I believe that since you've been here, it's the first time you've selected captains for the entire season. Why the change?
Just felt like this team had some guys that, sometimes I sit around and there's a lot of guys that have leadership ability. Just looking at our team in the off-season, I knew we had a very difficult in front of us. I also knew we had some guys that have poured a lot of themselves into this program that could help us get through it.
For you team to go where it needs to go, your team has to take over in the locker room. Really, not that the coaches aren't leaders. We are. A lot of the time spent with those guys is away from us, and having four permanent guys that can lead the way, I thought was really important in this season.
Four permanent guys that have been in your program now, for at least three years, for sure. Then people forget, it was just four years ago you got here, so are they kind of an example of developing a certain type of culture?
Yeah, absolutely. We talk about playing hard, playing tough, playing together, being a blue-collar bunch of guys that are going to do everything we can to be the best us everyday.
That's what these guys to me exemplify.First of all, they're tremendously talented, which you have to be a great player to be elected to that role. You've gotta be somebody that's selfless, that everybody on the team is going to respect on and off the field. You've got four great examples of that there.
Not only is it different this year with your captains, every year is a different story, a different football team, different progress. How would you compare the progress with this team compared to teams you've had in the past?
You know, I don't know. I don't really try to compare one team to another. I think you said it, every team's different. I'm excited about this team. I think our chemistry, not only just offensively, defensively, but the way they interact together. They do push each other, but you see them joking around with each other, you see them hanging with each other.
There's a lot of interaction between offense and defense, more than we've seen. That's a big deal to me. I think that when you're going through a college football season and you're on offense, and you know the defensive guys are over there cheering for you, and visa versa, that makes it special on the sideline.
Boy, the competitive edge has been a lot of fun to watch in practice.
Yeah, I mean, we had too many drill today and it was live. The guys were competing and the sidelines were energetic, and it was fun to be a part of that drill.
Ryan Finley, who came in here the quarterback from Boise State. I think initially when he got here, you thought it might be two years of eligibility. He's been granted an extra year, so that means two more years beyond this one. Did you have any idea what to expect with that situation when he got here?
It came up when we were recruiting him and I told him, "That's up to the NCAA, and all of us know that you don't know what you're going to get back from that crew." I didn't really think a whole lot about it.
We just went forward with recruiting him, told him if he decided to come that we would help him file the waiver, and then they granted it.
Depth chart came out today. Three true freshmen are on the depth chart: receiver Kelvin Harmon, tight end Thaddeus Moss, and cornerback Nick McCloud. What are qualities that have allowed those three youngsters to stand out?
Well they're mature, not just physically, they're mature mentally.
Nick McCloud, starting with him, very coachable, very competitive, a detailed guy that makes mistakes like young guys do, but the thing that I like about him is the next day he takes it off the tape and he learns. Coach Barlow actually came up to me today and he's like, "That kid is so coachable." That's awesome when you hear that from a position coach.
Kelvin Harmon is physically gifted, he's really put together. He's a very consistent guy. He hasn't hit the wall like you see some freshman do. He catches the ball effortlessly. He had a unreal, one-handed catch today. Landed out of bounds, but it was a phenomenal catch.
Thad Moss has been banged up a little bit in fall camp, but when he's been out there, he's got a great skill set in the passing game, and he's physical. Just going to be a matter of him learning the plays now in order to get him out on the field.
On the defensive side of the ball, which we'll focus on, you go through it and you talk about the team maturing, but they're still a young team. Two seniors, but ten juniors listed right now as starters. I know that can change. You've got a lot of guys that have got some game experience, but they're still relatively young.
Yeah, it's an interesting crew. We were talking today as a staff, a year ago, defensively we had a lot of new faces and we were nervous going into the season because, as excited as you were about their ability, you knew they hadn't proven it. As a player, even though you think you're good, there's that nervousness that you may not be as good on game day, and so we had to go through that with some of those guys last year on defense.
Now it's the opposite. You see the confidence that they have just standing there. You could take still shots of these guys while they're waiting for the play. They've got their eyes locked in, they're in great stances, they're excited, they're communicating well, they've learned on the field through good and bad times, and that's exciting when you have that kind of experience back.
Now it's building depth behind those kids. Two years from now, we're going to take a huge hit. We're going to have a bunch of really good juniors leave this class, so we're trying to build depth behind them now.
Ten players on this defense have double figure starts under their belts now, so how do you expect that overall experience to manifest itself on the field?
That's the one thing, as a coach, you can't give them. All those different game moments and teachable moments and pressure that they've been through, it'll pay off for those kids. You know, they'll play faster, they're not going to be nervous about what type of game they're in, if they're ahead, if they're behind. They've seen things, things have happened to them, so all those game experiences make them a better player.
Is experience on defense now perhaps more valuable in the age of these up-tempo offenses where teams are just lining up so quickly?
Yeah. I think repetition is valuable. I don't care where you play, whatever position, but the more you do it, the more you have game life in it, the more you can learn from what you do, the better you're going to be as a player. If you go all the way through high school, college, NFL, I mean, those guys that are savvy veterans are usually pretty good players.
Linebacker, linebacker depth, that's always been a frustrating thing, a question mark. How do we look?
I'm excited about them.
Two years ago, Jerod Fernandez led our defense in tackles. Last year, he played with a high-ankle sprain and it hurt him. He's healthy. He's in the best shape he's been. Airius Moore led our defense a year ago in tackles, and he's healthy and now they get to play together. You got two veteran guys that know that defense, that play well, they're roommates. I think they understand each other and they talk football together all the time.
Riley Nicholson is probably one of the strongest players on this team. He's getting better and better. He's a great special-teams kid for us. Ford Howell earned a scholarship this year.
We signed a kid named Brock Miller that we're going to redshirt that's going to be a fantastic player for us, probably the most athletic guy in our freshman class on the defensive side of the ball.
Germaine Pratt has moved to linebacker and I'm really excited about that move. We're going to redshirt Germaine, as well.
The depth a year from now, because none of these guys are seniors, is going to be even better.
In years past, last couple of years or two, three, four years ago, the injuries had hit. How do you attack that? How do you keep them low? Is it strength conditioning? Who helps you with that? How do you keep those numbers down?
Well there's nothing you can do, unfortunately, about some of them. The bones, when you have injuries there, there's no strength and conditioning for that. Sometimes things just happen in sports. The soft-tissue injuries you can do a lot about. It's how you train the guys, how you plan your recovery with the guys, the nutrition aspect, from training room to the nutrition to the weight room. All of those things play into it.
The science behind how we practice and how many breaks we give them, all of it matters when you're talking about hamstrings and muscles. We've been fortunate there, you know, we've done a pretty good job on the soft-tissue area. We've had, like all football teams, our fall-camp bumps and bruises.
Can you to talk about Shug Frazier's potential?
Yeah, Shug is going to red shirt for us and we're really excited to be able to do that. He's a big, young guy that plays hard. Coach Nielson is excited about how coachable he is.
Played at a great high school, Buford High School, and Jeff Simpson is one of the best high school coaches in the country, he coaches him. He's been developed well. Jeff's a really good D-line coach himself. A year in the weight room will really help him. We have some good inside players, and he needs a year to catch up in the weight room with those guys.
Staying with the defense, you've been praising Dravious Wright quite a bit this preseason, what's setting him apart right now?
He's played a lot of football, he's worked hard on his weaknesses. Dray's always been an aggressive player. He's probably our best special-teams player on our team. I don't know if anyone's blocked him as a gunner on the punt team in three years, so he's always had that.
The run game's been something he's been good at. It's always been about his man-to-man and getting that where he can be a three-down player and play man-to-man with anybody and he's worked really hard in that area.
Fans watching the game with you at the stadium or checking it out on TV next week, if you want to break away from the center and the punter, take a look at number 8 lined as the gunner getting down the field and being the first guy down the field. Is that just sheer determination on his part?
I mean, the guy can run 22 miles per hour with his pads on. That's fast. Man, we tracked that in practice the other day. He is really fast and he plays that way.
To me, that's fun to watch. When you see a guy run like that. He has one thing in mind when he gets down there and he hopes the guy doesn't fair catch it. Man, he wants to hit him.
With some of the more experience you were talking about on defense, and maybe some experience at secondary, will that allow you to blitz more?
You know, it depends on what we're doing. I think our D-line, a lot of that's on them. I think if you asked any D-coordinator, if you could play coverage and get a four-man rush, that's a dream. If we can get that done, that helps our DBs. There's definitely times when you can get a beat on protections, and you don't want to just be where you're lined up all the time for the offense.
You need to make them have to block you on the move. I don't think we'll have to blitz as much as we have a couple years ago to get pressure, if our D-line can stay healthy, but we'll definitely continue to mix it up.
you had three guys who had double figures in the category of tackles for loss. Mike Rose and Bradley Chubb were two of them. Now, they're defensive ends, and maybe that's not a big surprise. The third guy was B.J. Hill, an inside guy. What does that say about him?
You know, B.J. Hill and Niles Clark are two really productive defensive players that don't get a lot of love, I guess you'd say, publicly. I just think those two guys are really consistent and make plays. They're smart football players. They're tough. You know, B.J. is one of the best technicians maybe, on our football team, when you talk about doing what he's asked to do every play over and over and over.
Niles Clark, I was going to ask you about him. Now, he's listed behind Dravious Wright, but fair to say, as a defensive-minded coach yourself, he's flexible enough where you could use him a lot of different ways.
He plays corner a lot, too, so you'll see him in the game probably at both. It really just depends on our health at the positions, but we'll find ways to get him out there.
I haven't experienced out there on the corner support, but Jack Tocho, there's been some roller coaster rides that he said he's gone through the last couple of years trying to make sure that he's playing at his best. What have you talked to him about coming into this season?
I think last year Jack went through some injuries and lost his confidence early, and then he came on late. I think, just like I told him, Justin Burris was a guy that I think had confidence issues his first three years and his senior year he was phenomenal for us. I said to Jack, "You know, you should have no different year." I don't think, watching his preparation, it'll be any different. I think he's going to have a phenomenal senior year because he's been through so much, he's learned from it, and he's prepared the right way. He's ready to go.
Kind of feel like Josh Jones has been in that boat, too.
Yeah. That's part of the deal. You get humbled sometimes in football. That's coaching, playing. Everybody sees it. Everybody watches it. Then you got to hear it from everybody. Sometimes you hear it for a whole off-season. It feeds the fire and gets you ready to go and I know both those guys are ready to go out and have great years for us.
Yeah, with Hakim Jones moving on, and obviously he was a steady guy at the back end of your defense last season, did a really good job. Josh Jones now flips over I guess to his old position, right? Free safety. Then, Sean Boone taking over strong safety. What do you think of that combination?
They're work well together, for one. They're both good communicators to the corners and linebackers on their sides of the field. They've got good chemistry out there together. I think for Josh it allows him to be in the box a little bit more, which I think he likes. For Sean Boone, he's probably one of our most controlled guys. He really understands how to play in space and be under control and be patient, and when you're out there in the field with all the stuff that can happen, you've got to be really tackler, and he's probably one of our best.
I want to touch on this really quickly, because we've already talked about the defensive line, its talent and there's a lot of depth. There's been that competition between your first-team defensive line, your first-team offensive line. Just how productive has that been?
I think our offensive line is going to benefit a lot from what happened in training camp. Watching them grow throughout it ... Coach Ledford's done a nice job with those guys and just the battles. When you start having to face those guys everyday and then all of a sudden it's someone else, it's like, "Wow. They got us ready." I know that happens.