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On the focus of the upperclassmen -
Coming off that '86 team (Miami), we had Jerome Brown and Vinny Testaverde and Winston Moss and Alonzo Highsmith, we had a lot of terrific players. The national championship game the next year was kind of with some unsung heroes who eventually became very, very, good players.
Russell Maryland, who was waiting in the wings, and Danny Stubbs, and Greg Mark and Steve Walsh, no one had really ever heard much about Steve Walsh, but success breeds success, and it creates an attitude of expectation, an attitude of what it takes to get to where you want to go, and certainly a lot of that comes from kids being older.
We've got for the first time a pretty significant group of juniors and seniors, and these guys, they are a little bit on a mission. They think we've got something that is potentially unique and special and they don't want to lose that opportunity.
On having 21 starters returning -
Here probably in the last couple of days, even with the expectation of some of the scrimmage situations we're going to have on Saturday, there are some guys who are challenging some of those 21 guys (starters) that, they want a bigger piece of the pie, play a bigger role, they would like to unseat some of those guys and take their job, but certainly the experience factor allows you to do a lot more than a traditional spring practice.
We can practice faster, we can practice a lot more sophisticated things and at the same time not have to rely so much on it being as physical a practice. We can go at almost game tempo without having to worry about all the contact and the injury aspects of it.
I think our players know that, they've been here long enough to know that, the players who are going to give us the best chance to win the game, whatever the game is, whether it is the first game against LSU or any game subsequent to that, it is our coaching staff's responsibility to play the best player, whoever that happens to be, and that doesn't matter whether is it a red-shirt freshman or whether it is a fifth-year senior. Sometimes as a coach you have to do unpopular things, sometimes you got to play guys that may not be the most popular choice for a lot of people, but if that is the person that the team and the coaching staff believes can win the game, that's who you've got to go with.
On the Spring Game -
In previous years, a limited number of players forced us to kind of have a preliminary 35-40 minute practice prior to kind of a big scrimmage, where we would kind of scrimmage for maybe 45 to 60 plays. We are far enough along now in the program that we've got enough players, got enough quality walk-ons that can certainly contribute to that effort that it is going to allow us to have a legitimate Blue-White game. There's not a lot of depth, I mean certainly we won't have a lot of third and fourth team players, but we'll have two teams that will have some limited back-ups at some of the positions.
The only probable difference that we'll have from a traditional, normal game, because we are going to actually try to do some of the kicking game situations, we'll probably fair catch punts, it will be full speed live on everything else, we'll probably play 12 minute quarters, as opposed to 15 minute quarters. We're under a little bit of a time constraint from the standpoint that ESPN wants this to be a two-hour package, and traditionally they give you three hours to try and play a complete (60 minute game) with a halftime, so we're going to try and limit it to two hours and 12 minute quarters will just about allow us to do that.
On players that are challenging for more playing time -
If you look in the offensive line you've to look at guys like Greg Elleby, who played some last year, I think you have to look at guys like Brennan Williams, I think he is certainly going to be somebody (to watch). Getting Ryan Taylor back, after spending a year being injured and red-shirting, he certainly is battling to try and get a bigger piece, whether it is playing in a full back position or whether it is playing in an H-back position, we think he has certainly got some things he could bring to the offense.
Because of the vast number of really young wide receivers that got to play last year – there's some guys like Dwight Jones and Todd Harrelson that are really going to fight those guys, they're not going to give those freshmen the opportunity to be the starter the second year in a row without a big battle and I think that is really good, it is healthy, it has pushed Jhay Boyd it has pushed Erik Highsmith that they just can't sit back and rest on freshman laurels, realizing that those guys are really trying to push (the starters).
Even on the defensive side of the ball, guys like Tydreke Powell, who was kind of in our three and four man rotation at defensive lineman, he on paper is the heir apparent to start next to Marvin Austin, but there are some guys who really would like to have some additional playing time – Jordan Nix is a guy who transferred here from the University of Oklahoma who has sat out and red-shirted and he would like to try and earn a significant amount of that playing time whether he factors in as a potential starter or whether he factors in as somebody that can assume the role of someone like an Aleric Mullins, or like a Cam Thomas did when Kentwan Balmer was here and be a part of that three and four man rotation.
I think defensive end is another big battle. With E.J. Wilson graduated, Robert Quinn is obviously a fixture at right defensive end, and somebody's going to have to be ready to play to give him (rest), because we don't want to play him 60 to 65 snaps every game, somebody has got to play 15 to 20 plays for him. But the other defensive end position is totally wide open with Quinton Coples and Donte Moss, Michael McAdoo, Linwan Euwell – those guys are fighting to see who can eventually become that particular guy.
I think certainly at the linebacker position, I think Bruce (Carter) and Quan (Sturdivant), I don't think there is any question that those guys are pretty solid fixtures at linebacker, but who is going to be the third guy? Is it going to be Kevin Reddick, is it going to be Zach Brown, could it potentially be Dion Guy; there are some guys who are really fighting to try to find who might be the best option for us at MIKE linebacker.
It is better problems than in the past. It was scarily thin during the spring at times, certainly in '07 and in '08, because there just wasn't anybody who could legitimately challenge anybody and push them to be the starter and make them better. The best football teams I was ever around at Miami and certainly the ones in Dallas, was where there was a lot of competition, there were good players, and those good players brought out the best in everybody and they made them get better in the offseason.
On Pro Day -
I think our pro days have gotten better every single year. As we become a better football team and a better football program, the more players that we have that have opportunities – we had all 32 teams that were here, and every single one of them were watching our players, and even though it isn't a large number of seniors, there are some interesting players that a lot of those people think have an opportunity to make it in the National Football League - some will certainly get drafted and some I think will have a good chance to sign as free agents. It is just another opportunity to kind of showcase the growth of the program.
On Jonathan Cooper's transition from guard to center -
I think it has gone very well. One of things that is really interesting is Cam Holland - who started at center an awful lot of the time when Lowell Dyer was injured - he is having, by far and away, his best spring practice that he has ever had. The confidence that he gained by the trust we put in him to go out and start those games has carried over into the spring, and I mean he is putting some heat on Jonathan Cooper, that if he becomes a solidified guy, then maybe we go the other direction and put Jonathan Cooper maybe back at guard. Jon is a very good football player, he's fast, he's got great power, he can run well, both of those kids are really, really smart, I mean they are smart in the classroom academically and they are smart football intelligence-wise, and it is a good problem to know that you've got two really good offensive centers.
On early enrollees -
I think they are off to a good start. They had eight weeks to get ready physically, and I think just trying to find out where they are, as far as how strong are they, how flexible are they, what kind of speed and quickness, what are things do they need to focus on and work on – because you're not going to fix everything that they need in eight weeks. It is going to be an ongoing process throughout the rest of the second semester and over the summertime and even clear through their first year as true freshmen here, but they are excellent workers.
That's one of things in our recruiting process we really try and focus in on, kids that love to play, love to compete, they like to work, and all those guys have really embraced what Jeff (S&C coach Jeff Connors), does in the weight room and we've had great success with our early signees, over the last couple of years, all of them have come in here and done a really good job contributing their first years. You look at what Zack Pianalto and Bruce and Quan were able to do in that very first year and some of these guys will have an opportunity to make some contributions.
On Shaun Draughn's return from injury -
I think he's looked very good. I think one of the things besides the typical off-season things, we took probably 25 of our players and we spent at least one day a week, and sometimes twice a week, working with the track program. Even though they didn't participate in indoor track meets themselves, they got an opportunity to work with the track coach on eliminating wasted motion in their running mechanics, about accelerating and speeding up the revolutions and how fast their feet run and how quick they turn their legs over. I think Shaun has really benefited from that, I think he is as big and strong as he was a year ago, but he looks significantly quicker and faster, almost back to where he looked in 2008.