Monday was linebacker coach and co-coordinator Geoff Collins' turn to talk for the team. "It's going good. The guys are working hard, just getting everybody a lot of reps. They're coming along good."
What did you see out of your guys this morning? "A lot of energy, a lot of enthusiasm. We talked about how the NFL preseason games against other teams. We tried to treat it like it was a preseason scrimmage on that caliber. They were flying around, they had good energy, they came into the building focused. So it was good to see some of the young guys step up and play well, I thought."
How is the first unit gelling? "That's a fluid, fluid question first-unit. I would say there were five guys that played with the ones today. We've been rotating guys in and out with every group, and every position actually. Each one, each kid regardless of what year, what position, they've played every position this preseason. I think even Matt Wells has played about three positions! So it's good to see, you throw them around, you make them do different things. Just the learning that takes place, having to know the stresses another position has on it in each defense. And the way we teach things, we can move easily in and out of spots. So it was good to see them move to a different spot and still play at a high level."
Who were the five? "Skinner, Matt Wells, Cam Lawrence, Benardrick McKinney, Chris Hughes, I think Bo (Ferlando Bohanna) got some reps. So it might even be upwards of six that played running with the ones in-and-out. Even Zach Jackson I think got a snap or two with the ones so it might have been upwards of seven. So it was good."
How has Chris Hughes been doing? "He had a good spring. I wouldn't say a great spring, he had a good spring. But this preseason he has been very impressive, very focused. He's always been one of the smartest kids on the defense, one of the smartest kids in the linebacker room. But the focus he has right now is really impressive. Him and Matt Wells are really close friends and Matt has kind of followed his lead as far as being focused. Because Matt is highly talented, but last year as a redshirt freshman he looked like a baby deer out there playing at times, not really knowing everything that is going on."
"But as focused as Chris Hughes is its starting to rub off on Matt. And it's starting to rub off on Christian Holmes, those kind of things. So I expect big things for Chris Hughes."
Skinner is low-key and doesn't want spotlight but he is productive? "What a great kid. In meetings he's dialed in, he's taking notes constantly. It is so important to him. And Deonte is such a team guy, he puts everybody above himself which is a great quality to have in somebody that is so talented as he is. To have such a great attitude, to be such a hard worker. And I think he is starting to see the possibilities for the future for himself playing football and is really trying to grasp onto everything. How John Banks prepares, the way Cam Lawrence prepares; and he is starting to prepare and to take care of his body that way. Eat the right way, stretch and roll, everything they do. I couldn't be happier to be coaching Deonte Skinner."
You've said it started clicking for him the last half of SEC season? "Deonte is someone who when he gets a lot of reps at something he becomes a master at it. And just the more reps we can get him at each thing we're asking him to do, the more things he can do. His God-given abilities; he's 6-3, 240, probably runs a 4.5, 4.6. And he's as strong as they come. Once you get him just muscle memory and everything he does schematically the sky is the limit for what he can be as a player."
How does it help Richie and Beniquez Brown to see the competition? "I think the first two days were in tee-shirts and shorts and running around without our helmets on, they did really well. But the second we put on those full pads the eyes just lit-up a little bit. They're like OK, this is the SEC, I get it now. But I've been pleased with both of them because they are who we thought they were--not to quote Dennis Green!—but they've done really well. Just learning and adjusting to the game, because they were always the biggest, the fastest, the strongest their whole lives. Now they get here and there's Deonte Skinner and Benardrick McKinney sitting in the room, there's Cam Lawrence sitting in the room. So it has helped them at a very early stage elevate their game."
Has Lawrence's leadership stepped up more? "Absolutely. And you can see the kids are starting to gravitate to Cam; how did you know that, what did you see? Because Cam can recognize things with just the smallest of a split, or a tight end or a back checking pre-snap. He takes all that information in. I had him read the book by Malcolm Gladwell ‘Blink' over the summer, it's just about processing information without even consciously being able to do it. Because Cam has always had the ability to do than and he's taken it to the next level and tried to help the younger guys, a Chris Hughes, a Christian Holmes start to learn how to do those things. Whether it's recognizing splits, backfield depths, o-line, everything that you need to look at and in one second recognize that. Cam has the ability do that and he's kind of rubbing off on other guys."
Can that be taught "Absolutely. The more that you that you study and the more you learn how to study and what to study, then you can learn those things. The thing that I always talk to him about is that you have to know that you know that you know it, without knowing that you know it. It needs to go so deep in the process that you don't have to consciously think about OK, there's that split, that means that… You just instantly see it and recognize it and know what is coming, and it doesn't even happen on a conscious level sometimes."
How much experimenting can you do with the speed and the size and packages? "And we do that every day just to see what the best matchup is. We run a lot of different personnel groupings on defense, every day we mix and match just to see who is the best and who is the best at playing with who. The big thing to me about asking me who is the starter and who is the two-deep and the chemistry; we just throw them all in together at times just to see what the best package is."
"But the neatest thing about our room is that the guys that are the speed guys, what people might call the pass specialists, we're really gotten them to become much more physical. And then then guys that are most physical, like Deonte and Cam, we're working on their pass coverage and they've done a nice job all preseason."
What is the strength of the team? "The biggest strength of this entire team, and not just necessarily the defense, is the chemistry. The team, they really care for each other, they really pull for each other, we've got a lot of competition at each position but even though they're competing to get that starting job they're still pulling for the guy they're competing with. And you don't see that dynamic everywhere you go. But I would think the chemistry, how much they care about each other and how hard they are willing to play for each other is probably the biggest strength of this team and I think it will be the strength of this defense."
Does having returning starters allow you do to more with the defense? "The big thing we didn't at time have last year, you need to have 22 players that are legitimate SEC players that came come in regardless of the situation and regardless of the time on the clock and win SEC games. Last year I don't know if we had 22 guys every game that could do that. And I think we're really close to having that depth that you need to be able to compete and be really successful in this league. And tat's what the goal is."
How much does a John Banks help you be aggressive on defense? "Everybody has confidence in John. John has a lot of confidence in John which is great! Like the ‘Reevis Island' or whatever they have with the New York Jets, I think we have that with John. And Darius Slay and Jamerson Love, they're pretty good players too. It's nice to have such talented corners."
What do you expect from Skinner this year? "I think the sky is the limit for who he can be and what he can do. I expect him to show up in game-one and be a dominant player, and game-two stay within the system just do make the plays he's supposed to make and have fun."