“We are into the middle of our open week this week as we prepare to just get better. We really spent a lot of time fundamentally just working on ourselves and how we can improve in all three phases of the game. Then later this week, we will start working on ECU.”
How has the pace and style of offense these days impacted what you look for when you're recruiting running backs. How has it impacted how many you feel like you need to be effective in these offenses?
“Well, I've always felt like since we've been doing this since '99, actually, since I've been running this offense, I've always felt like you needed at least two and preferably three running backs that you can use throughout a game. And that's if all of those stay healthy.
“It's just because of the pace of play of what you're doing and the recovery time that they need. And to be able to keep them fresh throughout the entire game, I always felt like it would be two to at least three.”
Has it also impacted the style of running back that you recruit these days?
“No, that hasn't changed. I mean, you're always looking for a guy that can run, obviously; a guy that can pass protect, a guy that can catch a ball out of the backfield and a guy who will make you miss, but also has enough physical being about himself that he can break a tackle when he needs to.”
Because of the pace and everything, are we seeing the days of the 25 rush a game running back sort of fading because of how these offenses are paced?
“I don't know that. I don't know if it's so much that. If you go back and look at the teams across the country who do not use this type of that style of pace of play, I'm not sure that their backs are all carrying it 25 times a game like you used to back in the 70s and 80s.
“I think it's more running back by committee in most cases and that's you're talking about four players on your football team and you're talking the possibility of 14 or 15 games. You're wanting to get a guy through a season so that he can help you the entire way.”
The other night you referenced Mack Hollins, and I was wondering what your staff recognized when you recognized that he was going to be able to do some of the things that he's done?
“Well, first of all, we recognized it last year because he was phenomenal on all of our special teams. Didn't matter what you asked him to do. He was going to be one of the best guys doing it. You knew he had a tremendous will to be good. He had great athleticism.
“Then you get into spring ball, and you're focusing more on what he can do as a wide receiver, and he obviously picked it up very well and has done a great job with it. And so we knew at that time that he was going to be a factor for us as a receiver.”
Was speed something that caught your attention right away, even when he was first coming into the program?
“Yeah, you saw that as he was running down on kickoffs last year. He was always the first guy down there on the kickoff, made quite a few plays. Even if he had a blocker on him, he was able to make that guy miss or avoid him and still get in on a play. So that said a lot about who he was.”
Two games in, you look at the offensive line, what do you kind of see out of them? From what I observed, the pass protection at San Diego State was really good, but kind of limited in their run blocking after two games. Can you speak on that?
“Yeah, I agree with you on the San Diego State game. I thought they did a nice job in protection. The running game, we were probably a little apprehensive coming off the ball because we were worried about where they were going to be and not wanting to get beat. So that never works out well for you at any time in the running game.
“So we struggled in that area, and got a little bit better as the game went on in the second half. You know, they are probably where they ought to be with the guys that we have on the field right now and the lack of experience we have. We still have a ways to go in that area and we understand that, and it's going to be a work in progress.”
What do you do in practice to improve the running game, and who do you look to running back wise to take over? What do you think they need to do to get the running game going where you can consistently rely on them to make plays and gain big chunks of yardage?
“Well, you have to get better up front. These days, you can be the greatest running back in the country, but if you don't have five guys up front that can block some guys, it's going to make it very difficult for you.
“We have to continue in practice to get the reps that those guys need to learn and to be able to adjust and to fronts and different looks and stunts. Once they feel more comfortable with that, I'm sure the running backs will be more productive, there's no doubt. Definitely don't want our quarterback to be our leading rusher in the games.”
T.J. Thorpe is a guy who has meant a lot to people off the field, motivating people in the locker room at halftime. What would it mean to get him back on the field?
“It would mean a lot. Coming out of spring ball, T.J. was our most productive receiver in the spring. He really made a lot of plays for us and did some nice things and was the most exciting guy, I would say, we had at wide receiver at the time.
And so it will be a big boost to the offense to get him back healthy.”
Where are the biggest areas of improvement you're looking for?
“Well, I'd like to see more consistency in running the football and so that's going to start up front and end up with our running backs. And then, also, our perimeter blocking.
“Defensively, I think for us, we've got to be able to stop the run and make a team one dimensional. We are spending a lot of time on tackling which we had a tough time with last week. And then really, our return teams, we haven't done anything special in those two phases of the game and that's unusual for us. We have got to get going in that area, also.”
Are teams keying in more on trying to keep the ball away from Ryan Switzer on punts?
“I don't know about that. I think in both games, they punted to him. I think what they did a great job in is their coverage. So that means we've got to do a much better job of keeping guys off of him so we can get him started. You know, again, you don't get started, it's tough when you are getting them going. And so they hang the ball up there pretty good and they have also punted it out there and done a good job with their coverage, I would say.”
Just wanted to clarify on T.J. Thorpe, is he back practicing now?
“Yes, he is. He is practicing with us.”
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