Irish Coaches Talk First Day

The Irish opened spring practice on Wednesday. Coach Latina and Coach Haywood met with the media following practice. Irish Eyes was there to record their comments.

Offensive Line Coach John Latina

What are your expectations for the young linemen and did they show you much today?

"As a group, I think there is a lot of ability. There's good size; there's good ability; they're smart kids. I like the group and I like their work ethic, but with a lot of young players, especially linemen, it takes a lot of reps, and that's what the spring is for. It gives you a chance to put the spotlight on them and get them a chance to get a lot of reps with the spotlight on them. What you hope to see is that every day you see noticeable improvement, and I think that's what we are going to see. Today was the starting point. We'll look at the tape tonight and we'll look at the things we need to improve upon and where they are. Sometimes, it looks good on the field and you look at the tape and you see a lot of little things. So we will look at the tape of the line as a staff and make assessments where we are. I like this group, it's a good group, and I think it's a group that should really improve throughout this spring practice."

Do you think these young players are coming in with a defensive-type of mentality?

"I think they are okay where they are, but there's a long way to go with confidence and with thoroughly understanding everything that you are doing. It allows that to nurture a little bit more, but I think they have a chance to get there. I like the group, but there is just a lot of improvement that has to be made and that's what we do in spring ball."

From the beginning to the end of spring practice, what do you hope to find out about your unit?

"There's a lot a things when it comes to line play. You have to get a lot of individuals better and they have to learn playing with one another; playing with this particular tackle; this particular center next to them; so the cohesiveness and continuity that has to take place - it's hard to get it all done in 15 days - but you have to see noticeable improvement. I think we'll get there; today was a good start, but we just have to build on it."

What does your depth chart look like, and do you hope to come out of spring with things pretty well set?

"We're lean. We don't have many numbers there, but we like the guys we have and the whole key is to have enough good ones and hopefully by the end of spring we will feel a lot better about that. It's way too early. There's a lot of youth there, and you don't know how quickly one is going to rise over the other one. What you really hope is that every day there are changes. One guy shines one day, he moves up and the guy he moves ahead of, you hope he has enough competitiveness about himself to come back the next day and tries to regain that particular spot. So I think there will be a lot of juggling throughout the spring and I think that's healthy competition and it makes it a healthy situation for the team."

Is it hard on the offensive line when the quarterback is not experienced?

"Not really, especially when you have a veteran center that can make a lot of adjustments for you in the offensive line and a lot of calls for you. I think if we had a very inexperienced center, that would be a real concern. When you have a guy that has been a three or four-year starter and is a really smart player, you can rely on him to handle the mental aspect for the entire line."

Do you have to hold back some in practice because of the lack of depth?

"No, we haven't done that, and we don't intend to do that. Hopefully we will stay healthy. Obviously when you don't have a lot of guys out there and you mount some injuries, then you may have to reassess that. But as long as we can stay healthy and we have two-deep, we can go out and conduct the practice like we normally do. The good thing is they get a lot more reps; they get a lot more coaching time with them; and hopefully we will see them improve because of that."

Do you plan to have players be able to play more than one position and is (Dan) Wenger one of these?

"He's playing a couple positions, and we have three or four guys playing a couple positions. And that is the way it has to be until we get our scholarship numbers right on the offensive line, which is going to take some time, and we know that guys will have to play multiple positions. I personally like that because when a guy has to play guard and tackle, when he does play guard, he understands the tackle position a little bit more so when they work tandemly, he understands the problem of that tackle. So I think it gives them a broader picture, a bigger picture, of the offense. And I think that's a healthy thing."

How much competition will there be for the left tackle position?

"We have two at every position. So that's all we have; so that's what we've got. We feel good about those guys and we will have some good freshmen coming in. We had a freshman last year starting for us. So you never know what happens."

Is Sam Young going to stay at right tackle?

"He started 13 games there, and he got better as the year went on. So we feel right now the best thing for us to do is to keep him growing at that position. And as of right now, that's what we are doing."

Will there be any green jerseys for the Blue-Gold game?

"I think injuries will have to determine that. If we stay healthy, we will be able to do it like a normal game. If not, like last year, we had to play both sides. I think we had six linemen available that day so the spring will tell us how that works out. Hopefully, we'll stay healthy enough to have two lines."

Offensive Coordinator Mike Haywood

You have a lot of young guys and some with experience, did a leader like Travis Thomas show up today?

"I think Travis did a really good job, but we had several guys out there providing great leadership. It was good to see him back over there and in the flow of things. His grasp of the offense is outstanding, and he really did a good job today."

How did the young guys come back in regards to winter conditioning?

"One of the things that was really positive was the retention of the entire team in understanding and executing the plays. There were few mental errors across the board, and that was really impressive starting off the year."

How would you evaluate this first day?

"One of the goals we wanted to establish is that we wanted the guys to play with passion, enthusiasm, and hustle. I feel we did a better job starting off than we did last year. I think the players did an outstanding job of finishing plays and hustling downfield, and just playing with a great deal of passion and emotion today. That was really positive to see the first day."

How big is it to have Travis move back to the offense after losing Darius (Walker)?

"I understand that Coach Weis talked about how good a shape Travis is in. One of the things he does for our skill guys on offense, he forces those guys to get in better shape because they have to compete with him. When they are breaking a sweat, he still hasn't broken a sweat. So it's making us a better conditioned team, and he is showing great leadership."

Was Travis brought back to the offense because the younger guys haven't developed quickly enough?

"No, that really doesn't have anything to do with that. It was a decision between Travis and Coach Weis, and it was something he wanted to do. It gives us a great opportunity and brings toughness to our offense. He is a pleasant young man to coach."

How important is it having Asaph Schwapp back and healthy?

"It's always good to have a guy back that is a hard-nosed football player. When you take into consideration the players we have on offense from the psychological disposition, we have a lot of physical players. I think that will help us as we go through the spring. We have some young guys that have to mature, and if they mature and come along, we will get a lot better."

Do you feel that a lot of guys will get playing time?

"We are looking for the best players. We believe there are certain guys that made strides today, and when those guys make strides, they are going to get more opportunities. At the same time we are looking for more competitiveness, because if a guy moves in front of you, it is now your opportunity to compete to get your job back. I think a lot of young players are understanding that and working really hard for the first day of practice."

Will you be able to use more multiple-back sets than you have in the past?

"Having the backs this year reminds me of when I was at LSU, when I first got there, and you had backs like Kevin Faulk and Cecil Collins; a variety of different backs which you can do a lot of things with. When you take into consideration the various types of backs that we have - we have speed guys, we have physical guys, we have slashers - it provides you with an opportunity to do a lot more things on offense from a running-game perspective."

What was your impression of Armando Allen today?

"I think he is moving well, and the running backs had a good day today. We have a way to go, but we had a good day today."

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