Coach, with the quarterback competition that's going on now, have you been in situations before where you've had this kind of competition?"Usually, it's only been like between two people. We had one like between Glen Foley and Neil O'Donnell and I was with a really tough one between Phil Simms and Jeff Hostetler. But usually, it's just between two people. There have been more than two quarterbacks, but the competition has usually only been between two people. So this one's a little bit unique because, to give them equal opportunities, you have a rotation system built in place where guys are lead guys at certain times. And we're about halfway through that process. We still have a couple guys who haven't had the opportunity to be the lead guys."
What did you learn from that earlier process that you can apply to this situation?"It's going to end up being happy people and some people who aren't happy. Really, when you take out the subjectivity and make it an objective analysis, it usually cleans itself up. Even in those cases, sometimes it's still too close to call. Even when you get down to two, you have to make a hard decision. But usually if you're just going with objective information, usually it ends up washing itself out."
I know you aren't a platoon coach, but would there be times when you would use situational substitution?"I would have to see where it goes. We have to first get to running the offense and before you worry about situational football, you have to first get people who are going to run the offense and go from there."
Are you trying to be open-minded about the quarterbacks at this point?"The way I set it up makes me do that. Two of the quarterbacks haven't had the opportunity to be the starter yet. I'll give you the basic layout of how I'm doing it which is probably the better way of me answering this question. You have four guys and then you put them one, two, three, and four and then you just rotate them each week. So one goes down to four and they all just bump up one. So we're only two weeks in, so that's what we've done. Next week, three and four are going to be one and two. The guys who started one and two will end up being three and four. So after four weeks worth, everybody will have gotten to be first, second, third, and fourth. I think that's probably the fairest way you can possibly be so you can't say so-and-so is always running with John Carlson. So it makes it a little easier when so-and-so is running with whoever you determine are the best guys. Everyone will have worked with everyone from the top to the bottom. So, it's pretty easy, based off four weeks of work, to come up with a fair assessment. The biggest thing you have to do is realize that you are only half way through that process. It forces you not to be impatient because that's the only way you can give all four of them a fair way of running the show."
If you make the decision at the end of the spring, will you then go back and look at the whole process?Spring ends on the 21st and I fly out on the 22nd basically for four weeks on the road. What we'll do is come back on the 21st of May as a staff and going in and evaluating now that we will have all the information in by the end of May. After we have had two weeks being off the road, it gives us two weeks to go ahead and evaluate that information and come to some hard decisions on that."
Who are the two guys who haven't had a chance to be number one yet?"It doesn't make a difference. Everyone at the end of four weeks will have been the lead guy for a week and everyone will have rotated through. The more important thing, it doesn't make any difference who goes through first, second, third, or fourth, it's that they each get the same opportunity to run with each group with the same number of reps. This way after four weeks, it doesn't matter who went first, second, third, or fourth. It's okay, now, where are we at the end of four weeks?"
After you have named the first two quarterbacks, how do you keep the other two motivated and happy?"I brought up that same question, yet unanswered. I brought up the same issue and first of all, we're not going to make any rash decisions. But I think it's also fair that you can't say that and then not do that. It's important to you never to lie to your players and always tell the truth where they stand. So you tell them the truth where they stand and now it's time for you to accept your role and go out there and compete. It isn't like depth charts never change; so depth charts change eventually and injuries occur on top of it. So that's part of being a starter and part of being a backup. Only one quarterback can be on the field at a time. So that means other guys aren't going to be on the field, so that's part of being a backup. So that's what you have to do, you have to be ready to go if your number is called."
Have you ever been part of a team or a program where decisions like this can create a circus atmosphere or divide the team?"Every time there are camps within a team - there's the Hansen camp; there's the Sampson camp; and the Prister camp; there are different camps - their friends are pulling for them. But when they realize the head coach is really making the decision that's in the best interest of the team because he doesn't have any favorites, usually they are comfortable with that. So it doesn't really divide the team because your question implies, correctly so, that you can have divisions on the team, but I think when they realize that I'm the one making the decisions based off of objectivity, usually you don't have those problems. You have to go make the decisions and, if there are a lot of people involved, with making the decision, that's one thing. But there's only one person making the decisions with a lot of input. This way you make a hard fast decision; and I'm the one making the decision. And this way you eliminate the circus. No matter what you do, people are going to say it should be so-and-so or so-and-so. I just have to worry about what's in the best interest of the team."
Can you tell us about the progress of the wide receivers so far?"I think, obviously, the one guy we have had with playing experience has shown to be the best and most consistent out there – and that's David (Grimes). You are always looking for names and looking for me to give you something. The guy who seems to have separated himself from the pack is George West. He isn't just running with that first group by default, at this point he's running with that first group because that's where he would be. So the difference between George and let's say the pack is that he has been able, in a short amount of time, to separate from the pack as the rest of them are still kind of in that pack and we are just looking for people to pull ahead or fall behind. But there are too many guys besides David and George that are just in that pack right now."
Do you think coming in early helped West?"There are things that are beneficial when coming in at the semester. I've told you several times before, I've never been a big fan of mid-years, but that's the way recruiting goes now. And you have to be willing to play that game. But you look at each player that we have that came in at mid-year and look at the positives, whether it was Chris Stewart dropping a bunch of weight; whether it was George being more battle-tested and ready to go; whether it's James (Aldridge) now being healthy. I mean he's a totally different person than he was last year at this time. You look at him now and look at him then, it's a difference like night and day. All three guys, for different reasons, gained a lot by coming in here at the midyear."
It was reported that, Vernaglia (Anthony) was being considered as a receiver. How close did that come to happening?"He approached me and asked if I would give him a look as a receiver. First of all, I wanted to know if he was kidding me when he asked. But no, he said he would like a look. This was back in January. So I told him that the week before spring break, I would go ahead and work him out and take a look at him as wide receiver. In between the time that he and I talked, Corwin (Brown) came in and they put in a new scheme and he felt that he could compete for playing time in that defense. So when I went back and followed up with his request, because when guys ask me, I always give it a lot of thought, but when I went back and followed up on whether he wanted to take a look, he no longer wanted me to take a look."
When a player would like to change from one side of the ball to the other, how often is it initiated by the coach or the player?"It's usually initiated by the player. Travis (Thomas) was initiated by me. Usually it's initiated by the player coming in that had a background fairly recently. Like Anthony hadn't played offense in awhile but Munir (Prince) that was his main position junior year in high school. So he wasn't that far removed from playing in the secondary. Usually it's a player coming to you thinking they have an opportunity to get on the field quicker by doing that or they feel more comfortable doing that."
How do you handle these requests?"I always first say, let me think about it because I don't like to react to a request like that without giving it some thought on whether or not the reason they are doing it is the right reason. Giving them a look is not the issue. I could always look at one guy, on one side or the other side. It's giving you the best opportunity to get on the field quicker on one side or the other; that's how you help the team. So every time I make a decision, I try to do it as to what is in the best interest of the team; not just the best interest of the individual."
Being halfway through spring practice, how would you evaluate the 3-4 defense and how have the players adapted to it?"Because we have not given them information overload - and we had talked about that at another press conference - because we have really restricted the amount of installation at this time, I think they're pretty comfortable with what we are doing to this point. Now of course, we have a lot more to do before we play a game. Like we haven't even put a nickel out there yet and on Monday we are going multiple wide receivers versus nickel. We haven't done that yet. In the past, there would be three and four wide receivers in the first day. But you have to be more slow and steady in this case and it's benefiting both sides of the ball because we are a fairly inexperienced offensive line, and the new system, and an inexperienced group of quarterbacks, and an inexperienced group of wide receivers, and in conjunction with an inexperienced but not necessarily young inexperienced group of defensive linemen. When it's all said and done, it's beneficial to both sides of the ball; going at a slow pace as far as installation goes."
Can you talk about the development of the offensive line?"There's a bunch of good looking kids out there. We went a whole bunch of plays at practice yesterday at a competitive situation where one of the key things we are working on is building stamina. And ironically, the group that held up best at any position was the offensive line. So that was very encouraging."
Has Carufel (Matt) separated himself from the pack or is it too early yet to decide?"Well, Danny (Wenger) has been banged up some and those two guys have been basically working that side together over there at right guard. Matt is definitely making some serious progress and taking some steps in the right direction."
Is Olsen (Eric) a candidate on the right side too?"Those guys are all interchangeable but right now we have been working Eric predominantly on the left side along with Turkovich (Mike). Not that it's a depth chart but that's where we've been working them to get their reps. We're trying to get them to learn one position first, and I mentioned a couple of guys that are being cross-trained. At this point they are really the guys that are getting cross-trained. Eventually a guy playing left guard will be able to play right guard and vice versa. If they are not the starter at the position, they will have to know how to play both guards, or center and guard, or play guard and tackle on their respective side depending on that person and the position flexibility that person gives us. For example, Wenger is a true center that's not going to beat out John Sullivan. So for him to get on the field, he is going to have to play guard. While Olsen, for example, who can play both guards; if he had to be, could be a candidate for tackle. We're not listing him there yet and we're not working him there yet. His body type is different from Wenger's body type."
What is your impression of the linebackers so far?"First of all the inside linebacker situation is a lot more settled than the outside linebacker situation. We have a couple incumbents as you know and a couple young guys pressing behind them. That's pretty clear. You have guys that are running first and guys that are pushing them for playing time. And I've been encouraged with all of them. There aren't any of those inside linebackers that I can sit there and say he hasn't really looked very good. I've been encouraged by the whole group. Now where you have more inexperience, as far as playing time goes, is outside than inside. We are definitely going through a learning process. I'm encouraged with a lot of things that I am seeing."
Has Whitaker (Nate) separated himself from the pack?"Well, what happened is, yesterday in practice he had a really good day. So I always believe in going by what I see. So if you go by what you see, you have to be willing day-to-day to move a guy who was second, first. So I figured I would put a little pressure on him at the end. And when you have 85 guys ready to run a whole bunch of gassers and it's one kick and if you make it, they don't run, and if you miss it, they're all running. He's the most popular guy in the clubhouse right now."
What is your impression of Corwin Brown and the defense thus far?"I've known Corwin so long that what I am seeing is what I expected to see. You know, tough, hardnosed, a zero-tolerance guy. The guys I have been groomed with my whole lifetime; that's what he is, and what he has always been, and what he is now. The only difference now, instead of him being a player or being a position coach, now he is in a leadership capacity and I always felt he was a natural leader. And that's pretty evident as you watch him as a coach."
Is Chris Stewart banged up?"He got nicked up a little bit today. I think he would rather have practiced today to tell you. Because a couple things, if you aren't out there practicing, you are on that bike which is a miserable thing. And then they have some time off coming up for Easter where if they don't practice, they have to stay here and get treatment over Easter. You'd be amazed how quickly people recover."
Where does Bemenderfer (Thomas) fit into the offensive line scheme?"As a matter of fact, yesterday he played center and both guards in practice. Once again, it goes to body types. But he is a guy, I think, very easily could play any of those inside positions."
How is the progress of the secondary?"It's probably the deepest we have ever been. Even with Gary (Gray) being out of there, and it was exciting to see him out there, but you are still dealing with seven scholarship safeties and six scholarship corners and one of those safeties being a cross-trainer, which is Leonard (Gordon) who can play safety or corner. We are in spring and you are out there three-deep plus, there's very, very good competition going on in the secondary."