how Al Woods is developing…
"I like where Al is right now. In the last three practices of the spring I saw the light starting to come on. I see his confidence growing by the day. He has a tremendous amount of talent and a great attitude. But let's face it, he is not trying to break in the lineup for just anybody. We feel good about our guys and I think Al will be a big part of the mix there. Where that goes, I am not sure how much playing time that means. We are hoping he plays significant minutes. I see that happening for him, but it is really up to Al. It is how he continues on along this path and continues to get better on a day-to-day basis. We will see how that will progress as the year goes on."
On how far ahead the team is at this point as opposed to the last two years…
"Scheme wise, we are way ahead of where we were as far of knowledge of what we are doing and where we are headed. We have a lot more options. We have really progressed scheme wise because our guys are able to handle a lot more now. In my opinion, it is not really what you do, but how you do it. Every year is a different year. Just because we had success the past two years doesn't mean anything for this year's group. Our guys understand that. Our guys also understand there is not a day where, as a football player, you don't get a little better or a little worse. Our focus is on continuing to get better. No matter what level you are performing at, there is always that next level you haven't achieved yet. Unless you realize that as a football player or a group, then eventually you will take a step back. We are not looking to take a step back. We are always looking to take that next step forward and improving as a group."
On how fast the defense is this year…
"First of all, it is not about how fast the defense is. The first thing we talk about is playing with tremendous effort. In order to play with tremendous effort, you have to know what you are doing. There has to be no indecision. What our guys would run in the 40 compared to other groups, I have no idea. I don't know if we would time as fast as other groups, but I know one thing – our guys play faster. They play hard, decisive and with an attitude. I think those are the keys to a great defense. It is not as much what you do, but how you do it and how you get there. I believe that is what separates us from everybody else and I believe the players feel the same way."
"I think they will have tremendous success at the next level. The sky is the limit for them. They are not only talented individuals but they are high character guys with tremendous maturity. They come out to work every single day. They want to improve everyday. They understand what it takes to be the best. That is what they want to be. They both want to be the best. They are great guys to have as leaders on defense."
He is a very gifted individual. He is an all-around athlete. He has tremendous ball skills. He can play the ball well. He judges the ball well. He has great hands and tremendous range. All that being said he still has a long way to go. It is a different game. We are in the third year of this defense, so there is a little bit more for him to learn. He is competing against guys who have been in the system for a while. So he is behind the eight ball a little, but we will find some spots where he is going to help us at. I could say that about all the freshmen. I feel that we have hit on a lot of tremendous football players. They are very gifted individuals. They are great kids who come in with a tremendous attitude and want to work hard. They want to fit in and accept the role that we put them in. They understand that there is nothing here that is given to them; they have to earn what they get. There is a lot of competition going on but with great attitude and in a team atmosphere."
On Joseph Barksdale moving to the offensive line…
"We had Joe in the spring and our job is not only to put a good football team on the field but to do what is best for the kids. Going through the spring, I knew he could be a tremendous defensive tackle. I think as a coaching staff we all came together and said he could be a good defensive tackle, but he could be an extraordinary offensive lineman. For our future and his future, we thought it was in the best interest for us and him. We sat him down and talked to him about it. We weren't going to thrust him in that role without talking to him. We told him this is our opinion and we said the decision is yours and he chose to go to the offensive side of the ball. I think he figured the opportunity would be a little quicker on the offensive side then the defensive side."