Coach, when you are evaluating the quarterbacks, how do you prioritize what you are looking for?"The most important thing is being able to run the team. Because if you can't get the play call communicated from the staff to you, then from you to the team, and go to the line of scrimmage and just run the operation with the formation in motion, that's the first thing that you have to be able to do. You have to be able to get the play from the sideline, to the huddle, to the line of scrimmage just so we can execute the play. Without a doubt, that's the most important thing you have to be able to do. So that isn't as subjective as you might think it to be because either guys do it right all the time, or they do it right most of the time, or they do it right some of the time. So that's one of the things we take notes on as well as everything else. I actually give a play call and stand away from the huddle and let Coach Haywood listen to the play call going to the team. So if there's a mistake with the play call, we fix it so we don't run the wrong play at the same time as we record it so we can do that just like everything else and go ahead and make sure that we got that straightened out."
If that's number one, what is the next priority?"Doing the handoffs is just ball-handling. Let's say in a pass, knowing when the play is designed to be a progression read or a coverage read, usually with inexperienced quarterbacks you start with more progression reads where you say one, two, three, four, five and you say, you go to him first, him second, him third, him fourth, him fifth. So this way, they don't have to spend so much time worrying about the nuances as coverages. They can just go from one to three or one to four based on how many guys are releasing into the pattern. Then probably third after going through progression is accuracy; can he deliver the ball accurately to the right man."
What do you like about the way he runs?"He's big, he's powerful, and he has sneaky speed. In other words, he runs away from people for a guy who has pretty good size to him. A lot of running backs have one gear. That doesn't mean that's not good, but they have one gear. I've seen guys with one gear be very productive running backs, but he has a second gear. It's always good when a guy gets to the opening, he can crank it to a second gear. And I don't know if I saw that very often last year. I saw the power running but I never saw that second gear."
What do you want to see from the wide receivers that are moving up?"First of all I don't ever like to play receivers that are afraid to block. Sometimes size can be misconstrued like you have to be Samardzija (Jeff) and Stovall (Maurice) or McKnight (Rhema); like you have to be one of those guys to block. That's not true; you have to have heart to block. Because a lot of times, the blocks by the wide receivers are getting in the way as you know anyway. You have to see if they are willing blockers. And when it comes to the pass game, can they get off the line of scrimmage, can they run precise routes, and will they catch the ball. It doesn't really have to be a big science theory; it's a pretty simple philosophy. Can you get off the line of scrimmage, can you get open either at the top of your break or off the line of scrimmage, do you run good routes, and can you catch it when we throw it to you."
A couple of the offensive line positions are set, how are the others coming?"If you are referring to Sully (John Sullivan) and Sam (Young), I would say by experience that is clearly the case, but other than that, there is a lot of competition at those spots. There are guys that are running first and second, but that doesn't stay the same every day either."
Have you pigeon-holed some guys into one spot rather than them playing different positions?"We create a lot of position flexibility; in other words we don't pigeon-hole a guy into one spot. Let's say you have two left guards that both should start; let's use that as an example. Well, you find a way for both of them to start. In other words, if the two left guards are better than the right guard, then you move one guy over to the other side. Trust me, the best guys find a way to get onto the field. But right now we are in no rush because everyone is getting a ton of reps because we are barely two deep at that position."
What has been the progress of the defensive line so far?"Well, we can't put everyone into Trevor Laws' category. That's one of the big mistakes that coaches can make. You want everyone to look like a fifth-year senior. I'm not going to go through analyzing player-by-player, but there are several guys who have shown encouraging signs and there are some guys who are coming along at a slower pace than what we would like to have happen. So are we starting to build some guys that we have confidence in, in the system? Yes, and now we need more of them. We need more guys because you are always looking to build some depth. Right now we just have to get more guys that we have confidence in that can play in our scheme at a higher level."
Although Chris Stewart is hurt, have you had much chance to evaluate him on the defensive side?"Remember now, he only had four days with pads. We had the first two days without pads and then four days with pads. Then he was out for part of a practice and then out for part of the next practice. The thing is, we don't have that many guys on our team with that body type. So what you can't do is rush somebody in there and expect them to be an NFL starting nose tackle the first day that they're out there. There's a transition period going but I think he is going through that transition right now and by the time he gets through spring and gets into training camp, he will continue to make progress. Just like you can't coach speed, you can't coach size, but I mean you can't coach girth; either you have it or you don't have it. And he's one of the few guys that we have that has it."
How is lacrosse working out for Will Yeatman in terms of football?"He scored three goals Saturday; it's working out great (laughing). I thought he would be a frontline player for them, and Kevin and I had talked about it. And that's what the anticipation was when he came here. I think it is working out nicely and he is going to be here for just over half the practices. He's a very diligent guy and he is not falling behind and he's doing enough to stay sharp in football while he's helping the lacrosse team win. He is going to play in the spring game."
What have you seen out of George West so far this spring?"Obviously, if I was here on Saturday telling that he was separating from the pack, I must think all those categories we were talking about as a whole, he's doing them better than a bunch of guys are. He gets off the line of scrimmage, and I always laugh when people talk about small guys not being able to get off the line of scrimmage, small guys are often quick guys and it's tough to get your hands onto. He's gotten off the line of scrimmage, he runs good routes, and he has been catching the ball; he's been a willing blocker. And those are things we are looking for in a wide receiver."
Do you see the fullback being more a part of the offense this year?"I'm not worrying about it; I'm just putting in plays right now. I'm so far away from worrying about whether I'm using regular, Detroit, they are all personnel groupings. All I know is that my eleventh player is interchangeable. So whether it's a second tight end, a fullback, or a third wide receiver, the eleventh player on offense is always interchangeable. And I think that's one of the ways you create personnel flexibility. It creates confusion for defenses by being able to roll some guys in there and when you find your niche, which we are a long way from doing it, when you find your niche; you get a little heavier with one personnel group or another. Right now it would be a little bit premature for me to comment on that."
How is Asaph Schwapp looking?"Not bad; he's not hobbling around like he was last year. I think he's knocked off a lot of the rust. But he's got a lot of room for improvement. He's really a tough physical lead blocker; and that's what he is. We give him the ball a few times on handoffs just to pacify him, but that's basically what he is, a tough physical blocker."
Will George West be used as a returner this year?"We are using him as a punt returner and kickoff returner. But we are rolling in a lot of people that in the past we wanted to look at that we haven't got many looks at yet. Then it all depends upon if the return game looks about even and he ends up more on offense, then I'll use somebody else. We're going to play the best guys on special teams, but we are giving a lot of guys looks now in the return game."
Do you feel you need more explosiveness on returns?"George is a pretty elusive returner. This is a good time of the year for us to get a look at a lot of guys that really don't get very many reps doing that stuff during the season to see if we can't make it better."
Would Armando Allen be used as a returner?"That would be encouraging. That could happen. Once again, Armando is back there competing with those other guys. He's got exceptional speed and quickness. Once again we're going to end up putting the best guys back there; whoever they are. We are going to play the best guys, but if it's even, we will play a backup. If it's not even, for example, if Zibby is the punt returner and there is no one close, we play Zibby. And Zibby wants to be punt returner. A lot of time you get starters who want to pull off special teams. You'd have to shoot him; he wants to be out there."
What have you seen from Armando as a running back?"I've been very encouraged by Armando. Armando has not looked like a freshman."
How has Junior Jabbie looked?"I've been very encouraged by Junior Jabbie and I'm not giving the party line here. When I said on Saturday that I was very encouraged by the running back position, that didn't just talk about Travis and James; that included both Junior and Armando at the halfback position as well. I've been very encouraged by what we have seen."
You are halfway through spring practice, what goals have you accomplished?"There are two different elements in the answer to that question. One is, how is installation going? The putting in the defense and establishing the offense with a bunch of changeover players going through that, and I'm never happy but I am content with where we are at that point. I'm very often impatient when it comes to installation. I like to put in more, not less. But I made the decision in this off-season that I felt confident and comfortable that everyone knew what to do. So that meant to slow down the pace so that everyone knew what to do and that is what we are going to do. Secondly then, how are these guys going to compete because so many positions are sort of up for grabs? There's been very good competition out there. So on that end, I am more than content. I'd say I am pleased with the competition."
As you get further into the quarterback decision, how much will it count if a guy has wheels and is mobile?"I want the best guy. Whoever the best guy is, we will utilize what he can do. Whoever it is, and you're implying like Demetrius (Jones) in this case. I'll use that as an example because that is an implication. So whether it's Demetrius or any of the guys, once I decide who it is going to be, I'm gong to build things around what they do the best. It doesn't make any difference if it is Demetrius Jones or Phil Simms, I'd still do the exact same thing. Find what they do the best and try to work from there out."
Does it matter if the number two quarterback has running ability?"I try not to get the quarterback hit very often. Unfortunately Brady got hit more than I would like for him to have gotten hit. You try not to get them hit too often."
The other day you spoke about handling competition the right way. What did you mean by this and does it apply to all positions?"We were talking about the quarterback position when we said that. Because when you're trying to get four guys in an open competition for one spot, I think you definitely have to have a plan because if you don't have a plan, then you're not treating everyone fairly and you can't really analyze it objectively. I think you cannot make a subjective analysis when you are doing something this critical. Because we've all been in the comfort zone of having Brady Quinn here since the day I walked in here. Well Brady is not here anymore so I think going under my three premises of coaching; premise number two is always telling players the truth no matter what the consequences and that's the one we are talking about right now. I think it's important to analyze the quarterbacks and just tell them just the way it is. And that's what I will do."
Coach Weis closed the session today with the following announcement:"I would like to make one note; it's kind of interesting as it is never-ending that we are always trying to make things better around here. We have this coaches' clinic that we do coming up the second week of April. And I never worry about how many people come because last year there was about a thousand people. Because I'm going to get one up this year because (Jon) Gruden is now going to speak right before me. So what I think will end up happening that Saturday morning is that Gruden will talk and everyone will leave; then I'll talk and probably have an empty auditorium. He just committed to speak at our coaches' clinic."