Sallach Sees Talent in Tight Ends, Looking for Consistent Production

Quarterback gets most attention for finding a new starter. But that position group is loaded with experience compared to what Scott Sallach sees in his meeting room. The tight ends coach has one, just one player with a varsity snap to his credit.

So getting the whole group coached-up in preseason is challenge enough for Sallach, never mind having his tight ends at season speed. Which, he said Monday, is going…

…“Not as fast as I would like. But they’re progressing in the right direction. I thought yesterday was a really good afternoon for us. Today, we’ll watch it and determine it. The bad ones stick in your mind because you expect the good ones. That’s why you recruited them, that’s why they’re here.”

“So the bad ones sometimes kind of stick on you. But those are the ones you’ve got to fix if you want to continue having success like we’ve had the last couple of years.”


What challenges do you face when Justin Johnson is your veteran player? “More than you can possibly imagine! I mean, I had those guys watch some 2014 film today. Not for execution but to watch how hard Malcolm Johnson played, how hard Brandon Hill played, how much effort those guys gave. And let them know those two guys are smaller than anybody in that room now. I mean Malcolm was 228 pounds with probably a five-pound plate in his pants. Brandon was 240 pounds. All those guys are bigger.”

“With a young group, they think they’re playing hard. They’re not. There is so much more in there. The hard part now is to draw it out of them. Because they have this mental barrier that I did go as hard as I could; that was all I had.”

“You can put on a couple of plays later and go you just went harder than you did last time. So it’s getting to that championship-level effort, that’s the biggest challenge. The education of the game, everybody goes through that. Everybody learns it at different phases but that’s easier than how hard you have to play if you want to be successful in this league.”


Is the positive there is something to be gotten-out of those players? “Oh, yeah. I told those guys Malcolm Johnson isn’t the most talented guy in the room if he walks in today. Probably not in the top three or four. The talent is not a problem. But you know what? Talent is not a problem in the locker room. If you’re in that locker room you’re amongst the best football players in the country. Talent not an issue. It’s getting that talent to perform at a winning level that’s the challenge.”

“Because there are good players in every locker room in this league. That’s why they are here and why they separated themselves from the good players in high school. The players in the locker room down there are 85 guys on scholarship that are elite football players. You have to find the elite out of the elite to go.”

“There’s plenty of potential in my room. How fast it turns into production will determine how much of a role they have and us continue to win bowl games and win nine, ten games a year and trying to get some people to respect what Coach Mullen’s done here, to respect what they do on the field.”


What does Jordan Thomas have to do to get over the hump? “He’s like all the other guys that showed up. He’s got to learn to strain his body. He thinks he’s giving maximum effort. He had a play the other day, a 80-yard touchdown running away from people. And then two plays later was not a SEC football play, let’s put it that way. The touchdown is great but to get the opportunity to do it he’s got to do all the SEC plays, not just one SEC play.”

“The same goes for Justin and Farrod (Green) and all the other guys, for Leo Lewis, everybody is the same from that standpoint. Are you consistently making plays to win games in the Southeastern Conference? Until it’s consistent, you can’t put a guy out there until he’s ready to do it on a consistent basis. Because as an elite athlete as soon as you start doubting, as soon as you start losing confidence in what you’re doing, it’s like watching Shark Week and dropping the chum in the water. They’re not coming out of it!”

“So once he gets to that consistent level Coach Mullen will put him out there and he’ll have a lot of success. Until he gets to that consistent level, he won’t. If he’s ready for South Alabama, he’ll be out there for South Alabama. If he’s not ready until November we won’t put him out there until November. If he’s not ready until next year we won’t put him out until next year. Whenever he is capable of contributing to success is when he’ll go out there.”
“The raw skills? Yeah, that excites everybody. But potential gets you beat in this league.”


What was the play he didn’t look like a SEC player? “Just a run play, he looked like a first-year player. Just trying to figure it out. I tell those guys drills are easy. When he’s going against a sled that guy is not trying to stop you. A.J. Jefferson is not only trying to stop you, he’s trying to whup you, he’s trying to dominate you. Because he knows what it’s like to line up against other people.”

“John Calvin is trying to whup you, not say ‘hey, yeah, make sure you fit-in right, let’s have fun today’! I can spin it around the other way, too. I can pull out plays where he looks like a great SEC blocker and a terrible SEC receiver. So it’s not like he’s good at one and bad at the other.”

“You have to play on a high level of performance. If you have a great one and a bad one, a great one and a bad one, you’re bad. Because you don’t know what you’re getting. So consistency is the name of the game, you have to consistently perform at a high level. You can’t be a flash in the pan.”

“I was watching some stuff over the summer. 1991 at Crooked Stick, John Daly was an unbelievable story. After that, three other tournaments he won or something like that in 25 years? The one story was outstanding, it was an unbelievable couple of days. It gets me trying to get one of your jobs!”


What was player reaction watching that 2014 video? “I think it was a little bit of an eye-opener. I think there were some heads down, like ‘gee I thought I was playing hard’. But that was the point of bringing it out, because if you’re looking at the same thing you have nothing to compare it to. And that was the point of bringing it out. It was, look, you guys hear me talk about Malcolm all the time, because he was special. But none of you were here for him, so it doesn’t mean anything to you. That was the point of bringing it out.”

“But Malcolm wasn’t perfect. I had to coach him just like I’ve got to coach everybody else. He made plenty of mistakes, he did plenty of silly things. But the one thing, Malcolm was absolutely relentless. I showed them a clip against UAB. His technique is terrible, because he had surgery on his hand on Monday and didn’t practice all week. The only reason we dressed him was because he was a captain.”

“But if anybody remembers, that game was a dogfight, in the middle of the second quarter they were winning. Malcolm, you’ve got to go, your job is to block people that weigh 50 to 75 pounds more than you and catch passes and you can’t do this (grab) with your hand. He went out and had success. You just couldn’t understand not going as hard as you could, not doing everything you could to help your team, find a way to be successful. And that was the point of showing those guys that.”


How much closer is Justin Johnson to being that player? “He’s come a long way, because he has no other choice. Unfortunately with Gus (Walley) having to end his career with injuries there’s no old guy to lean on. He is the old guy. Sometimes you aren’t ready to be the old guy. So sometimes he gets a little, tight is the wrong word, sometimes he puts a little pressure on himself. Because there is nobody else who has been on the field and done it.”

“But he had a good day yesterday, it was good to see him start having some more success. As we continue to go I think he’ll continue to take those steps. I remind the guys Dak Prescott was here three-and-a-half years before he became a full-time starter. Still, an unbelievable player, but it took him a while to get to level everybody will remember him at. That there’s no instant fix. Football doesn’t work that way.”

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