We’ve talked about this in the past; I know you are something of an offseason stat geek. You like to look at stats in the offseason, perhaps more than during the season. Anything jump out at you stat-wise that you’ve looked at from 2015?
Really, there were some great things all the way across the board. There were some phases of our special teams that were really good, and there were some phases that didn’t do what we needed them to do, so there is a lot of room for improvement.
Even though our offense broke all sorts of records, I think 62 total records this past season, there was still so much room for growth. What we were able to do was break all that down and show the guys, so they were able to see that too. If not, all they will do is just listen to their friends and talk about all the success they had.
I was talking to [Elijah] Hood the other day, we were eating lunch, or just in the lunch room talking, and I said something like, ‘17 touchdowns last year, 1,400-and-something yards…,’ and the first words out of his mouth were, ‘I left six, six touchdowns out on the field.’ He already knew. Through his own evaluation he already knew exactly how many he left on the field.
That culture that is created about not being satisfied and continuing to grow is there.
This is on my desk [picks up sheet of paper] and I was going through starting field positions and national averages and where we were offensively and where we were defensively, just to show the importance of when we punt the ball, where it stops over the defense.
If the offense has to go 80 yards, this is how often they score, or if they have to go 60 yards, the same thing. The national average, if you get the ball inside the 10, you only score 13 percent of the time. Last year, at that distance, we scored 30 percent of the time. I look at all these things.
Inside the 20 to the 10, the national average is 21 percent, and we scored 44 percent of the time that we got it – and this one was really incredible: On the national average, anytime you’ve got the ball between the 40 and the 30, 32 percent of the teams score. We scored 78 percent of the time from that starting field position.
So, yeah, I keep up with a lot of numbers, I really do. I am always interested in seeing where we are, and how we compare on a national level, how we compare within our league, and where we need to improve. You can skew the numbers anyway you want to get what you want out of them, but I just want to see, ‘How do we compare?’ and ‘Where do we need to improve on the most?’ and that’s what we do.
You’ve just come through spring ball, and it won’t be long until fall camp … so what area do you think showed the most progress during the spring?
First of all, let me tell you about the eight guys that came in [January], those guys made a lot of progress. It was kind of phenomenal to watch the progress they made in 15 [practice] days, so that really stood out to me.
I would say, starting defensively, we were able to do much more than we did a spring ago. A spring ago, all we did was base [defense] for 15 days, so as the season went on, that was all we were able to use. We didn’t add things during the season because we only wanted them to use what they knew, because they were always going to be able to rely on that base.
This spring they already knew the base, so they were able to expand on our blitz packages, and from a two-high safety to a one-high safety, and run support, and all those different things, which I think will make us a better football team this season as we go down the road.
Offensively, it was not so much adding to what we do, but now with new guys in new positions, especially the quarterback position, okay, how does that change our identity as an offense? What are the things that Mitch [Trubisky] does really well that we want to take advantage of? What are the things we want to pull back on? Just that alone, just at that position, that controls a lot of what you do offensively. That was interesting to see as we grew.
There were some things we cut out of the offense, some things we put into the offense that we had before that we hadn’t used, so I think you will see a little bit different style of who we are next year.
I saw in another interview you were asked about how to prepare for Georgia, because it is a new staff, and I think one of the quotes that I saw, you said that of course you will look at what [Jim] Chaney and [Sam] Pittman did together when they were at Arkansas together, but every team is still going to have to design their offense around the talent that they have…
Oh, yeah. Including us. That’s what coaching is. In my opinion what a good coach does is he doesn’t just take his offense or defense and make the guys do what he thinks is good. It’s about, okay, you have a plan or a philosophy; then you take the kids and find out what they can really do well, and then you mold your offense, or defense, or special teams, around the talent level that you have.
You want to do as many things as you can with the strengths of those guys; you want to hide their weaknesses. Everybody has weaknesses, so why put a kid in a situation where you think that play is good, but it is not what he does best. So take advantage of what they do best.
Fast forward to fall camp. What are the things you would like to see accomplished during fall camp?
One thing is to pick up right where we left off after spring ball, and we expect that. We don’t want to feel like, when camp begins, we have to reteach our base, and things that they should know, because that is something our leaders take care of throughout the summer. So when we jump into camp, we expect recall to be there immediately, and we want to expand that.
Now, it’s about execution. It’s about how much our OODA loop (military acronym for ‘observe, orient, decide, and act’), which is how fast can we process all the things so our bodies can move quickly, our minds can move quickly, so we want to be able to process quickly. The better you know something and the more reps you get on it, the more athletic you can be and the faster you can be.
Anytime a guy has to think, he’s hesitant, he’s going to be slow, he’s not going to react as well, so we want them to know it so well and process so quickly it is like second nature to them.
(Check back soon for Part III of this exclusive interview.)