We are excited about what we got done this spring. I think we got an awful lot of good things accomplished. I'm excited about a number of our players and some position changes, some new players who haven't played a whole lot and did some great things. This game, we knew would be a difficult one from the standpoint of breaking up the offensive and defensive lines.
It looked like the defensive line controlled things quite a bit, but I'm sure when we watch the tape we'll see some great individual efforts by our offensive linemen also. I still think that is going to be the strength of our team. As you know, a number of players could not participate at all this spring and we had a couple of other injuries this spring, to the offensive line. When we get them all well and back, that is going to be, once again, the strength of this football team like it has been the last two years.
I'm a little disappointed that we didn't make more plays as quarterbacks. Roger [Heinz] certainly seemed to have a good day. Some of our walk-on players did a fine job going out to compete. I think the big thing a lot of people can see from the stands that we've seen all spring was the improvement in our defense. We have linebackers that run better. We have a defensive line playing extremely well together. I think moving Kenny Browning to work with Brad [Lawing], I see a real pick-up in the way our defensive line is executing stunts, the aggressiveness up front. I think we will be pretty good there. I'm really excited about that.
As we get into training camp, we will still have to assess where we are at safety. I know that Kareen Taylor has the position nailed down right now, but he will have to continue to earn that. After that, the strong safety position is in a heat right now with Mahlon [Carey], Martel [Thatch], and Trimane [Goddard]. I like the way our corners tackle. I said that prior to the game, and you can see the Quinton Person's and the Bryan Bethea's. Jacoby Watkins had a fine spring also. Ced Holt, we knew would miss the latter half of spring because he had a wrist operated on, an injury from last season.
Overall, I'm really excited about where we are going with this entire team, the entire program, and I think we have a chance to be very good next year.
Chase Page said that he wasn't satisfied with the way he played because he wanted to make plays. Is that the mentality of the defensive coaches?
They are getting more individualized attention now with two coaches the defensive line. He has been dominant all through the spring. He just picked up where he left off prior to that injury towards the end of training camp last year. He had a great training camp last year and was looking forward to a great senior year. I think he would have been an All-ACC type player last year. He has taken off where he left off. He is going to be a really, really great player. I think he is going to be a dominant player next year.
What do you think about Matt Baker's progress through the spring?
I am very excited about what Matt did all through the spring. Once again, we broke the offensive lines up today and went extremely basic--no game plan, one personnel group. I did not expect him to have a stellar day, but I was disappointed that we had two delay penalties in a row. That's because they are conducting the game in such a different manner.
I think he had a great spring, he really did. I think he's throwing the ball exceptionally well. I think his decision-making process has gotten much better. That is where Darian [Durant's] game picked up year after year after year. Matt's only got one year to do it, and I think he is going to work really hard to be an excellent signal caller and a leader out there on the field.
How much better are you sleeping now that you have a good defense?
Whew, well--we're not good yet. We've got a lot of work to do. This football team knows that. We have a chance though to be really good, because I think our leadership should even be better.
Now, we don't have the Jason Brown's and the Darian Durant's that got hammered for two years and had things thrown in their face about how poor we were. We are coming off a season where we had some success. I don't think that's going to anybody's head because we are not going to let it happen as a coaching staff.
I've got a lot of good young players, I've got talent on this football team, and I've got 95 percent of the players doing things right all the time. That's a good percentage. We keep doing that, we keep working together, we'll be good on offense, defense, and special teams. I think our defense really made a stride over this spring. We have a chance to be really good. I challenged them. We've been [ranked] in the 100's for three straight years. It's time to get below that number. In order to win football games, week-in week-out, you need to be a good defense. I know what a good defense looks like and we are getting closer.
Are there injuries in which guys might not be ready for the start of practice?
There are really only three or four guys I'm concerned about. One is Bryon Bishop who had a freak disc injury that we learned about late in the season. He did not practice this year. We think that he's progressing.
We're concerned about Scott Lenahan having another knee problem on the same knee. Of course, he's just had some wrist surgery as a result of the season, which we were hoping to get through spring with, and we decided to hold him out because of his knee. I'm concerned about Calvin Darrity's injury. It was a difficult break. Only time will tell with that.
We were counting on Calvin, Bryon, and Scott to work with this offensive line. Fortunately for us, we have a guy who played last year as a true freshman, Ben Lemming, who we think is going to be an All-ACC type player, given a year or two of experience working with Hal Hunter, our fine offensive line coach. That has been the strength of our team, and I expect that it will become the strength of our team again next year.
I'm happy that we recruited some really good players at the offensive line position also, but I think Kyle Ralph is going to have minor surgery on his ankle now. He toughed it out the second half of the season and this spring. I think, overall, it will be fun. The three guys I named are the three guys I'm concerned about: Lenahan, Bishop, and Darrity.
What kind of progress did you see from Cameron Sexton this spring?
Cameron made good progress. I see him as a premier quarterback in this program at some point. He has arm strength. He has put on about 10 pounds and is up to all of 178 right now, and we are going to keep feeding him, making him eat. He's got speed. When he took off the other day and then ran down the sideline about 25 yards for a touchdown it was very impressive. He's a great athlete, a smart guy, and I think he has a great future here. The surgery we had, the doctors feel really good about--[they feel] he'll have a full recovery.
How do you feel about your running backs?
We know what Ronnie McGill can do when he's healthy.
Who is the most improved player?
The number one guy that comes to my mind is Larry Edwards. He had one heck of a spring. He is back on track, and he is going to push Jeff Longhany. We have to get him on the field because he's got speed.
I think I saw a lot of improvement in our corners. I've already mentioned Ben Lemming. He's taken this very seriously; he's a smart kid and he's got athletic ability. Moving from tackle to center is a hard job. We saw that happen with Jason Brown, and we know where Jason Brown is right now. We need Ben to speed up that process and we'll work towards getting that to happen.
Other improvement, I saw improvement in Brooks Foster, which I think is significant. And, once again, I think Matt Baker progressed nicely with all the reps he was getting.
Khalif Mitchell, he plays some on the outside, some on the inside. Where does he end up?
I have that debate in my mind all the time. I have it sometimes with the defensive staff. He is a defensive tackle, and that is where he'll remain until we get into training camp. Tommy Davis missed all of spring with his injury, simply removing a cyst from his foot. He's already begun training. Kentwan Balmer is another guy who has made improvement.
Khalif? He's going to play inside right now. When he does what we ask him to do he's dominant, which is use his hands. He's a big, tall kid, so sometimes he gets a little overextended and has problems, but when he plays with his hands he is tough to control.