Paul Johnson Talks to the Media

Paul Johnson answered questions on media day. He discussed the status of returning players and revealed that some would not be returning. Navy football practice begins today.

PJ: It's good to see you guys again. It seems like it hasn't been that long ago when we were here, I guess at the end of December. This time of the year is always exciting for everybody in our profession. You get a chance to bring the guys in for fall camp and start over. This is one of the neat things, I tell our guys this every year, that there are not many things that you get to start over every year. There's no record, you haven't gained a yard, no turnovers, no anything. You kind of get a fresh start. That's always an exciting thing to look at. We're looking forward to try and build on the success from last year. We ended the season not exactly the way we wanted to in the bowl game, but I think all-in-all most people would consider last year a successful start to try and rebuild the program. I think it's going to be a huge challenge for us to see if we can maintain that continuity and consistency. We have a large nucleus of guys back that played significant roles last year and we're anxious to get started. We start practicing tomorrow. The NCAA has changed the rules somewhat for practice so everybody is together now, you don't have any early freshmen practice so we have them all together. The first couple of days we will be in just helmets and then we will add shoulder pads and we will be in full pads on day five (Tuesday). We're excited and ready to get going. I guess the easiest thing to do now is to open it up for questions and see if I can hit on exactly what it is you're interested in.

Q. Do you think you have more proven talent coming back this year than you did last year?

A: We'll see. Any time you lose your quarterback it's a challenge to replace him and certainly Craig Candeto did a great job for us a year ago, but we're excited about the guys we have in the program. I think Aaron Polanco has a lot of tools. He's had a great summer from a lifting standpoint, running, throwing and getting ready to play and we've got some young guys who we're excited about. That position will be a little bit different. We lose Tony Lane, who also was a guy who had been very consistent, but we have some young slots. We're excited about Trey Hines. I don't think we've had a guy with his physical ability here in quite some time. He's pretty chiseled up, about 210 pounds, benches over 400 pounds and runs consistently in the low 4.5s. He's a legit talent, now will it transfer over to the field? We'll see. Frank Divis is another guy who played some last year. He's about 225 and can run. Eric Roberts was a big play guy last year so we have a pretty good nucleus. At receiver we have guys coming back. I would say the question mark on offense is retooling the offensive line a little bit. We have some guys who have played some, but we're going to have to count on some guys who haven't been starters and haven't played a lot. Hopefully we will get that thing sorted out the first couple of weeks in camp. Defensively, we have a lot of guys who have played coming back. Lane Jackson and Bobby McClarin both started most of the games at inside linebacker and David Mahoney started about every game at outside linebacker as a true freshman. We have to replace Eddie Carthan at outside linebacker who was a leader. His numbers actually fell off his senior year, but I don't think you can measure his importance to the football team with just numbers. He was a tremendous leader and captain. There are a lot of guys who can physically and are talented enough to play there. Reggie Sealey, Tye Adams, Evan Beard, Tyler Tidwell, Jason Monts. It's exciting to get out there and get started to see who's going to end up in that position. Up front, Babatunde Akingbemi started a lot of games at nose and I think he's had a good summer. He's about 290 now. He's stronger. Jeff Vanak has started at defensive end and I think moving Jeremy Chase down to defensive end is going to help us athletically. John Chan is a young guy who I think has a chance to be good as well as Andy Tattersall. We just have a lot of guys that we're anxious to see get out on the field and play. The secondary is going to be young, but that's not all bad either. Vaughn Kelley has played a lot of football and of course Josh Smith is kind of the anchor back there. If we had to start tomorrow, Keenan Little would be the starter opposite Kelley and Hunter Reddick would be the starter at safety opposite Josh.

Q. How about DuJuan Price?

A. Price is not in camp right now. I let Mr. Price go today. He can come back in a week if he can pass the PRT (physical readiness test). That's kind of a precedent that we've set here. If they can't pass the PRT when they report to camp then I send them home and they can come back when they can pass it. He didn't pass it when he came in so he can go home and work on it and try again in a week. If he passes it then he's welcome to come back to practice. Also we had another guy leave the team, Michael Brimage has decided that he's not going to play anymore.

Q. Paul, how has last season helped changed the players' attitude about the program?

A. We'll find out this year I think. Certainly it probably helped with the confidence level. I look at it as a big part of my job this year is to make sure it doesn't go too far towards the confidence level. We have to understand how we had a successful year and that was by a lot of hard work, fighting, clawing, scratching and giving it everything we had. I don't think we're going to show up against anybody on our schedule and the other team is going to go "oooh" when we run on the field. What we have to do is be the best team. I don't know if you have to be the best individually, though we have some talent at different spots, we have to learn to play the best as a team and play harder than everybody we play, because if we don't play hard we're probably not going to be very successful.

Q. Why do you think your opponents aren't going to go "oooohhh"?

A. Because if you look at our guys, historically we're not going to be as big as the people we play. That's just the nature of the beast. We don't have a bunch of 6-6, 6-7 320-pound guys running around at the Academy. They're just not there. Some teams, when they get off the bus, you're like wow. They look like the Baltimore Ravens coming in. We don't look like that, which can be an advantage too. The other team looks down at the other end and sees you warming up that can be a good thing.

Q. Do you think the loss to Texas Tech in the bowl game can help play a role in showing how physical you have to be to maybe take a step up to the next level?

A. I think it can, but I think if you look we've played those types of teams during the year so it wasn't a big shock to play them. We knew they were a good football team and physical, but honestly they weren't anymore physical than Notre Dame, Rutgers or Vanderbilt or any of those teams. The one thing that I will say about the bowl game and the thing that makes you hope that there has been a change in the attitude is that our guys were bitterly disappointed that they lost. I don't know when I first got here if that would have been the case. I think that we actually went into the game believing that we were going to win the game and thinking that we were supposed to win and when we didn't we were disappointed as opposed to going in and hoping to win and if things didn't go good guys could just say "Oh well, we weren't supposed to beat them anyway." That's the kind of attitude you have to have changed. If you don't think you're going to win, you probably won't.

Q. You talked about walking a fine line with the team. On one hand you want to start where you finished last year in terms as building blocks, but at the same time you're missing certain parts and you're not the same team as you were last year.

A. I think the attitude carries over a little bit from last year, but what they have to understand is that this team hasn't won a game. We're 0-0, we have no stats, we have no record, we have no history. We haven't played a game. Now, the attitude and the swagger might carry over, like it does at most programs that are successful, but you have to go out and prove yourself. They aren't going to give us any points when we line up to play Duke on Sept. 4, because of last year. We don't get 14 points to start the game because we played in a bowl game last year. This team has to build it's own credibility and it's own team and it's my job to make sure these guys understand that. I talked about it almost every day in the spring and quite honestly I got after our guys pretty good last night. I wasn't really excited about the way we came back and tested. Having said that, there were a lot of guys that did a great job, but there were some guys who didn't do what I expected and I told them I'm not going to lower my expectations for them, they need to bring their expectations up to mine.

Q. Can you talk a little bit about Aaron (Polanco)?

A. Aaron Polanco was able to stay around campus most of the summer and throw some skelly, lift and run and do some things. Aaron is a big, strong guy. I don't know if people realize that Aaron is probably listed at about 205 or 210. He's probably every bit of that. Straight ahead 40 time he's probably faster than Craig. Not probably, he is. Now, I don't know if he's as shifty as Craig as far as cuts and those kinds of things. That's why we will play and see. He's got a good arm. He can really throw the football. Now, does that mean he's going to be a competent passer? Again, we'll see. I've coached guys through the years that looked awful throwing the ball, but they could complete them. I've coached guys that looked like they could throw it through a coke bottle, but nobody could ever catch it. They could never throw them on time or to the right people. People have asked me that since Aaron throws the ball better will we change the offense and the answer to that is NO! Now, we will to the strength of our players too, and we might be able to do some things with Aaron in the throwing game that maybe we couldn't do with Craig and I'm sure we did some things with Craig tin the option game that we might not be able to do with Aaron. That's part of coaching. A big part of coaching is finding something your guys can do on offense and defense. Anybody can put together a 1,000-page playbook, but it doesn't do you much good if your guys can't do it.

Q. Will he (Aaron) be a good leader?

A: I think so. He's never been in that situation, but I would hope that all of our guys our leaders. Gosh, that's what they're supposed to be here for. He was elected captain by his teammates, I think that says something about the way they feel about him. It's going to be a little different, because here he is a senior and he's never really been a starter. He's going to have some growing pains. I would imagine that the first snap or two on Sept. 4 you might need a sledgehammer to drive a straight pin up his tail. He'll play through that.

Q. Were you able to spend some time with Aaron one-on-one in the off-season to make sure that he understands all the reads or is that something that can only happen in practice?

A. I think Aaron understands what we're trying to do. Coach Jasper does a nice job coaching those guys. Aaron understands, but there is nothing like experience. The more you do it the better you get. He knows where he needs the most work. We know what we have to work on, but I'm confident with Aaron as our starting quarterback and I think he can be a good quarterback in our system. I'm also excited about the young guys. Lamar has a chance, Hampton has a chance, there are several of those guys that we will take a good look in the fall and see how they've matured over the summer.

Q. How is Kyle Eckel's health?

A. Oh, he's very healthy. 245-pounds worth.

Q. Is that where you want him to be?

A. We'll see. We start practice tomorrow. Kyle's a big guy. He probably played last year at 230. We'll see if it's good weight.

Q. He didn't participate in the spring, how much was he able to do conditioning wise?

A. He's run. He ran the PRT and passed it. We need for Kyle to have a good senior season. He's a tremendous football player or has been. I don't worry about him not practicing in the spring, he missed spring ball a year ago too. I think he needed the time. He had some off-season surgery, but now he's healed up and is 100 percent. He's ready to go. There are a couple of young guys at that position (fullback) as well that are going to be real interesting. I thought Matt Hall had a great spring, Marvin Dingle has a chance and there's a young man, a freshman, and I don't usually mention those guys, but Adam Ballard, who played at the prep school last year and gained about 1,800 yards last year, when you see him you're going to go "ooohhh." He's one of those guys that when he gets off the bus he will catch your eye. There are some guys at that position. Kyle will have some competition.

Q. How about your schedule?

A. I think that it's realistic. You never really know about the schedule until after you've played the season, but if you go back and look Tulsa was in a bowl game, even a team like Rutgers, who finished one game under .500, I thought they were as physical as anybody we played last year. Vanderbilt is talking bowl game, they have 21 starters back and this is supposed to be the year they break through. Duke finished the season winning three of their last five so they're excited with a new coach. I try not to get to far ahead of myself. Right now I'm just worried about Duke. It's been since 1996 that Navy has beat a team from the ACC. That's a pretty good goal to shoot for.

Q. With all the strides made last year what do you, in your mind, think this club needs to do better?

A. I think there are always things you can do better in every category, in every aspect of the game. I'm not satisfied with anything. We led the nation in rushing last year and we left a ton of yards out there. We can execute better than we did. Certainly the kicking game. The kicking game right now is a big area of concern, especially the punting game. We're going to have to work on that and get better. Special teams. We haven't had a kick return for a touchdown here in a long, long time. I think we got better at taking care of the ball, but that has to be priority number one here. You have to take care of the ball and try to get some. We got better on defense. Can we continue that trend? There isn't any single phase that I would single out, I think you have to hit on all of them and try to get better at everything. If you look back historically since I've been coaching the teams from year one to year two usually make pretty good improvement. I think that's probably a huge leap that you get. When I went to Georgia Southern we went from 10-3 and losing in the quarterfinals to 14-1 and losing in the finals, to back-to-back National Championships. That's the kind of thing you want to do. Goals for the team this year, the players will get together and set most of these, but I'm going to tell you what my goals for the team are. Keep the Commander-In-Chief's Trophy, have a winning season and win a bowl game.

Q. It's probably been a long time since a Navy coach has set those kinds of goals?

A. I don't know. That's always been our goals. Those were our goals the first year. Some years they are more realistic than others. Honestly, the way I break down a season, you have to have some long-term goals, but I don't really think about those. I break it down to 11 one-game seasons and I really compartmentalize myself. Like right now, the only game I even care about is Duke and if we can get through that game I will worry about Northeastern after that. I don't look down the road. I used to tell our guys all the time at Southern where we had a playoff system that if you worry about the playoffs in August and September and October you won't be in them. You better be taking care of business in August and September and October and then all those things may be a possibility. That's the same thing with winning seasons and bowl games. You better take care of your business to start with and then lo and behold you look up and you realize you're in position to do something pretty good.

Q. How many guys are competing for the punting job?

A. Honestly? Two. Yokitis and Shuey. I shouldn't say that. We'll take a look at Washburn and Cook, because they've been in the program, but coming out of the spring Yokitis and Shuey were the two that were ahead.

Q. How many freshmen do you have?

A. Recruited?

Q. Yes

A. 45

Q. What is the breakdown, roughly, between prep school and direct?

A. I will say 26 (NAPS) to 19 (direct).

Q. You mentioned the fact that you weren't able to have that week of practice with just the freshmen. Is that going to make it difficult for you to sort through those 45 and figure out who can possibly play this year?

A. We have an idea. We'll find out. You're still going to have the same amount of time with them, it will just be with everybody there which I think might be easier, because they see the older guys in line in front of them doing it and a picture is worth a 1,000 words. If you have a lot of freshmen play, you're probably in trouble. Could we have three or four play? Yeah. I think if we get past three or four it could be interesting. There are some positions that are awfully hard for a freshman to play. It's very hard for a freshman offensive lineman to play. On the flip side we might have a defensive lineman that can go in a rush the passer or a secondary guy that can play or a receiver. Skill guys. You might have a really fast slot that can go in, ala Trey Hines, and catch a pitch. The kids coming from the prep school are certainly at an advantage because they've run the system for a year. There are a few kids that we're going to take a good long look at and see where they stand.

Q. Do the plebes look better this year than they did two years ago?

A. We're excited about the freshmen class, but they're all my team. I like them all. It's hard to differentiate between the guys you got. They're all yours. I had an old coach tell me that all came highly recommended.

SS: Any other questions for Coach Johnson? Thanks coach.

A. Thanks. We'll see you guys out at practice


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