Coaches Corner Recap with Dick Portee

Wolfpack running backs coach Dick Portee spoke to the crowd at this week's Coaches Corner luncheon, held as usual at Hi-5 restaurant.

Portee, who has years of experience in the Wolfpack football family, expressed his thanks and those of the coaching staff for the crowd presence, noting that fan support means more than ever coming off of a tough loss.

Recovering From UNC
While NCAA rules prohibit Coach Portee from commenting on the officiating from last weekend's UNC game, he did say that after a Sunday off the team responded "really well" at Monday's practice. The team, he said, can't dwell on the loss with a game against recent Wolfpack nemesis Maryland right around the corner.

In fact, Coach Portee said, sometimes the young players bounce back from a devastating loss even better than the coaching staff. Coach Portee did say that the disputed ending in Saturday's game might have been tougher for the players than usual, because "you can talk a little too much" about the controversial game finish.

Calling The Play
In response to a fan's question about whether it might have been smarter to call a quick pass play rather than a run on the fateful third down play against UNC, Coach Portee said the question was a legitimate one. But, he said, the coaches, just like the fans, play those scenarios out over and over again, on film and in their minds, after a tough loss. "If the play works," Coach Portee said, "there's no discussion." Only when it doesn't, he said, does the second-guessing by coaches and fans begin.

Working Out Of A Slump – Maryland Motivation
Coach Portee said the football team was in a "little bit of a slump" lately, noting that they could have started better against Wake Forest and did not start off well against UNC last weekend.

The prospect of avenging four straight losses to Maryland, though, will help energize the Wolfpack squad, even after the UNC heartbreak: "The kids don't want to see their rear ends kicked by Maryland five years in a row."

When commenting about Maryland, Coach Portee noted that the Terrapins had lost some key personnel on defense, but that they still had about 40 fourth-year players in the program which provides a lot of experience. The Terrapins, Coach Portee said, use the same scheme as a year ago, but having the new personnel in certain key positions means that sometimes the same schemes are run in somewhat of a different manner.

Coaching The Running Backs
Coaching running back is hard, Coach Portee said, but he has to take the responsibility, especially when bringing along younger players like Bobby Washington and Darrell Blackman, who've seen more playing time then they would otherwise because of early season injuries to T.A. McLendon and Reggie Davis. The silver lining to that situation is the game experience for the younger players, which Coach Portee considers a work in progress.

Coach Portee said that each of the "fine young men" constituting this year's freshman running back corps will only get better with experience. Last year the Wolfpack had no depth at running back to speak of – now the team has several options to choose from, so many that it's hard to get them all in the game.

The hardest part of the college game for young running backs to pick up is the passing game, Coach Portee said. "They [the young backs] are coming out of programs where all they do is hand off the ball to them out of an I-formation," Portee said, noting that backs who ended up having success at the professional level were usually ones who learned the intricacies of the passing game in their college programs.

Strengths Of The Different Backs
Coach Portee described T.A. McLendon by saying the obvious: You've all seen him, a big, strong back with body mass. Reggie Davis, Coach Portee said, is not the fastest back around but has good strength and what Coach Portee describes as "downhill speed." Of the newcomers, Blackman has "great hands" and superb speed, while Washington is a "juker" who bounces around the field a little more. All four, Coach Portee emphasized, are making an impact.

Overcoming Penalties
Coach Portee made a special point of saying that the coaching staff was working with the team to overcome penalties: "We work as hard any anybody to get our kids to do the right thing." Coach Portee described an example in practice where one coach played the role of referee, with the players handing the ball to him in the end zone after scoring a "touchdown" – "but sometimes it's hard to remember those things in front of sixty thousand people."

While stating that good player behavior and discipline is the responsibility of the coaching staff and the players themselves, and that head coach Chuck Amato is a strong coach on disciplinary issues, Coach Portee cited pressures on the young players from the professional game as a factor: "Our kids are impressionable and they see pro players doing a certain thing… they are motivated to act that way themselves," Coach Portee said.

He cited the issue of player discipline versus aggressive behavior in the penalty context as one example: "You have to defend your territory; it's hard for them to get pushed around and not push back."

Josh Brown Update: Still With Program
In response to a fan question about running back and fan favorite Josh Brown, Coach Portee said that Brown was still with the program helping coach the running backs, but would not be playing this year.

Mazzone Up Next
Next week, offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone will be the guest speaker at "Coaches Corner" at Hi-Five.

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