Opening Remarks -
"The second spring practice is a better opportunity for us as a football team to grow. Last year such an enormous part of spring practice was just learning guys' names, who plays what position, the old coaching adage of taking all that you have and throw it up against the wall and see what stuck ... A year later, we know the players from last season significantly better - we know their strengths, their weaknesses, what they needed to get better at in the offseason. If there's one thing this spring practice that I'd like our team to do is to get better in all the fundamental areas - better tackling, better blocking - the tiny technique things that can make each kid a better player on Saturdays. ... We've talked to guys during the offseason about who needed to gain weight, who needed to get faster -- but the football aspect, we can address each one of those things and that's what we want to get better at. The other area is now they've had an exposure to our system and they know us better - they know what it'll take to get on the field on Saturday. So now they've got to grow and develop a deeper understanding of our schemes. No longer will it be good enough to just know the play and the formation, but you'll need to do it at a faster pace and more intense. ...
"We made so many position changes during the spring, training camp and the course of the season, it'll be interesting to spend some time with those guys. Richie Rich, who got thrown to the wolves in the middle of the season from running back to corner without going through training camp [at corner]. Guys like him, B.J. Phillips, Anthony Parker-Boyd, who had to move without a lot of foundation and fundamentals. So this will give them a fighting chance to grow into the position. We made a couple additional changes in the offseason, moving Johnny White to corner and he's been working there for the past 3-4 weeks and how long that experiment lasts will be predicated on the upside of it. If he can become a significant contributor ... I will say this, in our offseason testing program, he was the fastest player on our football team - he ran a 4.32. We're always looking for ways to improve our speed. My conversation with Johnny was that we don't want a running back by committee ... and I was very pleased, he was excited and wanted to do it.
"The other thing about spring practice is position competition. If we're going to be a team that competes for ACC championships and the BCS, we've got to have great position competition. I talked to our guys in January that there will be guys who potentially are disappointed when we play our first game because some guys started this past season because of default and the more we recruit and the more guys get better ... and you want to come out of spring practice where it's a tough call, where you've got 22 guys on offense pushing to play as opposed to 11. We also hope that spring and the offseason that this is where leadership begins to take its roots. We lost some guys from last year that were outstanding leaders. Kentwan Balmer is as good a leader as I've ever been around because everything he said, he backed it up. You couldn't ask him to do more than what he did. So each spring is a chance for who will step up into those leadership roles. I'm a believer that I don't think any team just has one leader ... we're looking for someone to emerge in each position group.
"There are some downsides to this spring practice - some of the injuries that we've got. Starting with T.J. Yates, and I'll put a spin on it a little bit, but you'd never like your returning starting quarterback to be out. He'll respond, he'll come back, he'll be healthy and he's already ahead of schedule, but you don't like that. But the flip side is now Cam Sexton and Mike Paulus will get more work than they would have gotten and maybe there will be more position competition than there would have been. So that'll help those two guys. Some of the other injuries that we're dealing with ... Kyle Jolly, starting left tackle last year, will miss spring practice, he had surgery on his foot and had a small screw put in, so he'll be out ... Darius Massenburg, defensive end, he had a wrist injury that required a little surgery, so he'll be out for spring practice ... Trimane Goddard had his hand operated on, so he's going to miss it ... then Linwall Euwell is progressing well, but he's coming off a knee injury and won't be ready until we get to training camp.
"Another important thing for us to try to accomplish this spring is the replacement of Connor Barth. He was outstanding - a great person, deadly accurate ... so obviously we've got to replace the snapper, holder and the kicker. That whole battery of people is a significant goal in spring practice ...
"The transition with Coach Withers at the defensive coordinator position has been a seven day a week, 24-hour a day transition to catch him up on our personnel ... and I think he's done an awesome job. We sat in there talking with Coach Blake, Coach Lovett and Coach Thigpen talking ideas, philosophy and scheme. There are some things we're going to change and tweak some things, not just because of him, but he's done everything we've done in the past. That made the transition easier for him. He's a quick study and he's a good fit with our players - relationships are a good strength of his. He's passionate about what he does and he'll be another high energy guy on our practice field.
"We toyed the idea of pushing these three practices until after we come back from spring break, but these three days ... we have two days in shorts and then one day with limited tackling or at least in pads ... it gives us a chance with these transition guys if it doesn't look like it'll work, we can always move them back. And if, and we hope no one gets injured, but if someone gets a high ankle sprain, they have 10 days to get well ..."
Physically and mentally, how do you feel compared to last spring?
"Much better. I feel very good and without the anxiety and uncertainty of [last spring's medical diagnosis]. I feel significantly better. Bouncing off the walls."
Is running back where Greg Little will remain?
"I'd say so, for right now and at least the '08 season and I'd assume past that. We kind of went through the running back by committee approach last year and to the detriment of our football team. We never found the one guy who could do everything we wanted until we stumbled upon Greg those last two games. We're certainly going to go with the idea that as we move forward -- whether it's Devon Ramsay, Ryan Houston or Greg Little -- 'you are the guy.' We're going to go with Greg there full time."
We know Greg's priority is with football, but what is his plan for this spring regarding basketball?
"I spoke with Roy a couple weeks ago and he was in the process of trying to ascertain what role Greg would have after the [regular] season. Because I think at the ACC Tournament there is a cut list of how many players you can suit up. I think he carried 18 players during the course of the season and that number goes to maybe 14. ... So we're going to talk about it. I've enjoyed watching Greg, he's one of the best dancers I've seen ... but at some point he's going to go full time football. If he can help them win the ACC and the national championship, or he can do dual, I just haven't talked to Roy since then so we'll probably talk soon about where Greg fits into the postseason part of it."
And what about Kendric Burney and the baseball team?
"Same thing, pretty much. His No. 1 priority is going to be the football team. They don't let him dance, like they let Greg dance, but his No. 1 priority will be to be here."
What are you looking to see from Mike Paulus and Cam Sexton at quarterback this spring?
" ... It starts with both of these guys making good decisions. They both have been in the system for a year and they are both talented quarterbacks -- they've got good arms and good minds -- and now it's execution. Now you've been here for a year so it's time to make good decisions with the football and see if you can move the team."
Can you talk a little more about your choice of Everett Withers as the defensive coordinator?
"I seriously considered eight individuals - some of it was interviews on the telephone, some of it was background checks, some of it was experience of where they've been and what their expertise was ... with Chuck Pagano leaving and coaching the secondary, it to some extent made it somewhat necessary - but not a dealbreaker, since John Lovett has and will continue to coach in the secondary, so we had some flexibility ...
"I thought Everett had a great total, overall understanding. One of the guys I have an unbelievable amount of respect for is Jeff Fisher. Jeff and I got to know each other ... and we spent a week together talking football and then playing him, I've always had a great appreciation for him as a defensive guy. Well, Everett spent six years coaching for Jeff. And I know that if you coach for Jeff, it's inescapable that you have a great understanding of defense. And the expertise he's gained as a coordinator at Louisville and Minnesota, and coaching the types of athletes that we're going to recruit here to play in the secondary, he did that at Texas. Coaching guys like Quentin Jammer - we're going to get great defensive backs, so you want someone with the expertise to take those gifted kids and take them to the next level.
"Personality is another important aspect of it. We spent a lot of time building a great environment here in this building ... it was important that the person we brought in would enhance that ... so chemistry played a big role. He was just the right guy for the job.
In terms of recruiting, it seems as though you targeted Junior Day for commitments. Was that a change in philosophy?
"It wasn't necessarily a change in philosophy. The day I took this job, we were two years behind in recruiting because recruiting is all about relationships ... and recruiting has changed over the last 6-8 years, that kids go to camps, they make all these unofficial visits and this caravan of players that come in the summer. Well, we spent my entire first year trying to talk guys into not going someplace else and at least consider us, but at the same time we were beginning to work the juniors, sophomores and freshman. So it's about getting earlier commitments, earlier relationships and we're starting to see the manifestation of that. We'd have loved to have a Junior Day like we had this year a year ago, but we didn't know what juniors to ask. We didn't even know the high school coaches. We were literally drawing straws. So every year you hope to accelerate. Plus, now that people have come and met the coaching staff, more people are pursuing us than us having to be the pursuer."