How important is it to get the team outside this spring?"I would say it would be counterproductive to get outside at this point. First of all, the grass is dormant so that doesn't do me any good. That means now you would be susceptible to a bunch of pulls when you're fast twitching. I don't necessarily need to have a fast track, but I just want to have something if you're going to be out there to hit I'm not really looking for a sloppy field. We can roll it and that is what we have been doing but really the grass hasn't had a chance to grow yet. When we feel a little bit more comfortable with the grass, the weather has nothing to do with it to me. I go outside when it 30 degrees; that's not as big a factor as getting the grass in a position where I don't feel we need a bunch of pulls."
What is your impression after having three practices under your belt?"The good and the bad. Let's start with the good. The good is we're so far, you know, ahead of where we were last year as far as the whole operation. There are several players who played last year so you don't have to completely start from scratch. We always start from beginning and assume that everyone retained all the things and that allows you to go a lot faster track. With the number of players we got out here, the other strong positive is that we are getting a legitimate look at all of the contenders. They're getting a lot of action except for the offensive line where we are not really even two deep, but basically about two deep with legitimate contenders. So it gives those two deep you know multiple reps where, by the time the spring is over, we will have a lot of answers as far as how much confidence we will have in people. The flip side of that is when you don't have two complete offensive lines, which we really don't, it really changes the pace of practice. We have the same number of reps that we normally have but it's broken up so much more so we can go continuous reps without people dropping on you; like there would be time of teams last year, where I would segment two 30-play team periods, for example. Now you have to go and find spots in practice to split them up so maybe you can get through 15 plays consecutively like a normal drive, but you can't do your normal format without two complete offensive lines."
Is all the hype about the team and Brady for Heisman a help or a distraction?"The good part about it, it gives me ammunition too, you know, when I'm working with the psyche of the team - and I just used it when we finished - I said I guess you guys have been reading the papers. The things you can count on me saying a thousand times between now and the time we kick off against Georgia Tech is how well we played against Ohio State and you've been reading the magazines. So I'll be saying that over and over because it gives me an opportunity the way I like to coach to take shots at them all the time. So there's a lot of positives to that. I will never let them feel comfortable, in case you're wondering, which I'm sure you were not. They will not get one second to bask in that glory without me firing at them."
Question about communicating on defense"The first thing we do is by putting in defenses that you play that regardless of what the offense does. Now, the downside of doing that is the offense could get you in physical mismatches. But the pro side of that is that everybody knows what to do. So somewhere in between lies what you really end up having to do for real. You can practice on the communication element by making a more simplistic approach of what you are doing on defense, but sooner or later you have to mix and match the consideration for match-up problems versus just getting lined up and not turning the guys free problem."
Earlier you referred to the new class as the cavalry arriving, would you explain that?"Remember last year, we only had 15 kids coming in. Well, we had three come in at the semester and have another 25 coming. Twenty-five good football players, so you think about it. You're adding another third to your team or a quarter to a third to the team and all of a sudden all of these competitions that are going on now take a whole different perspective when you have five more offensive linemen coming in. You have two more tight ends coming in and two more running backs coming in. That's why you don't worry as much now as the fact that when everything falls in line - DJ is back healthy, Samardzija's done playing baseball – all those factors come back in so now you go from a skeleton crew to you're deep at a lot of different positions. We were thin at a lot of positions last year and in your recruiting approach each year, like next year's will be a little bit different, not exactly in how we do it but who you go after is different because now you take care of another set of problems. You can't fix all the problems at once. So you have to grade it out and go step by step."
Do the older guys who have not played much know that this is their chance?"In my approach to the team, I let them know that this is your time. Using the horse analogy, if you spit the bit by the time they come in there, I'm putting them in there. And I will put them in there. Now, if they spit the bit – and everybody spits the bit – then I've got a whole other set of problems. I think our competition on our team will be better this year because of the quality of athletes competing for the same jobs."
What is your impression of Vernaglia right now?"I think the best thing for Anthony right now is that he's practicing at least half the reps of everything we're doing. So he's one of those guys that has an opportunity to stake claim to a position. But he is just one of the guys that Rick (Minter) has said about a bunch of the guys in the mix. That's just where he is and we'll see how it all plays out."
What improvements are needed in the return game?"There are three different things you have to work on, so let's talk about all three. Initially you have to simplify your scheme so that everyone knows what to do. Secondly put people in position to go ahead and do that and evaluate them just as you would an offensive or defensive player. And three, let's see if we can't get the returners back there whether it's David or DJ, or whether it's George West, I don't care who it is, we need to start getting the ball past the 30-yard line on a regular basis unless it's a touchback; we can't be settling for the ball on the 24-yard line. We need to get it outside the 30."
Will the young guys get a serious look at returning?"George and James will get some looks at kickoff returns. The guys that were here last year, we kind of know what we've got. We have a whole bunch of guys with return-ability that are coming in the door. It's just that a couple of them are already here at the semester."
What is your impression of the defense and what are you looking for this spring?"It depends upon the position. I'm looking for improvement on the defensive line and the defensive secondary and I'm watching the battles at the linebacker. That doesn't mean that everybody on the defensive line and secondary is etched in stone, but really, we have everybody back who started at those two positions. So what you really want to do is get them better and their backups better. At linebacker, you have a lot of people that are relatively green. So that analysis is a little bit different because in that one, you are just trying to find out who you have a chance of winning with."
How is McKnight looking?"He's looking like a starting wide receiver. That's what he looks like. His quickness is there. He's catching the ball; runs good routes; and is blocking. We are really fortunate to be in a situation that you lose a guy like Mo and have a guy like Rhema have that extra year of eligibility because you would have a huge void because the guys under them have not had a whole bunch of reps. Now obviously a year from now when we'll be losing Jeff and Rhema, I'm hoping all the younger guys, the guys that are here and the guys coming in, will have been given enough reps where we feel more comfortable at that situation than we would have if we wouldn't have had Rhema here along with Jeff going into the season."
Are you using a different tone in this second year?"You bark and bite less often but harder. Because last year I didn't care if it was wearing them out, it's just like a parent talking to a kid, eventually it will go in one ear and out the other so what you do is you just don't do it as often, but when you do it you go for the knockout. So I have thrown a couple of good knockout punches in the first three days. But there have been less of them. I haven't been jabbing as much; I've been waiting for the haymaker."
More to come…..