"Obviously, this spring was dramatically different than the spring a year ago where we had a significant number of returning starters, a lot of guys that had been in the program for many years and had an awful lot of experience. This spring was more about going back to basics and fundamentals because of the tremendous number of young players at a lot of positions. Our coaching staff felt like we did accomplish some good things during spring practice, but we're clearly a long ways away from where we need to be and certainly where we want to be.
"Some areas that we felt like we developed not only some good cohesiveness but some depth were the offensive line and the defensive line. I think that's certainly a byproduct of four years of recruiting and being able to develop some consistency and continuity in those particular areas. We're like any program that's making a transition from a pre-existing starting quarterback that basically had been the starter for four years. We're going into uncharted territory with a group of four young quarterbacks that has never played before in any significant amount of time in college.
"Certainly Bryn Renner is the heir apparent to replace T.J. Yates. We felt like he had a very good spring. He's talented, he's got skills, but it's a learning experience every day. I love his attitude. I love his hunger to work hard and to get better and we think that he's definitely moving in the right direction. Like all programs, we've got to develop some depth there. Braden Hanson, A.J. Blue and Marquise Williams are three other young quarterbacks that we've got to develop. We've got to be able to have at least two quarterbacks that we feel like could go into games and win with.
"We have a little bit of an experienced receiving corps. Offensively, we had no seniors on the team last year at wide receiver, so all of those guys return and I think that provides us with some good depth and certainly some good competition for playing time. We're in kind of uncharted territory at running back. We lost Athony Elzy, Johnny White and Shaun Draughn and those three guys probably took 95 percent of the playing reps over the previous four seasons. So we're going through some trials and some experimentation with some young running backs and I think that clearly will not be settled until we get into training camp.
"On the defensive side of the ball, we've got some talented first-line linebackers in Zach Brown and Kevin Reddick, but clearly I think we've got to find a third starting linebacker. Darius Lipford is a potential possibility. Ebele Okakpu, Dion Guy. We've got to find some depth. We've got to find a good backup unit and that may not come until next year's freshman class gets to camp here in August. The secondary probably took one of the biggest hits of the football team in losing Kendric Burney and Deunta Williams, two guys that had basically started for four years, and Da'Norris Searcy, who was an unbelievable talented player both on special teams and in the secondary, so the whole secondary has got to be rebuilt. That certainly will be a work in progress. But I like the attitude of the team. They've worked very hard, but we've still got an awful lot of area to cover over the summer and certainly during training camp."
How has Renner progressed during the offseason and what are your thoughts on how he performed this spring?
"For us, the starting point in the development of a quarterback is their passion to learn and to get better. And in the offseason, you're so limited because of the access that you have with the athletes so a lot of that is relegated to how much they're willing to come in and watch film. And I think that Bryn did a very good job. He came in and he watched all of T.J. Yates's games over the last couple of years. He looked at a lot of his personal practice cutups from last year. He's studying quarterbacks that are playing in the National Football League that he has similar traits and skills of so that he can look at how those guys perform and the way they play and the style in which they play. So I think he's got a great basis from that standpoint.
"He's passionate. He loves to work. He wants to be good. He's got that certain aura of charisma that when he steps in the huddle, the other 10 guys really believe that he's going to find a way to make that play work. We're optimistic that he's going to do a good job, but he's certainly going to be challenged from the experience standpoint. There will be a learning curve as he goes through training camp and the first part of the season, but we like what we see so far."
Do you think the large number of players that played last year will help this team contend for the Coastal Division this year?
"I think our depth is questionable, to be honest with you. We did have some players that played last year that played before they were ready, probably before they really even deserved to play, but out of necessity they stepped in and did some good things. We've had some injuries and guys have had offseason surgery, so we've got to get some guys well and we've got to continue to grow and build those guys."
Do you prefer to use one running back as a work horse, or do you try to use certain guys for certain situations?
"I think you have to have a stable of running backs. I don't know that I even want to have one guy that you say, ‘This guy is going to take 95 percent of the reps.' I think it's a detriment to the kid. The most successful offenses that I had at the University of Miami were built around the idea that in almost every single game you were playing two, for sure, and maybe even some times a third running back, whether it was Clinton Portis, Najeh Davenport, Edgerrin James or Willie McGahee. If you're going to have 75-85 snaps on offense and you're going to run the ball times, there's plenty enough work to get two quality players a lot, and maybe even a third one if he's got unique special skills as a third-down player out of the backfield catching the ball or maybe a short-yardage goal line guy. Who knows?
"But we've got to have more than one running back and we've got an awful lot of unproven guys. Hunter Furr got brief exposure last year at the end of the game against Florida State and a little tiny bit against Tennessee in the bowl game. Ryan Houston comes back from being declared eligible and then subsequently red-shirting last year, so he's the most experienced of the group and then we've got a lot of freshman and red-shirt freshman players that we've got to figure out roles that they can play to help us."
Does incoming freshman Travis Hughes possibly play a role in deciding that third linebacker spot?
"Yes, I don't think that there's any question that we have talked long and hard about what roles Travis can play. I think the one fortunate thing is that Travis is physically gifted enough that he can play any of the three positions. He can be a Sam and a Will on the outside. He can certainly be a Mike; he could be a Mike nickel linebacker. There's no question that we're going to count on him to be able to come in and play. We'll put him on the fast track to find out how much of a game plan can he absorb and how quickly he can catch up. Four years ago, Bruce Carter and Quan Sturdivant came into the program as guys that were thrust into the role of starters early in their career and it worked out very well for them. Travis could potentially fall into that category."