What was your overall impression of the first day of practice?"Well, we have a lot more guys this year then we did last year at this time. We only had 71 guys on scholarship last year versus now when we are over 80-81-82 somewhere in the low 80's and we are maxed out at 105. We have a few guys not practicing but there are more bodies out there. We are in this acclimation period where you can only use a total of three hours on the field all day. I obviously don't like practicing for three hours so we built in a lot more walk-throughs for teaching periods, but I think that, like any first day, there are a lot of positives and a lot of negatives intertwined. A lot of the front-line guys looked like front-line guys, but I will reserve judgment until really I get a chance to look at tape. It was really good to see certain guys out there all together. I will make note of one person because you know how certain people just stand out to you sometimes. The one guy who stood out to me was actually Travis Leitko. Travis was a defensive end when he was here, but was gone last year. Now he is about 15-20 pounds bigger and he was very noticeable all day. He isn't running with the first groups but he is running with the second and thirds, but he was one guy I noticed a bunch. I'm trying to watch everybody so you really don't know if everyone is doing exactly what their assignments are because I'm trying to follow the offense. I'm back into the mode of being the offensive play-caller and when you're in the mode of the offensive play-caller, I really have to reserve my judgment what the defense is doing until after I can watch the tape and see what the play call was – to see if people are doing the right things or not."
Is Leitko going to be more help inside than outside?"Because of his size, he will be a much more formidable defender on the inside than when he was here. It excites me because it gives a little more position flexibility, but it's sort of like an unknown because all of a sudden someone is handing you a guy with that type of athletic ability and has some experience. He showed up. I'm not saying he is Victor (Abiamiri) but at the same time, he definitely showed up today."
Did you see freshmen running around a little tentative on this first day?"Oh yeah; they say they are not nervous, but there was a whole bunch of them that were nervous."
Do you offer them encouragement or do you kick them in the butt?"The first day, I try my best to bite my lip. And I talked to the whole team about that at the end of practice about freshmen. I talked to them last night and I talked to them this morning. I talked to the freshmen alone and then with everyone else, and I talked to them at the end of practice because what I did say is that I will try to be more patient with them than someone who has been here before. But if they intend to play themselves into the mix, you don't have a long time. I will give you an example; at the end of practice we were kicking field goals. Now all the field goals were made, but when Ryan (Burkhart) went to kick, the first three got over the goalpost by about two inches. His fourth kick would have gone about sixty yards. So it definitely was a case with the first three like I've got the whole team depending upon me to make the kick, and it's the first time out there. So you have to be ready for some growing pains the first few days while they are feeling their oats. Young quarterbacks who are calling the plays sometimes are the problem. Sometimes bobbling the snap, bobbling the ball, that's the problem, but I think you have to be a little more patient with the young guys so you don't ruin their psyche. They're not hardened yet. There are some guys I say things to and I think I am getting on them but it just rolls right off their back. But with the young guys, you don't know them well enough personally. Therefore, you have to be careful that you don't put them in the tank by getting on them too fast."
How is Phase I and Phase II different this year than last year? Are you following the same procedures?"Even though we were getting ready for Pittsburgh, we were still putting in the offense and defense. No longer are we putting it in. We are installing it, and don't get me wrong, we still have to put it in and go over it, but now when you put it in, you are worrying about nuances. You aren't worrying about putting it in, you are worrying about getting the right personnel on the field to make the call you made work the best. And last year that really wasn't where we were. We had less candidates to play with personnel-wise and likewise schematically we were just trying to get enough in so by the time the season started we had enough ammo to go against Pittsburgh."
You mentioned you are in the offensive play-calling mode, what is your role then with the defense?"What I do is spend my time with the defense during the individual periods. When I know there are certain points when I want to be with (Brady) Quinn, I'll be with Quinn. If I want to be with the tight ends or running backs or other offensive skill positions for an individual period, I will. But for the most part, what I like to do is use those individual periods to go over there with the linebackers, over there with the DB's, go over there with the defensive linemen. In those cases, there is evaluation and motivation going on at the same time and letting them know I'm not just a guy who calls the plays on offense, but that I'm the head coach."
How long does it take, like with the freshmen, to get an assessment of a guy and say this guy might be able to help us out?"There are some guys out there today that you say, "whew." The thing is, they don't do it on every play. But once you see that they can do it once, you know they can do it. There's a difference between someone who just can't do it. Once somebody has done it once, you know they are capable of doing it. Now it's our job and their job getting them to do that on a regular basis. There are other guys who will come along at a much slower pace and each guy is going to be different and evaluated based on what we see, not what we are hoping to see."
Who made you say that today?Munir Prince; I think if you asked any of the defensive guys what they saw out there. I'm not used to seeing that kind of speed at running back. When I'm talking speed, I'm talking, "whew." I can't describe "whew" but you kind of know what I'm talking about."
When you talk about not seeing that kind of speed, are you talking about college-level or pro-level?"I'm not used to seeing that type of speed. The last running back that I spent significant time with was Napoleon Kauffman out of Washington who went to the Raiders and Michael Bennett who went to Minnesota. And we also know that Reggie (Bush) had giddyup. There aren't many guys at that position that can run that fast. He runs pretty fast."
From a purely physical standpoint, were you pretty satisfied from what you saw out there today?"We are in pretty good condition and that was a long practice for the first day. It wasn't like last year when I was on the Club Med program. This was a long arduous practice and I told them for us to get down to business, we were going to use every bit of the three hours we were allowed to be out there."
Of the freshmen, Chris Stewart seemed to be doing a good job during the stretching exercises."The kid should be proud of himself. I gave him a weight that he had to get to and he got to it and that was 55 pounds ago. So there is definitely a pro for someone coming in at mid-year. He came in at the mid-year and the best thing that happened to him, besides the fact that he had great grades; he got himself into a shape where he can compete. The shape that he came in at originally, if he were just coming in right now, he probably wouldn't be able to compete. So that gives him a chance and we will see what happens."
How long does it take you before you get on the freshmen?"I think it is really important to learn each guy individually. The best analogy I can give you, and I hate to go back to pro analogy, but that is my point of reference. When I was the offensive coordinator with the Patriots, we had two starting wide receivers, David Givens and Dionne Branch. Dionne Branch would go into the tank if you yelled at him. David Givens would thrive if you yelled at him. He came from a military family and was used to it being that way. So you had two starting receivers and one of them you yelled at all the time because he would play better. The other one, you would have to appeal to his intellect and not yell at him because that's how he would play better. You can't treat them all the same. You can't group them all together and say I'm going to yell at him the same way I'm going to talk to him. You have to try and learn these guys and what makes them tick and then try to play to that."
Stewart is listed in the 360-pound range. Is he around that?"Oh no, he's under 340 to tell you the truth. And he might have been a couple pounds over 360 when he got here."
Did you like the intensity today?"The intensity was up. You know how we talked yesterday about the thinking going on. There still is a good deal of that thinking going on because even with all the repetitions, it is the first time through. But we're way ahead on both sides of the ball and special teams too. We're way ahead with the tempo because there is less thinking than there was at this time last year."
Can you see the gains in strength and speed from over the summer both in your testing and on the field?"I'm not going to go over all the numbers but if you saw the numbers coming from Ruben (Mendoza) when we met last Thursday, it's just unbelievable the difference between where we were last year at this time and now. The strength gains are unbelievable; then when we ran through this conditioning, we had a handful of guys who couldn't finish a couple of reps on time and they'll be partying with Ruben tomorrow morning at 6:00. But other than that, there is no one who failed the conditioning which is really part of our physical. If you can't pass the condition test, why put you on the field; because if we put you on the field, it is an accident waiting to happen. So we are in better condition and stronger but now how that correlates as to how we play is yet to be seen, but I think it at least gives you a good chance."
Were there noticeable gains in speeds?"I saw people moving around on both sides of the ball and what I wanted to see was people moving around on the defensive side of the ball. One of the things that I did see especially was linebackers running sideline to sideline and that is encouraging."
Last year you had four guys you could rotate on the interior of the line. Do you see that happening this year?"I don't think there will be a rotation on the inside at this point. Never say never because somebody could step up and play themselves into the mix with confidence like we had last year. Between Dan (Santucci) and Sully (John Sullivan) and Bob (Morton), they are clearly the guys to beat. Where there could be some of that is the right-tackle position as it starts to settle itself. I don't see that same deal at this point, but this is way too early to be writing anybody off because guys could play and you would want to get them on the field."
Last year you had six guys you could depend on, is eight the magic number?"You would like to have ten. You would like to be able to have a backup at every position. Last year, we would play those four guys inside and our seventh guy was Brian Mattes at every position. He hadn't played very much in his career but he knew what to do at every position. This year, our goal is to move toward ten."
What was your first impression of Travis Thomas at linebacker?"It wasn't just Travis. It was good to see Mo Crum running around in there because he was out during the spring. Those linebackers were running around pretty well out there. Now whether they did everything exactly right, including Travis, I don't know, but he was running around and showed up. I just wanted to make sure he showed up for the right reason and not the wrong reason."
Did you consider the move of Travis, a radical decision?"Not really, with his background. It's a radical move with someone who has never played defense; that's when it's a radical move. An outside linebacker or strong safety in high school are basically the same position. Very few teams play two-deep. Almost everyone is rotating that safety down, so you have an outside linebacker on one side and a strong safety on the other. That is one of his fortes and he has obviously shown to be one of our more aggressive players on special teams as far as tackling goes. Without that research and that evidence, I don't think I would have taken the chance to do something like this."
How did Rhema look today?"Like last year, only a little bit better. We're not going to have too many problems putting No. 5 out there. The quarterbacks are very happy to see 83 and 5 out there."
Did your lines come across like you wanted them to?"I bit my lip a few times with the younger guys. With our quarterback, I waited a little bit in practice because he was waiting for them, so I had to make him have to wait. Then when he earned them, I came through."