Note: This interview took place before it was announced that safety Emmett Merchant would rejoin the team for the summer.
Adam Nettina (AN): Can you tell me your general impressions of the spring? Did the defense make the kind of progress you would have liked to have seen?
BG: As far as when you look at positions, I think you need to look at the defensive line. Jordan Stephens had a really solid spring. He probably played as well as anyone this spring along with Chase Burge, who is one of those other guys who we need to be ready to play at the nose spot. I felt that Yarborough made some improvement, and Nate, Jabari, and those guys got better overall this spring. I think what we found [on the defensive line] was that with [Michael] Walsh and [Matt] Nechak coming back we hope found a little depth…Mainly the guys I'm talking about are Chase, Jordan, and Billy, and the guys who started a year ago…At that position we felt like we came out of spring better than in other year's that we've been here. We just feel like we have more depth and more guys who we can put in to play.
Inside, I think the most positive thing inside was the improvement of Tyler Simmons. He really jumped off the charts while playing SAM and MIKE, and I think he'll battle to be in that rotation with Ross and Tony. I think that will give us three guys inside who we can depend on. [Ross Pospisil] and Tony [Haberer] had solid springs but I think Tyler emerged as a guy who belongs on the field and he's going to get plenty of playing time because he can play either spot. As far as the other guys at the position go, I think Caleb [King], Max [Blue], and Trey Grissom will all come back and battle for the other spots remaining inside. Caleb King had a real solid spring and did some good things. At outside linebacker, Clint was not healthy all spring but I think we made a good move by putting him at outside linebacker. If you go back and look at the cutups from last year - when we had him coming off the edge - he made some plays, and I think it's a position that is really suited for him. In Clint and Ram at outside ‘backer I think we have two guys there who give us some depth where we might not have to play ‘nickel' as much because those guys are just like nickel backs. On the other side we have [Craig] Schaefer and, probably one of our bigger surprises of the spring, Jerry Hauburger, who we moved from inside to outside linebacker. [Jerry] did some really good things, and we've just got to get him to ‘know' the defense at outside ‘backer so he can be an every down guy. Craig did some good things and I think the ‘raider' position is still going to be a battle in the fall as to who is going to settle into that spot.
AN: Can you give me an idea for the difference between the ‘striker' and ‘raider'? Are they that much different? Are you looking for the same kind of player or different kinds of players at each position?
BG: The ‘striker' is more of a glorified defensive back on a lot of occasions. He has to cover in space, and sometimes he has to line up on a wide number two receiver…He has to play coverage…He has to be somewhere between a defensive back and an outside linebacker; a guy who can cover like a safety plus the kind of guy who can come off the edge and play like a linebacker and play the run. The ‘raider' spot is for a guy who we want to have a little more size. He's a guy who plays with his hand down some and is into the boundary. The ‘raider' is not involved as much in the passing game as the ‘striker.'
AN: How important is developing depth in today's game? Is it a situation of just becoming more comfortable with different personnel packages, or is it a situation of guarding against injuries?
BG: What you would like to do in certain situations is match up your personnel to what gives you the best chance to be successful on certain downs, whether it be short yardage where you want to bring in extra lineman or long yardage where you want to bring in an extra ‘DB.' If you have ‘strikers' who have good coverage skills who can also run then you're not afraid to leave those guys on the field in either case. A year ago and sometime in past years (when we had some depth in the secondary), I would move a safety to the ‘nickel' spot, like what we did with Jeff [Deliz] three years ago. It just gives us more speed on the back end. In 2007 we had so many injuries that we lost almost the whole secondary in the first couple of ball games so we could not do that. In 2006 we did it a lot with Jeff and Rashawn King who were two guys who could play ‘nickel.' Jeff settled in there, so we played with five defensive backs a lot. Now, verses two tight ends you'd like to have some depth at defensive line where if you get into short yardage situations you can bring in an extra lineman and take the ‘raider' out, but the only way you can do that is to stay healthy and have depth at certain spots.
AN: Everyone seems to be talking about ‘the spread' offense - whether it is in the zone-read model or the idea of a five-wide, ‘Air-Raid' offense that someone like Hal Mumme developed. Do you find yourself constantly adapting to the way you scheme your defenses?
BG: Yea, I think the trend and what we have seen, both last year and the last four or five years, is that teams do exactly what you said…They spread you out, they try to make you play in space. Teams will try to get the one on one match up in space, and it may not be all the vertical game. It may be the underneath game, where they get the ball to receivers quick and try to see if your speed can match up with their speed underneath. That is what makes it tough because it puts a lot of pressure on linebackers. But the second thing is that when you have a mobile quarterback that can put pressure on you with the threat of quarterback powers, quarterback isos, quarterback draws, the zone read…I mean with the added pressure of running the football then it becomes tough on [the defense] and the underneath guys. It just puts a lot of pressure on guys underneath to play run but at the same time be able to match up on receivers who can run 4.3 or 4.4 and catch balls underneath in space. It just makes it hard.