Try to dot all the I's and cross the T's. Do you feel as if you and your staff have been able to do that with this team?
Yeah, I'm excited where we're at. We need to go play a game now. I know our players are anxious to hit somebody else. Some of our coaches ... you think you know, but until you're out there and see how they respond, there's going to be things we're better than I thought we were at, and there's going to be other things where I'm like, "Well, we got a lot of work to do there." We need to get on the field and play and we're playing against an opponent that's going to test you.
Their continuity as a staff is as good as it gets. They've got great experience on offense in the key positions. Their specialists are the same way.
We mentioned here on the last few weeks on the show about what a grueling camp it was with all of the heat. What have you done here just in the last 7-10 days to make sure your guys have their legs on Thursday?
Well, last week, the week before you call Game Week, we pushed them pretty hard knowing that we were going to back off. They had Friday... Saturday they were off, which was Game Week Monday, we've cut back probably 6 periods per day from a normal week. We've kind of front-loaded the game plan and backed it off this week.
I asked the guys today how they felt and they said it's best they've felt since day 1 of camp. I felt good about where our legs are. We have a really good nutrition staff that's working on hydration with the guys and sitting there watching them eat, making sure they're doing the right things to get ready for whatever the humidity will be like in the evening.
Sorting through the final week, leading up, the guys kind of know who's going to play, who's not going to play, but also who's getting red-shirted and who's not. Do you sit down and have the conversation, or position coach? How do you handle that?
Most of the time, the position coach will. If there's a guy that I knew was struggle with where he was at, then I'll have a conversation with him. I meet with them all collectively multiple times through camp, and just try to keep them up, and let them know that the process of developing is a process we actually had to developmental practice today.
At the end of our practice, we kept all those redshirt kids back and put them through a 30-minute practice without the varsity guys out there to help them. That's what I said, a red shirt years is really not a year. It's about 4 1/2 months and then the season's over, the senior's are gone and now they're trying to get on the field. They got to take advantage of this window, or they're looking at being right back on the scout team in 12 months. That's really the way it goes.
You got a lot of guys with game experience. Did you see a separation over this game week from maybe the years you've had in the past?
Yeah, it's not even close.
We've got so much more, I guess you'd say letter winners, but guys are ... guys that play key minutes, guys that have been in big games, and made plays in big games that are back.
We're redshirting guys that I wish we were playing that are injured too. I mean, you got your Jumichael Ramos and Germaine Pratt coaching the scout teams right now. I said, "God, look at those guys. I can't wait 'til they're back."
We're just in a different position from a wealth of experience. Now, it's one more year from now, we'll be looking at 20 seniors, which will be the first time I've had a team like that since I've been here.
How have your guys Ryan and McClendon handled things here as we've closed into game time?
They've both been good this week. We want to see how they handle the game prep. Both of them, throughout camp, have supported each other but they've competed against each other.
I've thought they've been really good. That's what you want. You want competitive guys that want the other guy to play well when they're not in, because ultimately they both want us to win.
They both deserve the opportunity to play in the game and they will. We'll see where it goes. Everyone keeps asking, "How long is it going to last?" Really, it's up to them, and I told them that. We could play with two quarterbacks for a while or one of you could take over and the other guy's going to have to watch until there's an injury.
Has Matt Dayes shown you that he's ready to be the same player as last season before he got hurt?
Yeah, I mean, he looks as good as I've ever seen him look.
Everybody say their prayers that Matt stays healthy because he's as good as I've ever seen him right now, mentally, physically, everything about him, his maturity, he's hungry. He's got a chip on his shoulder. I mean, he wants to be that back that gets 1,000 yards.
It's been a while, so he wants to be that guy for our offense.
How much do you guys talk about having a 1,000-yard rusher?
They talk about it way more than I do. It's a goal, I mean, our offensive lineman want that, our back want that. I hope that everybody sitting in that offensive team room wants that. I just think that's something that you should have in your offense. It shouldn't be something like that where you haven't done it in that long.
Jaylen Samuels, with the new offensive coordinator, you have different schemes, you have different ideas, some plays kind of do look the same, but Jay Sam... how effective will he be for you?
Well, it depends. It's up to him to earn the touches.
I think that that's the one fun thing in practice right now. There's guys competing for the ball and there's more guys competing for it this year than there were last year. I think that's the one thing when you see Matt Dayes healthy, you see Jaylen Samuels, Reggie Gallaspy, Nyheim Hines, Steph Louis, Bra'Lon Cherry, there's a bunch of guys that deserve the football. Kelvin Harmon's made some phenomenal catches this fall camp.
I know Eli's offense is going to move people around and use them all over the field. How many touches they get, really, is up to them.
J. Sam moved to number 1. He thinks he looks faster at number 1, slimmer and faster.
That'd be great. I mean, yeah, the players put in the number 1. He earned that right and I'm proud of him for earning it. Like I told him, "Don't be somebody that has it taken from him. Make sure you go out there and represent the number."
We haven't even talked about special teams and the kicking game yet. I think it's worth knowing because last year NC State's special teams were just that, they were special, for the most part. You got some issues you're still trying to resolve. Both place kickers, as you said, will be seeing some action on Thursday night, but do you feel really good where you are right now in your special teams units?
I do. We've gone from really the bottom of the country in return units to the top 20 and the top 10 in kickoff returns, partly because we're playing with older players that can handle an older player running down the field in open space. More importantly, I think Bra'Lon Cherry and Nyheim have really done a nice job out there. Coach Faulkner and Coach White, who coach those units, do a nice job not making it difficult for the guys to understand what they're doing. Some teams you'll see change their schemes on special teams every week and then that's one thing we don't do. I think we keep it really simple, allow the guys to play fast, and they've bought into it.
What makes Cherry and Nyheim so good in that return game, Coach?
Well, I think they're fearless, for one. I think having your eyes up at the sky while 11 guys run down the field full speed to knock your helmet off, you got to have some courage. They both have a lot of courage and they trust the guys blocking for them. Once they catch it, they can run. Obviously, Bra'Lon's a lot more difficult to tackle than people give him credit. There's a lot of clips where we're watching him today with the guys where people just, I mean, they come down full speed and hit and he just bounces off and keeps running. You got to wrap him up.
Could you elaborate more on the true freshman who will definitely play?
On offense, Kelvin Harmon and Thaddeus Moss. You'll see definitely both of those guys in the game. Defensively, Corner, Nick McCloud, and at nickel, Trae Meadows, you'll see on special teams.
I was just wondering, are there any rule changes this year?
There are actually. The changed the cut block rule for offensive lineman. They can no longer go on the back side of a play up to the linebackers or the safeties and block below the waist. That's a big rule change, actually. It's going to change a lot of things that happen on the backside of offensive plays. It used to be if you wind up in the tackle box you could go anywhere and cut anybody anytime and not anymore.
That's a player safety rule. Probably the biggest change that you'll notice in the game that'll cause more penalties.
What are your plans for Moss and McKever within the new offense?
Thad is backing up Jay Sam and Cole Cook. He's playing a lot. I guess, you'd expect a kid that comes from a football family like that to have a high IQ for the game and he does. He really learns quickly. He's got really good hands and all that, but I'll tell you, he's a tough blocker, maybe one of our most physical guys that way.
We'll have to see with Pharaoh. He's had some up and downs in camp, and he's still working at it, but I'm not sure how big a role he'll have in the first week.
Coach, as far as run-pass balance with the offense this year, what are you expecting? What do you want to see, actually?
I'd love to be balanced all year, I don't know how that'll play out. I think a little bit of it depends on what happens with our receivers. I think those guys have done really good in camp. Our offense is a little more receiver friendly, I guess you would say, where there's more underneath and screen passes that allow them to do yards after the catch, so we'll see.
Our goal in the passing game is to create more explosive plays and more running catch opportunities for those guys, where they could get a ball. Nyheim or Bra'lon or Maurice Trowell could get a ball underneath and turn a 5 or a 7-yard gain into a big play, and they're capable of doing that.
I was wondering if you've been keeping in contact and just watching Jacoby and Joe over their preseason.
You bet. Yeah, through text more than phone. Coach Belichick doesn't let them talk a whole lot. Both of them, I think, are doing well. I think Joe Thuney's gotten a lot of reps with their starting units, which doesn't surprise me at all. I'm really excited for both of them opportunity-wise.
Jacoby, I know he was mad at himself, he sounded like after his first game, and a little more happy after the second. I think he was pretty excited about his third preseason game. He threw a touchdown and started to understand their offense. The more he gets reps I know the better he'll do.
Coach, do you like starting the season on Thursday night instead of Saturday?
I do from the standpoint that it gives us more time for game 2. Not just from a preparation standpoint but from a recovery standpoint for out players. It's going to give them a couple more days of rest, which I think is for us, very important with the season we have in front of us. Then from a staff standpoint, we're going to be able to recruit that Friday after that game and that's the first Friday we're allowed on the road. We'll be able to really get out and see some players in the state. I'm all for it.
I think with Labor Day weekend, it's probably something our fans will enjoy, being able to have that whole weekend to their families and things like that after the game.
Coach, looking ahead and knowing what's coming up in October and November, how critical is it going to be for this team to just keep moving forward and improving?
I mean, that's what it's all about. You want to you play your best football at the end of the season. First week is really your measuring stick of where you're at and what you've got to do better. Everybody's talked about how hard every game is down the road. Our focus is how good can we play this week and then let's come in and grade it. Let's talk about it, how good can we play next week? Just keep our focus on that and not looking too far ahead, because that's where, in my opinion, you skip the steps that you need to take. If we can just stay focused on where we're at right now I think that'll help our team a lot.
Thoughts on William & Mary...
Oh, they're sound. You look at special teams and they blocked 16 kicks on their last 26 games. They play good football in special teams. They've got all conference players. 3 of them, their returner, their kicker, and their punter. Offensively, they average 30 points a game. They've got a lot of guys back, and almost all of them are red shirt players. He's developed players.
Defense, they don't have a lot of guys that jump off the film, but they wind up where they're supposed to be, they play hard, they use good technique. It's a really good football team that's well-coached and his assistant coach is obviously doing a good job producing the effect that he wants.
I've watched it over the years. A lot of FCS teams get beat up at the line of scrimmage in games like this, but can William & Mary's offensive line stand up against higher levels of competition?
That's what we're going to find out. I've talked to our players about that tomorrow and kind of the game within the game is the line of scrimmage. We've got a very experienced, deep defensive line and they've got a very experienced offensive line, but they're not going to be rotating on the line. We are. We've got to take that to our advantage.
They've lost 3 starters on their D-line and we've got 3 new starters on our O-line. How does that match up, play out?
I think our skilled players on offense have got to do a really good job making people miss, and they should if they do what they're capable of doing. This comes down in all these types of games, taking care of your responsibilities and controlling what you can control. We've got to go out there and not beat ourselves. That's one thing last year in our opener I though we did a really good job, not having a lot of penalties and playing clean and doing some really good things that way.
How do you get your guys to control the emotions of being the first game?
I don't know if you can control the emotions. You just can't let the emotions get in the way of the results. I want them to be excited to play. We're only promised 12 games a year and they should be excited. They worked extremely hard since January 6th to have these opportunities in front of them. I hope that they're sky-high. I just don't want it to get in the way of their focus.