"The thing I am most concerned about right now is leadership from the group. I'm not sure who I would point to in terms of leadership, maybe Charles Burns at times, maybe Pernell McPhee at times, maybe Brandon Cooper at times. But there's not one guy."
Who were the starters at the end of the spring?
"At tackle, (junior) Pernell McPhee separated himself by the end of the spring. He is one of our best guys, one of our most athletic guys, one of our most productive guys, a guy who showed during the spring that he can rush the quarterback.
"(Senior) Charles Burns, about the last week of the spring practice, really came on. He started concentrating more and doing a whole lot better.
"(Senior) Kyle Love started doing some things, but I had expected Kyle to be better than he was. And maybe my expectations of him were not realistic. I thought they were but he didn't play as well early in the spring as I thought he should have for a guy who has played as many snaps as he has.
"Right now, Charles Burns is probably 1 and Kyle Love is 1A, then you have Pernell McPhee opposite them.
"I was a little disappointed in (junior) LaMarcus Williams. I keep waiting for him to make another jump in terms of getting better and playing strong and a little more physical at the point of attack. He has the ability to do that but he just hasn't shown it. He would probably be our third tackle.
"(Sophomore) Rodney Prince did some good things during the spring. He has ability, but the thing with him is he is still learning to play tackle. He has been an end and he's not as comfortable inside as he was at end. But athletically he has a better chance to help us at tackle than he does at end. I think in time he will be fine.
"(Sophomore) Joshua Jackson didn't compete as well as I would have liked during the spring. I think part of it is due to him having to play last fall. And usually some of those guys who come in and have to play right off the bat think college football is pretty easy. They think they have it figured out but Josh Jackson, right now, doesn't have a clue. He has some ability but he has to fight through some things, he's got to learn to be tougher mentally. That's his biggest problem right now. I would really like to redshirt him in the fall but I don't know if that is going to happen.
"(Senior) Reggie Odom is a good program guy who I think will help us on special teams. He just hasn't been in the mix in terms of competing for downs in a game. He hasn't been one of the best four guys but he will have an opportunity to prove he is in the fall."
You mentioned that McPhee is number 1. I know you said he has shown leadership but obviously there are other things that you like about him.
"Leadership is the least he has done. The thing with him is he is such a good athlete. He could probably play end. And at times he is going to be at end. But I think in the long-term him being a tackle is going to be the best spot for him. He's so different inside in terms of athletic ability, he plays with great leverage, he does a great job with his hands. He does things that you see him do that causes you to sometimes say wow. I think part of that is he doesn't have a lot of bad habits to break. I think he played just one year of high school (football). He was a basketball player.
"What Pernell showed in the spring is that he is a different guy. He plays at a different speed, he plays hard, he plays hungry. He understands the effort that it takes to compete at this level. He hasn't played in the SEC yet, but he's on track to be a really good player for us. And before it's all said and done, he could be one of the better ones in the SEC. Those are strong words and I hate to say that but he has the ability to do that. It's still going to be a shock the first time he goes out there and plays in an SEC game, but I think he will rise up to that challenge."
What are your thoughts about the defensive ends?
"The thing with (senior) Brandon Cooper is day-in, day-out I know what I am going to get. I know he is going to show up, I know he is going to work hard, he is going to be where he is supposed to, he is going to try to do what we ask him to do. In some ways he is not as athletic as some of the other guys, but he makes up for it by concentrating on his technique. The best thing I can say about him is I know exactly what I am getting from him. Probably because of that, if we played tomorrow he would be a starter for us. If we can get out of him what we got out of Avery Hannibal I would be happy.
"(Sophomore) Sean Ferguson is a young man who played last year as a true freshman and started the first game. I think, after coming in and playing as a freshman, that he thinks college football is easy. Because of that, he doesn't understand the time and commitment that it takes. But I think he's starting to figure that out. Sometimes I forget that he's still just a freshman because he hasn't been here a full year. But from an athletic standpoint he should be a guy that plays and plays a lot.
"I think (redshirt freshman) Nick Bell will be a guy who will push Sean some. Nick, during spring ball, was probably the most consistent of the young guys. He was there day after day. While he never did anything real flashy, he would show up on some plays. He was an outside linebacker in high school, so he's just now starting to understand how to play with his hand on the ground. The more he plays the better he will be.
"(Redshirt freshman) Trevor Stigers did some really good things in the spring. He has been a young man who would take two steps forward, then about three steps back. Every time he was getting ready to make a jump he got hurt and missed practice time. If we can ever get him on a path where he stays healthy and he can build on practice after practice after practice, I think he has a chance to be really good.
"(Redshirt freshman) Devin Jones is a young man who we have to find a place for. He works his tail off and does exactly what you tell him to do. And he's an extremely powerful young man but the biggest problem for him right now is being able to gain weight. That's really not his fault because he just doesn't have much body fat. I call him a snake because he's nothing but a ball of muscle. I've really got to do a good job of figuring out which package he can play in. And I think it'll probably be in our three-down package where we will stick him in at nose because he's so powerful and so explosive. He's a young man who we might be able to move around, play tackle some, play end some, depending on the situation and the opponent.
"(Redshirt freshman) Shane McCardell is kind of like a lost ball in high weeds. He doesn't know a lot (about defensive end), but he's starting to figure it out. The biggest things for Shane are the mental toughness and understanding the intensity of college football. At the beginning of spring he had no clue. But as spring progressed, he started to figure it out. And he's starting to get bigger and stronger in the weight room. With that comes confidence. And that's starting to show. He has a lot of raw ability and he runs like a gazelle.
"When we recruited Shane we thought in four years he had a chance to be one of the top pass-rushers for us and probably in this league. If he does that, then he will also be one of the best in the country. But he has a lot to learn and he won't get there overnight."
You have three incoming freshmen - Fletcher Cox, Josh Boyd and Johnathan McKenzie. What are your expectations for them?
"Josh Boyd was one of the most highly recruited defensive tackles in the state and when it's all said and done probably in the country. He is a true defensive tackle. In this year's class, we needed to get at least one guy that we knew could play tackle. He has a lot of ability and runs unbelievable for a guy his size. It's hard to say if he will have a chance to play this fall, and I can't say that he won't. If he comes in and he's clearly one of the best and knows what to do, then he will have a chance to play. In the long-run I would love to be able to redshirt him but in this day and age you don't always have that luxury because you are one injury away from having to play a freshman.
"Fletcher Cox right now is a defensive end, but when it's all said and done he might grow into a defensive tackle because due to his body (type) he's going to be a big man. He has a lot of ability. He was one of the highest recruited defensive ends in the country. He's another one that if he comes in and shows he's one of the best ones we will play him. And it won't be a deal where it's five snaps here or five snaps there. He will get some legitimate snaps.
"Johnathan McKenzie is another one. I look at him a lot like I do Fletcher, he's a big, athletic guy who has unlimited potential. I watched him play basketball, and he handled his body well. He's a little different guy in terms of maturity. He's a no-nonsense guy who doesn't laugh and joke a whole lot. He's pretty focused. He's another young man, before it's all said and done, who will have a chance to be a really, really good player."