Well, we had our 13th practice yesterday morning, and we have two more left, Thursday and Saturday this week. And thank goodness, the most important thing, at this point, knock on wood, is we haven't had anybody seriously injured with anything that they would need some serious operation. That's always a blessing at this time of the year. But we're trucking along and just trying to improve fundamentally every day we go out on that football field.
We get a lot of e-mails and calls about your quarterback position. You've named Jay Davis your starter, but how much attention do you pay to that position?
Well, you pay attention to every position. It's amazing that the quarterback is such a focal position to everybody. He's the one that everybody sees on every play, especially the kind of offense we run. And then, for four years, we were totally infatuated with a guy by the name of Philip Rivers. We were blessed to have somebody that good and whatever, but there [are] an awful lot of other positions that are going to help the quarterback position, and the offensive line is one of them. I think that's as big a focal point as we could have.
As I said before, Jay Davis is the starting quarterback going into it and he's done nothing at this point to lose it. Marcus Stone has made some very good improvement, both in the mechanics of throwing the ball – both of them have worked hard on the mechanics and the little things like that. But Jay's … probably initially, picked up the terminology a little quicker than what Marcus did. And I think we've got two fine quarterbacks.
What people need to remember is the fact that Jay Davis was the second-leading passer in the Atlantic Coast Conference last year. That totally went unnoticed by everybody, and the statistics bear that out. But he wasn't Philip Rivers. And no matter [what] … His name could have been Brett Favre and people would be talking about him.
What are some of the other position battles that have intrigued you this spring?
Well, the running back position. We have Reggie Davis, who has played a lot, and then Darrell Blackman and we've got Bobby Washington. Bobby and Darrell are two freshmen that just had a lot to learn [last year]. But again, they all started on the same page.
And Reggie broke a little bone in his finger, but he's kept practicing. And Darrell, a week ago Saturday he hurt his ankle. He had a high ankle sprain, so he's been out since then. And Bobby Washington has probably had two [of the] outstanding performances. He's very, very talented, and then we have two more coming in next fall that we think can be awfully good. So that's one [competition] in a very positive side.
But the offensive line … We've got to make sure that we can come out of spring with our five best players put in the right positions. Who are our five [best] and then what pegs can we put them in and what slots can we put them in? And then get some good backup help for them.
We're a little concerned about the linebacker position. We don't have as many as we'd like to have and that's a position that is used in just about every kicking phase there is. But we're just trucking along.
So much attention is paid to the quarterback position, but how difficult is it to replace players like Chris Colmer and Jed Paulsen on the offensive line?
Oh, it's going to be very difficult. We were going along real good last year, and we didn't know when the season started. Everybody was [asking], "Who's going to be the quarterback? Who's going to be the quarterback?" I was more concerned who our left offensive line was going to be, because we didn't know if Chris Colmer was going to be able to play or not. He ended up playing, but he probably wasn't 100 percent, and because of that, he didn't get into tip-top shape until about maybe halfway into the season.
The line was starting to come together. The leader of the line last year was Jed Paulsen; when he got hurt, that really hurt us. And then probably our best player going in, with what we knew, was Leroy Harris, and then he got hurt for the season. And then Derek Morris missed about four games. And that really multiplied the problems that we had, because we just didn't have that quality depth. And to lose those two and know they're not coming back … that's the way college football is.
You return a lot from the nation's No. 1 defense. How excited are you about the possibilities on defense this year?
Well, I'm excited with how good we could be up front. We lost our whole starting secondary. The two corners, Lamont Reid and Dovonte Edwards, are working out for pro teams right now and have had good times and good workouts. And the two safeties – Andre Maddox, I don't know how you really can replace somebody like him. Replacing him is going to be like replacing Philip in a different vein, because he was the quarterback on the defense. He'd been a three-plus-year starter, and Troy Graham, who we moved from wide receiver, ended up being an outstanding player.
And you've got Marcus Hudson on one side and A.J. Davis on the other side at the corners, [who] started on and off the last couple of years. The safeties are a couple of good young players in Garland Heath and J.J. Jones right now, but there's a youngster by the name of [Da'Juan] Morgan and another one by the name of [Miguel] Scott who are very, very talented.
But it all starts up front and those guys did return, the front four. Two years ago, we started three freshmen and a sophomore and they got beat around a little bit. Last year, they were three sophomores and a junior, and they did, obviously, a very good job and they've improved from then because they're still young and learning. And that's where it starts, is up front, and DeMario Pressley has made a huge impact on that up front there. He's making those guys inside work to keep their starting position.
How are the new assistant coaches meshing?
I think it's going real well. You hate to lose people, but you can't hold people back. I look at it as really a compliment when people like Southern California and Arkansas and Florida and Mississippi and the Jets and the Cardinals in the NFL are coming to raid your staff or people. It's not that they were looking for jobs, it's that they were given an opportunity to what they thought were real good opportunities for them and their family.
But we replaced them with some awfully good coaches; I mean, awfully good coaches. I take my time in doing that, and I think in Marc Trestman and Steve Dunlap, the respective coordinators offensively and defensively, that we've got two people who have got a very good track record. Marc has been in the NFL for many years and coached some of the best players up there, both quarterbacks and wide receivers and whatever, and he's coordinated it. And Steve and our wide receivers coach, Dwayne Dixon -- who is an outstanding coach, just an outstanding coach -- Dwayne and Steve have been up on one or two occasions for the Frank Broyles Award, which is symbolic of the top assistant football coach in the country. So we were blessed in what we got and they're working together and working real hard and I think that chemistry will mesh real good.
How involved will you be with the play-calling this year?
I'm getting involved quite a bit. I want to keep hands-on everything. I know what the gameplans are, we discuss them extensively on both sides of the ball and in the kicking game, and they do the play-calling. Every now and then, I'll throw my two cents into it, [because] you have a feeling, when you're not having to call plays on one side of the ball or the other. You get a sense of how the game is going and what the opposition is doing. But we've got very capable people that can call it, and I'm convinced of that.
It's just been announced that the 12-game season has been approved, and the ACC was the only conference to object. What is your feeling about that and how it affects things if there is a playoff?
When you say a playoff, a national playoff? Well, it's something that … I think we all know why the 12th game was voted in, but the Atlantic Coast Conference would have been for it but for the fact that by playing 12 games, now you don't have an open date. [And with] injuries and people getting hurt, you don't have a chance to get them back. So we made a proposal that our players can have five years to play five years, because football is probably the sport that redshirts more extensively than any other sport in the country. And if you bring in 20 freshmen and you redshirt 18 of them, then the average is that you have about 80 on scholarship to begin with, that means you're playing with 62 players. And if four or five of them get hurt, what do you do? You bring somebody out, because of the added game.
And they're talking about academic reforms and everything else out of one side of their mouth, and then we're taking a week away where kids can maybe pick up and make up some time that they've lost through travel and what have you. But change is always there and we've got to accept it and go on.
Going 5-6 last season was disappointing and difficult. Are you a coach who addresses it in terms of making sure the players remember not to let it happen again, or do you just completely forget it?
Well, you can't forget about it. It's there. The way the media is today, with talk shows and the Internet and everything else, nobody lets you forget about it. That's just the way life is. But it's a good learning process.
To have the No. 1 defense in the country and only won five games, there were an awful lot of games that were very close. We just keep reminding ourselves and our team and our players that we've got to win our home games and we've got to win the close games. Just look at Virginia Tech; they were the conference champions and they were probably six points away from being undefeated and they were probably six points away from being 3-8 or 4-7. You just have got to get over that hump.
We thought we had just [gotten over that hump] when we won a couple of close games, one at Virginia Tech, and an overtime game here against Wake Forest. And we thought we were getting ready to kick an extra point to win the game against Carolina, which would have given us three out of four close games in a row, and that might have threw us right over that hump. Those are the things that you've got to do and those are the things that makes some team be a very, very successful team -- as opposed to a team that didn't do what the expectations were all about.